USA fights off Russia once again

Feb. 22, 2002 at 10:55 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The concluding weekend of the Winter Olympics got underway Friday with a series of milestones, yet another complaint about judging from the less-than-happy Russians and a dramtic hockey game that produced the same result as its historic predecessor.

With national pride and a chance for a gold medal on the line, the United States desperately hung on Friday night to defeat Russia, 3-2, in the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament.

For the final 16 minutes of the game, the Russians develivered a non-stop assault on American goaltender Mike Richter, who protected the lead and gave the United States a spot in Sunday's gold medal game against Canada. The Canadians drubbed overmatched Belarus in the other semifinal, 7-1.

The American victory came on the 22nd anniversary of the United States' shocking triumph over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, one that led to a gold medal and created one of the most treasured memories in the history of American sport.

"But I've told these guys that they need to write their own book," said Herb Brooks who coached the Americans in 1980 and is doing so again in 2002. "That's been our theme all along."

Athletes around the Olympics wrote their own book as well Friday.

* Croatian Janica Kostelic became the first alpine skier in Olympic history to win four medals in the same Games by capturing the women's giant slalom. It was her third gold.

* Samppa Lajunen of Finland won the nordic combined sprint, giving him a sweep of that sport's three gold medals at these Olympics. Because the sprint is new to the Olympics, he becomes the first person to win three nordic combined gold medals in a single Games.

* Jochem Uytdhagge of the Netherlands set his second world record of the Olympics and won his second gold medal by grabbing the 10,000-meter speed skating race.

* And the men's curling team from Norway shocked Canada in the gold medal match, 6-5, leaving the Canadians without title in a sport they usually dominate. The women's team had to settle for the bronze on Thursday.

In addition, the American four-man bobsled driven by World Cup leader Todd Hays took the lead after the first two runs. The third and fourth runs will be held on the next-to-last day of the Games, when seven gold medals will be decided.

Prior to the Olympics, the thought of the United States leading the way in gold medals was all but unthinkable. But the Americans have 10 golds, just one behind Norway, and have chances for wins over the next two days in the the bobsled, short-track skating, men's slalom and hockey.

While various dramas were being played out around the Olympic venues Friday, Russian officials were complaining that their athletes were not being given a fair shake. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin had his say on the matter.

The latest protest came from figure skating officials, who contended biased judging cost Russian Irina Slutskaya a gold medal in the women's free skate Thursday night. The protest was quickly denied by the International Skating Union.

"We filed the protest because we think the judging was biased," said the chief of the Russian delegation, Viktor Mamotov. "Canadian pairs skaters were awarded their medals. Now that subjective judging harmed us. We want the same for Slutskaya."

Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who finished second in the pairs competition, were eventually awarded a gold medal after evidence was produced that suggested one of the judges had been pressured to vote for the Russian champions.

There was no such evidence concering Thursday night's competition.

Instead, American Sarah Hughes turned in one of the best free skates in Olympic history and vaulted from fourth to first place.

Five judges gave Hughes first place in the free skate after she had seven perfect triple jumps and became the first woman in Olympic history to perform two triple-triple combinations in the same program.

Despite that, Russian judge Tatiana Danilenko placed Hughes fourth -- behind Americans Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen, both of whom fell in their routines.

The judge from Italy, meanwhile, placed Slutskaya fourth and judges from Canada and Germany had her third in the free skate. Judges from Russia, Belarus, Denmark and Slovakia placed her first

The decision that has upset the Russians the most has been the one that barred cross-country skiing star Larissa Lazutina from Thursday's relay event. Lazutina was almost certain to win her 10th Olympic medal in that event and that would have tied the record for most medals won by a woman in the Winter Olympics.

She was prevented from taking part because of a drug test which showed elevated levels of red blood cells. A high level of red blood cells indicates the possible use of the drug EPO, which increases the number of red blood cells and creates more oxygen in the system.

Putin, speaking at a news conference in Moscow, decried what he felt were biased decisions aimed at Russians.

"Juan Antonio Samaranch (who retired as president of the IOC last year) has gone and Jacques Rogge has taken his place," Putin said during a news conference Friday in Moscow. "Regrettably for the new leadership, the first time is bound to be a flop."

Russian Olympic Committee President Leonid Tyagachev went so far Thursday night as saying athletes from his country would boycott the remainder of the games unless some action was taken by Rogge.

Rogge promptly sent a letter to Tyagachev and Putin saying there was nothing wrong with the officiating.

IOC director general Francois Carrard called Russian allegations of biased officiating to be understandable.

"Judgment calls are part of human nature and human reactions are understandable," he said. "There has been a lot of emotion building and protest are expressions of such emotion."

Some within the Olympic movement felt the Russian complaints were an attempt to take the focus away from the fact that their delegation had not piled up the number of medals expected.

Russia did not win a medal Friday, leaving that country with 14. Russia compiled 18 in Nagano and 23 in Lillihammer.

There was perhaps more room for debate at the U.S.-Russian hockey game, officiated by veteran National Hockey League referee Bill McCreary.

He called four penalties on the Russians over the first two periods and the United States converted three of the power-plays for goals by Bill Guerin, Scott Young and Phil Housley. That led to a 3-0 lead after two periods.

"We were ready to play," said Russian Coach Slava Fetisov. "They outskated and outhustled us for two periods. Then we our game going. We needed five minutes more."

Russia scored 11 seconds into the third period when Alexei Kovalev took a frek bounce off the side boards and beat Richter on the short side. Richter's New York Ranger teammate Vladimir Malakhov scored three minutes later to draw the Russians within one.

After that, Richter and his teammates were under tremendous pressure to hold off the charge. At one point Richter, was flat on his back trying to fend off a shot that hit one post, ricocheted across the face of the goalmouth and hit the other post before bouncing away.

"It was do or die and we just did it too late," said Russian defenseman Igor Kravchuk. "We came out a little slow out of the chute. We lost the battles in front of the net and it was crucial."

"Every night someone different comes up bid," said American center Mike Modano. "Tongiht it was Phil Housley in the second and Richter in the third. Everyone in North America was hoping for a North American final and we are all looking forward to it."

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