Friday, February 15, 2002
Le Gougne: 'Emotionally fragile' or tough?
PARIS -- Some call her tough under pressure, others say
she's "emotionally fragile." Marie-Reine Le Gougne, an obscure
figure skating judge just a week ago, is suddenly in the middle of
one of the biggest Olympic scandals ever.
International skating officials accused her of misconduct, and
suspended her pending a hearing. Le Gougne had said she was
pressured by her own federation to give a gold medal in pairs
figuring skating to a Russian couple.
Le Gougne, who lives in the eastern city of Strasbourg, was a
skater herself. After making it as far as the French championships,
she instead turned to judging.
In January 2001, she spoke toughly in describing her struggle to
survive in the world of skating, and denounced what she saw as
rampant sexism in that world.
"To succeed, (a woman) has to prove oneself 20 times more than
a guy does," she told L'Humanite, a French newspaper. "I know
many young girls who quit because they didn't have the strength to
continue to fight."
"As for me, they did everything they could to eliminate me, and
of course the attacks were often below the belt.
"I got anonymous phone calls ... They enter into your personal
life and try to massacre you on all levels. It took 10 years of
hell to establish myself (as a judge)."
As an athlete, Le Gougne placed third at the 1976 French
championships, and eighth in the 1975 international junior
competition in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.
She began judging in 1981, and has worked the World
Championships and the men's event at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games
in Nagano. But she attracted little attention until the scandal
broke this week.
The 40-year-old French judge says she was pressured by her own
federation to give Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze
the gold. The vote was close -- 5-4 -- but it surprised many
observers, who felt Canadian Jamie Sale and David Pelletier skated
flawlessly, while the Russians made a few technical errors.
Didier Gailhaguet, head of the French Olympic committee and the
country's figure skating federation, told an Associated Press
reporter that Le Gougne was "honest and upright but emotionally
fragile under pressure."
Fellow skating judge Philippe Meriguet described her differently
to France Soir newspaper: "She's not in the habit of (bending),
but rather resisting pressure."