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Saturday, February 16, 2002
Infighting among French could hit fever pitch

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Olympic judging scandal is all about the French now.

Canadian figure skaters David Pelletier and Jamie Sale have their own gold medal and the Russians, Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya, are keeping the ones they won Monday night.

But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne has been suspended indefinitely after admitting she was put under pressure before the event -- pressure she said came from Didier Gailhaguet, the president of her country's skating federation.

According International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta, the judge said she had been "submitted to a certain pressure" from Gailhaguet not to vote for the Canadians.

Gailhaguet, who combines the title of French figure skating president with the prestigious job of French team leader at the Olympics, confirmed Le Gougne had made the stunning allegation -- but had immediately retracted it.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press late Friday, Gailhaguet said Le Gougne made the allegation "under what I would call crushing pressure at the event review meeting" Tuesday morning.

"She did not say these things since she withdrew them," he said.

"To the contrary, she totally vindicated the president of the French federation," Gailhaguet said of himself.

When Le Gougne's allegation became public Friday, Gailhaguet said "I'm beginning to have enough of the fact that France is badly treated."

He said he had never put pressure on Le Gougne.

"I invite you to ask yourself why a judge, universally recognized for years as competent and honest, collapses in the midst of an event, I mean a postmeeting reunion," he said. "How did we get to this? Light must be shed on this."

Gailhaguet said Le Gougne "has said and written that she has voted in all honesty and good conscience."

French Olympic Committee president Henri Serandour said Thursday that the scandal "did not implicate the French delegation," and Gailhaguet said he had the organization's support.

"Serandour assured me of his backing 10 minutes ago," he said. "I am perfectly at ease."

The controversy has generated headlines worldwide, particularly in Russia and Canada and the United States. But the French media has started to weigh in.

Figure skater Philippe Candeloro, the 1994 and 1998 bronze medalist, told the France Soir newspaper Friday that "if France did not plot, it would not have any medals."

Referring to the Moliere's famed schemer Scapin, he added that "there was the scheming of Scapin. Now there is the scheming of Gailhaguet."