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Russian gets his gold back

WEST VALLEY CITY — Justice was served this week when an ice-skating Russian finally received a deserved, but stolen, gold medal.

How's that for Olympic irony?

Coincidental circumstances, though, end there. Canadian figure skaters and French judges were not at all involved in this scandal — mainly just Russian goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and his ex-coach, Viktor Tikhonov.

After the Unified Team captured gold in the 1992 Albertville Games, Tikhonov stole the first-place prize given to Khabibulin. Why? Coaches weren't given their own medals, and Khabibulin was merely the third-string goalie who didn't play, so Tikhonov snatched his gold.

Finally, Khabibulin got it back. The Tampa Bay Lightning goalie's gold medal was returned before practice Thursday.

"It felt great. It's been 10 years and finally I get it," Khabibulin said after Russia's 6-4 win over Belarus on Friday. "Now my focus is getting another one and going home with two gold medals."

Khabibulin said Russian and International Ice Hockey Federation officials apologized for taking so long: "I know they were trying to do that since Nagano (in 1998). They said they made a mistake in 1992, and they're happy to fix it."

Igor Larionov, who was on the '92 Unified Team, said it's overdue.

"There was a real celebration in the locker room," Larionov said. "He deserved the medal 10 years ago."

Khabibulin thanked Russian coach Slava Fetisov, who was honored to help.

"You should've seen his face. He was smiling and happy," Fetisov said. "The International Ice Hockey Federation did the right thing. . . . It's a great deal of justice."

OW, CANADA: Asked if he was happy the Russians are now using the old Soviet Union national anthem, Fetisov suggested it was music to his ears — because the Soviets "had many victories under this hymn."

Many at Canada's expense.

"I think," Fetisov said, "any Canadian player will be able to hum day or night the Soviet national anthem."

BROTHERLY LOVE: Friday marked the first time since 1960 two brothers have played for opposing Olympic hockey teams — Czechoslovakia's Frantisek Pikal vs. Austria's Zdenek Pikal at Squaw Valley, Germany's Martin Reichel vs. older brother Robert Reichel of the Czech Republic in Provo.

Born Czech, Martin plays in the German League, has lived 10-plus years in Germany and owns a German passport. Robert, who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is accustomed to beating Germany in international play, as the Czechs did with an easy 8-2 win at The Peaks Ice Arena.

Said Martin: "I have played against my brother before — and we lost."