Jeers, drug rows and Cold War echoes mar Rio mood

Tue Aug 9, 2016 5:55pm EDT
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By Mark Trevelyan

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Russian swimming chief Vladimir Salnikov said on Tuesday the hostile atmosphere surrounding his Olympic team reminded him of the Cold War as sport, drugs and politics formed a toxic mix that is souring the mood of the Rio Games.

Doping scandals overshadowed the build-up to Rio and, far from dying down as competition has got under way, have flared anew as U.S. and Australian competitors have branded their Russian and Chinese rivals as drug cheats.

Australia's delegation head Kitty Chiller said the country would not apologize to Beijing after freestyle champion Mack Horton leveled the accusation at his Chinese rival Sun Yang - a comment that prompted hundreds of thousands of Chinese web users to bombard Horton on social media with demands for an apology.

A similar drama played out between U.S. swimmer Lilly King and Russia's Yulia Efimova, who has twice been suspended for doping. Efimova was in tears after King beat her on Monday in the 100 meters breaststroke and declined to congratulate her after the race.

Resounding boos rang out around the Olympic Aquatics Centre for Efimova, and other Russian swimmers were also targeted. Some Chinese spectators also jeered Australian swimmers.

"I think the whole atmosphere is very strange," said Salnikov, who won four swimming gold medals in the 1980s during a period of U.S.-Soviet tensions that prompted the two superpowers to boycott each other's Olympics.

He said the situation now was similar to the past "when we had the situation with the Cold War and everything was like Russia (versus) America and a lot of people were putting oil on the flame to make it higher".

"This is another round, but I think we will survive it," he told Reuters in an interview, complaining that "many people have a prejudiced attitude to our athletes".   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Final - Women's 100m Breaststroke Final - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 08/08/2016. Yulia Efimova (RUS) of Russia cries.  REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler