Exclusive: Russian great Salnikov says atmosphere like Cold War

Tue Aug 9, 2016 3:23pm EDT
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By Mark Trevelyan

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Russian swimming chief Vladimir Salnikov said on Tuesday the atmosphere surrounding his team at the Olympics reminded him of the Cold War, and criticized American breaststroke champion Lilly King for attacking the integrity of her Russian rival.

In a tense showdown on Monday evening, King defeated Russia's Yulia Efimova, who has twice been suspended for doping violations, and stood by comments describing her as a drug cheat. The Russian was loudly booed by the Rio crowd.

"I think the whole atmosphere is very strange," said Salnikov, president of the Russian Swimming Federation, 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.

More than 100 Russian athletes, including the entire track and field and weightlifting teams, were banned from the Rio Olympics after independent reports for the World Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of widespread state-sponsored cheating.

Russia argues it is taking steps to clean up sport and is being singled out for political reasons.

The issue of doping overshadowed the build-up to the Olympics and, far from dying down since they opened on Friday, has escalated as swimmers like King and Australian freestyle champion Mack Horton have directly branded rivals as cheats.   Continued...

Vladimir Salnikov, four-times Olympic gold medallist and president of the Russian Swimming Federation, gives a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha