MOSCOW — Vjachleslav Gavrilan, deputy minister of the Soviet Union's Sports Committee, said Friday that Soviet pole vaulter Sergei Bubka is contemplating filing a libel suit against the Washington Post.
Gavrilan said during a press conference at the Goodwill Games that Bubka was offended by a Post article that quoted two U.S. pole vaulters, Mike Tully and Earl Bell, in speculation that the Soviet world record-holder is using a performance-enhancing drug.
Tully and Bell were interviewed by Post reporter John Feinstein after the track and field competition at Lenin Central Stadium Tuesday night, when Bubka broke his own world record with a jump of 19 feet 8 3/4 inches. Reporters from Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also published accounts of the interview, but their papers were not mentioned by Gavrilan.
"Since the Washington Post has published the charge, it bears some responsibility for the allegations," said Marat Gramov, Soviet sports minister. "It appears the correspondent was not a very competent sportswriter."
Gramov said Bubka has been tested for drugs on several occasions in several countries.
Feinstein, who was at the press conference, said he quoted Tully and Bell accurately, which was confirmed by the other two reporters present at the interview, David Kindred of the Atlanta Constitution and John Sarni of the Fort Lauderdale News.
Gavrilan said Bubka has written a letter of protest to the Soviet sports journalists' federation and to the International Assn. of Sports Journalists.
In an interview last week, Bubka criticized coverage of him by the foreign media.
"It is not pleasant to read lies about oneself," he said.
It is believed that no Soviet citizen has sued a U.S. newspaper for libel. However, in an unprecedented action last week, a Los Angeles federal judge awarded a California businessman $413,000 in damages after he sued a Soviet newspaper, Izvestia, which had accused him of being an American spy.
Speculation here is that Bubka's threatened legal action may be retaliation by the Soviet government for the suit against Izvestia.