By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Russian and American skeleton racers are refusing to speak to each other at the Pyeongchang winter Games in a spat that centers on allegations of widespread Russian doping.
In a squabble contrasting with an Olympics detente between old enemies North and South Korea, Russians and Americans at the sliding track on Tuesday were in no mood to make up.
Speaking to Reuters after training runs on Tuesday, two athletes from Russia and an American skeleton racer said there was no contact between them, mostly because of the underlying tensions surrounding Russian athletes’ presence at the Games.
“Obviously there is some language barrier that exists between all nations,” said U.S. skeleton athlete Matt Antoine, who won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But he added: “Do I believe they’ve competed fairly? No, and I’ve been very vocal about that. So I don’t really have a need to have a conversation with those athletes.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year banned Russian athletes from competing formally from these Games over what it called the “systematic manipulation” of doping tests at the 2014 winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Instead, it has allowed Russians with no history of doping to compete at the Games as neutral athletes, at its invitation.
Russian skeleton racer Nikita Tregubov said his American rivals did not speak to him or compatriot Vladislav Marchenkov, creating an unpleasant atmosphere around the track.
“They scold us without evidence,” Tregubov said.
“We weren’t the ones who started it. It wasn’t us. I didn’t start anything. It’s up to them to start over for there to be a good atmosphere.”
With relations strained over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and American allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. president election, something Moscow denies, Russian-U.S. ties have plummeted to a post-Cold War low.
Russia’s foreign minister said last week the Olympic ban stemmed from a U.S. attempt to weaken the competition.
Tregubov also accused British skeleton racers of having joined the Americans in snubbing them.
“They were drawn into this,” he said. “We used to get along great. People have changed abruptly.”
When questioned by Reuters on Tuesday, British skeleton racers Jerry Rice and Dom Parsons said a language barrier had limited the interaction between them and the Russians.
“I’m friendly with everyone around the track,” Rice said. “There’s always the language barrier with obviously some nations. I don’t speak Russian, they don’t speak English.”
Parsons said athletes were also focused on the competition, not each other. “I think when we’re at the track all of us are very focused on what we are doing anyway,” he said.
Last week, the chief of mission for the group of Russian athletes, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said a member of the Canadian delegation in Pyeongchang had mistreated a Russian coach.
Pozdnyakov, who did not disclose the nature of the incident nor the identities of those involved, said the Canadian Olympic Committee had apologised.
(This version of the story repeats fixing headline)
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Bendeich)