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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 04:46 GMT

Curtain falls on 'Protest Games'

By BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

The 2002 Winter Olympics have ended already being labelled "The Protest Games".

Scandal has surrounded the Salt Lake City Olympics from start to finish, overshadowing the superb action on the snow and ice around Utah.

The Games organisers and the International Olympic Committee have faced a non-stop battle for credibility.

They have been plagued by the corruption associated with Salt Lake City's bid, through to security scares, boycott threats, the obligatory druggies, and of course Skate-gate.

Games boss Mitt Romney and IOC chief Jacques Rogge have been steady and assured influences - and by and large, both bodies tackled each controversy as best they could.

But after a while it became impossible to ignore the increasing number of appeals and protests against bizarre decisions and blatant judging errors.

Those trials and tribulations will only have been worth suffering if the IOC properly carries out its promise to force sports federations into serious self-analysis.

Rightly or wrongly, Canadian duo Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are the faces everyone will remember from two weeks in Salt Lake City.

The way the American media lobbied so forcefully for them to be upgraded to gold also illustrated the huge home slant the Olympics were given on this side of the Atlantic.

Utah did its best to welcome the world, and the locals deserve rich praise for being friendly and forgiving hosts.

Sadly, officials, television presenters and journalists charged with relaying the Games around America weren't really interested in anyone else.

And that, as much as the judging furore, was what annoyed the Russians, and motivated their boycott threat.

Every host nation however has the right to make the Olympics its own, and there were real American heroes in Jim Shea Jr, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Sarah Hughes who truly deserved their acclaim.

Thankfully, there were many stories and personalities from outside the States to admire as well.

We saw stars from Australia, Norway, and even Britain scale new heights, and Germany again displayed all-round prowess to dominate the final medals table.

Fans from across the world certainly made their colourful contribution at each venue.

Newer disciplines like curling, snowboarding and skeleton also showed just why they are as much a part of the winter Olympics as the more traditional skiing and skating events.

There was all the glitz and glamour you would expect from any American spectacle, and several helpings of schmoltz too.

That made for a undeniably good show.

For 17 days, Salt Lake City certainly lit the fire within, but the various storms sparked by Skategate could rage on within the Olympic movement for some time to come.

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