Salt Lake City — The mood was cranky here in the waning moments of the 2002 winter games:
Â RUSSIA threatened to walk out of the Olympics if it was not immediately awarded gold medals in women's figure skating, the Nordic combined alpine snowshoe and two events to be named later.
Â KOREA threatened to walk out of the Olympics if it did not get whatever Russia got.
Â LITHUANIA threatened to walk out of the Olympics if whoever stole its lucky towel did not return it.
Â PORTUGAL actually did walk out of the Olympics, but nobody noticed, so Portugal sulked back into town and spent the rest of the Games holed up in its hotel room watching dirty movies.
So basically the Winter Olympics degenerated into a great big international snit. This is what inevitably happens when you gather people from many different nations and force them to sit together for hours in crowded buses, listening to each other's ongoing efforts to expel mucus clots. I don't want to get too explicit, but the dry, cold atmospheric conditions here tend to result in nasal formations the size of Yorkshire terriers.
Some nations were so angry that they threatened not only to leave these Olympics, but also to boycott the 2004 Summer Games, scheduled to be held in Greece. As you can imagine, this caused great consternation in Greece, which issued the following statement: "The Olympics are coming HERE??"
But the immediate issue was not whether Greece will be ready to play host to the 2004 games (no). The immediate issue was how to make the snitting nations happy, especially the Russians. The Olympic movement simply cannot allow the Russians to become estranged, because Russia is a vital part of the world sports community, in the sense of having nuclear missiles.
And the Russians were REALLY hacked off, for a bunch of reasons. First, they lost the Cold War. THEN they were forced to share the gold medal for pairs figure skating with Canada. THEN one of the top Russian cross-country skiers was disqualified because, in the words of Olympic drug-testing officials, "her urine sample burst into flames."
But the last straw came Thursday night, when Russia's top woman figure skater, the veteran Irina Slutskaya, lost the gold medal to an American, Sarah Hughes, who is maybe 11 years old and who passed the time, while waiting for her scores to appear, playing with her Olympics Barbie.
The Russians protested the women's result, but to no avail. The International Olympic Committee interviewed the judges, who pointed out, correctly that the letters in "Irina Slutskaya" can be rearranged to spell "Russian Yak Tail." This is a mandatory two-tenths deduction.
The situation was finally resolved Friday when, after a lengthy meeting with IOC officials, the Russians agreed to drop their gold-medal demands and remain in the Games. In return for this act of sportsmanship, they will get East Germany back. So everything came out fine. Speaking of which, I need to blow my nose.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him in care of the Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132.