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Russia, Georgia 'bhai bhai' at Olympics

Beijing, Aug 10: Two smiling women, one Russian, one Georgian, Olympic medals around their necks, embraced warmly and then umprompted, kissed each other on the cheek. Russian army soldier Natalia Paderina and Georgian sports psychologist Nino Salukvadze ignored the sudden war that erupted two days ago between their nations when they joyfully celebrated their Beijing Olympic achievements in the womens 10m air pistol yesterday.

The Russian tanks may be swarming all over Georgian territory, the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin might have flown directly to the border of the conflict, the world might be expressing serious alarm at the attacks on Tbilisi and the thousands of casualties and refugees, but at the Beijing shooting hall there was just simple acknowledgement of friends who had once competed together under the Soviet banner.

"It's a small victory for my people, but when it comes to sports we'll always remain friends. Nothing else will affect our friendship. Even though it's such a scary event as shooting,'' said Saluvadze, after having had a sleepless night because of uncertainty whether the Georgian team would remain at the Olympics.

Paderina, 32, went into the final as leader, but was beaten by China's Guo Wenjun, who shot an Olympic record score. Salukvadze, an Olympic champion from the 1988 Seoul Olympics when she represented the USSR,won the Beijing bronze medal.

The emotional scene between the two women diffused tensions within the Olympic Movement that the Georgia-Russia conflict over South Ossetia may spill over directly to Beijing.

Earlier the 35- strong Georgian Olympic team issued a statement pleading for the international leaders to help end the violence "This deliberate strategy of aggression has grown into a full-scale military intervention involving all regions of Georgia," the athletes said.

"Georgia calls upon the international community to make it clear (to Russia) that intrusion into and bombing of the territory of a sovereign state is unacceptable in the 21st century and that such acts cannot and will not be tolerated."

The sudden war was sparked on the day of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony as Putin was sitting next to the US president George W Bush in the VIP seats high in the Birds Nest - at odds with the universal appeal for an Olympic truce for the two weeks of competition.

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said he had noticed the two engaged in animated conversation.

Georgian athletes prepared to leave Beijing after the first day of competition as the Russian fighting intensified to include the captial Tbisili but were ordered to stay in a very early morning phone call yesterday from the Georgian prime minister Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgian minister for youth and sport and other officials met with the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge yesterday morning to confirm Georgia's participation in the Games.

The IOC asked, and received, the same assurances from the Russian Olympic Committee. However given the rapidly changing circumstances in the conflict, some of the Georgian athletes may chose to leave the Games early.

There is a direct match up between the two countries at the beach volleyball on Wednesday.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said:"This continuation of their participation confirmed today very much reflects the Olympic spirit and the values of the Games. The IOC believes this is the right decision for the athletes who trained very hard for this once in lifetime opportunity.''

She said there was no reason for extra security at the upcoming beach volleyball contest.

''Both national Olympic Committees made it clear that they are here in a sporting contest. They are here to compete and show respect and friendship from athlete to athlete. We have no reason to have any concern on that .And with regards to any other measures to be taken, we don't have at this time. We don't have any reason to believe that is necessary.''

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the the warring nations to honour the traditional Games-time truce.

Story first published: Sunday, August 10, 2008, 15:53 [IST]
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