Tuesday, February 12, 2002 Updated: February 13, 10:03 AM ET
Carroll suggests French-Russian judging link
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Olympics just aren't the Olympics
without a figure skating controversy, so consider the Salt Lake
City Games officially open for business.
David Pelletier skated a virtual flawless long program, but only had silver to show for it.
The furor over the Russians' gold medal in pairs grew Tuesday,
one day after they beat the Canadians despite an obvious technical
error. Canada's Olympic delegation demanded an investigation, and
the International Skating Union said it would conduct a rare
ISU officials would not say anything more, but president Ottavio
Cinquanta scheduled a news conference Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.
Controversy is practically a staple of figure skating, whether
it's the Tonya-Nancy brouhaha, complaints about the standings in
ice dancing or a ban on "undignified" moves.
But this one has really struck a chord with both fans and
skating insiders -- prompting calls for reforms in judging and the
ISU's organization itself.
"This is the worst thing that's happened to figure skating in a
long time," veteran U.S. coach Frank Carroll said. "I can
understand where, watching that, if the International Olympic
Committee said, 'We don't want figure skating in the Olympics
anymore,' who's going to argue with that?"
The IOC isn't giving figure skaters the boot yet, but it is
"concerned," said Francois Carrard, its director general. "The
ultimate responsibility for the results lies with the ISU."
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia won the gold
medal by the tiniest of margins over Canada's Jamie Sale and David
Pelletier on Monday night. They won a 5-4 split even though
Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel.
Not only did Sale and Pelletier skate cleanly, they displayed
the kind of passion fans will remember years from now. The crowd
was already chanting "Six! Six!" by the time they finished,
begging the judges to award the Canadians a perfect score.
"When Jamie and David finished, I thought, 'That's easy. They
made it easy,' " said Sally Rehorick, Canada's chief of mission, a
former skater and judge for 25 years.
Instead, the Canadians got only four 5.9s for artistry compared
with seven 5.9s for the Russians. Boos rained down as the marks
Carroll boldly raised the question about whether the French
judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, voted for the Russians in a deal to
avenge a loss by the French dance team to the Canadians at the
Grand Prix in Canada in December.
"Does that mean now the Russian judge possibly is going to give
the French dance team first (in these Olympics)?" Carroll asked.
The ice dancing competition begins Friday.
In the meantime, Chinese judge Yang Jiasheng, who favored the Russians in a
tiebreaker, withdrew from judging the men's short program Tuesday
night "due to illness," according to an advisory on the Olympic
Sikharulidze, however, defended the judges' decision.
"We were the first to skate, and there was nothing to keep our
rivals from getting a 6.0 presentation mark for skating after us,"
he told the Sport Express, a Russian newspaper.
"But they didn't, and that means they were not head and
shoulders above us. ... So let me repeat, I think that our victory
is a worthy one."
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory telegram
to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, the Kremlin press office reported
Wednesday, expressing his "his sincere congratulations on the
Almost everyone else disagreed. Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold
medalist and an NBC commentator Monday night, said it was clear to
him that Sale and Pelletier outskated the Russians.
"The judges really weren't judging the program," he said.
"Maybe they'd come in with preconceived notions that they didn't
want to dismiss."
Ah, figure skating's age-old problem: Critics of the sport
dismiss it for its subjectivity, saying it's vulnerable to the
whims and shenanigans of the judges.
And history's full of examples to support that. The oldest scam
is vote trading, with judges agreeing to vote for a certain skater
with the understanding they can call in the debt later.
Carroll remains convinced American Linda Fratianne lost the gold
medal in 1980 because judges traded votes along geopolitical lines.
Annette Poetzsch of East Germany won instead, while Fratianne
settled for silver.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn
Bourne and Victor Kraatz contended the Russians and French
conspired to keep them off the medals podium. The couple that won
the bronze, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, represented
France, and Anissina was born in Russia.
And two pairs judges were suspended after TV footage at the 1999
world championships showed them glancing at each other and
appearing to talk before marks were announced.
"Subjectivity in our sport is not a bad thing, as long as the
subjectivity is based on fair play in the spirit of the Olympics,"
Rehorick said. "I do feel the credibility of our sport could be
negatively affected by this decision."
But some people, including American skater Timothy Goebel, are
willing to cut the judges a little slack. Figure skating is all in
the details, many of which most fans never pick up.
"You just don't know what the judges are seeing," he said
after finishing third in the men's short program Tuesday night.
"They have maybe 30 seconds to make a decision and put a mark
"Hindsight is always a wonderful thing," he added.