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Sports

No "Olympics War" Between Russia and Georgia

There is no "Olympic war" between Russian and Georgian athletes at the Beijing Games but that does not mean that there is no tension over the widening conflict in the Caucasus region.

Russia's Natalia Paderina, and Georgia's Nino Salukvadze hug and wave during the medal ceremony

Natalia Paderina (left) and Nino Alukvadze demonstrated true Olympic sportmanship

Some of Georgia's 35 athletes, including weightlifters Arsen Kasabiev and Albert Kuzilov, have their homes precisely in South Ossetia, the centre of the hostilities between Russia and Georgia since Friday.

Kasabiev -- set to compete on Aug. 17 in the 94 kilogram discipline -- and Kuzilov -- set to take part in the 105 kilogram competition a day later -- have been in constant contact with their families in recent days, team officials said.

"So far everything is fine, but we all spend all our time worrying," Georgian delegation spokesman Giorgi Tschanishvili told DPA news agency.

"The most terrible thing is that the Russians attacked us while we were at the Games' opening ceremony," he said. "A war is always something abnormal, but when it happens at the moment when the Olympic flame lights up it is a thousand times worse."

It was duly noted around the world that the hostilities started during the opening ceremony with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin present in the Beijing stadium.

Staying at the games

The Olympic rings being lifted during the opening ceremonies for the Beijing 2008 Olympics

Olympic truce was not respected in Georgia this year

"It is very difficult for us Georgians because of everything that is going on at home," said shooting bronze medalist Nino Salukvadze. "Last night the president (Mikheil Saakashvili) called and told us we better stay in Beijing. We couldn't sleep all night. We were up until one or two in the morning. All we could think about was Georgia."

Salukvadze and silver medalist Natalia Paderina of Russia hugged and kissed in a poignant gesture of Olympic sportsmanship after the victory ceremony on Sunday.

"The competition was a victory for sport because sport stands for friendship," Salukvadze said. "We have had so many big wars in the 20th century, what we need is peace. That is something politics can learn from sport."

Paderina said: "I have won many friends through sport. Not only in Russia but in many other countries. Nino competed for the Soviet Union for many years. We are friends and our embrace should show that politics can learn from sport."

Old friends

Russian mission spokesman Gennady Shvets told DPA that the gesture reflects a long tradition of friendliness from Russian athletes and that sportsmen are not thinking of armed conflict.

"For us, there is no Georgian issue, it's just Georgian athletes," Shvets stressed.

Within the Russian ranks, the war is virtually taboo, and the athletes are not thinking of armed conflict.

"They are all thinking only of the Olympic Games and of how to win medals, gold, silver or bronze," Shvets said. "Wars or tsunamis do not matter in these two weeks."

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