Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Winter 2002 [Print without images]

Saturday, February 16, 2002
Ferguson: 'I don't think it's just between 2 nations'

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- The French judge at the center of the figure skating scandal was pressured by people outside her own federation before her vote caused an uproar that led to her suspension, an ISU member said Saturday.

Claire Ferguson, the U.S. member of the International Skating Union, doesn't believe another federation intimidated Marie-Reine Le Gougne to vote for the Russian pairs over the Canadians last week.

"But other people from other places," Ferguson said Saturday. "I don't think it's just between two nations. This organization has a lot of people with a lot of opinions."

The French federation also has been accused of pressuring Le Gougne to vote for Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, but its president denied the claims.

"Marie-Reine cracked and was under extremely negative influence for several days," said Didier Gailhaguet, also head of the French Olympic team. "And this person, normally solid ... was emotionally destroyed. I am convinced that things have been done to her" in the days leading to the pairs competition.

The Russians edged Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 5-4 in Monday night's free skate for the pairs gold despite an obvious technical error. The International Olympic Committee awarded a second gold to the Canadians on Friday.

With such a close decision Monday came a lengthy discussion during a routine review the next day.

But nothing seemed amiss until Le Gougne made statements that referee Ron Pfenning said "shocked" the panel.

"Watching her during the meeting, she didn't say a lot and she was teary-eyed," he said. "It was as if the pressure was building and building and she wanted to let it out."

Le Gougne did, blurting out, "You don't understand! You don't understand! There is such pressure," according to Pfenning.

The rest of the panel simply listened to her rambling outburst, though it did prompt a discussion of the inherent pressures of judging.

Pfenning said Le Gougne mentioned the French federation and Gailhaguet, then added, "You must help us. You must help us," referring to judges and the pressure they are under.

Pfenning also received two "communications" regarding her conduct, but he refused to divulge details because it was part of the investigation.

"If an official is aware of improprieties or misconduct, there is an obligation for them to report it to the referee," he said.

After the meeting, an incredulous Pfenning asked assistant referee Alexander Lakernik to confirm what Le Gougne said. Pfenning then filed a report with ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta later Tuesday.

"I followed the rules," Pfenning said, "and that's what started all this."

At an emergency ISU council meeting two days later, Le Gougne was suspended and her vote disqualified.

As part of a back-room deal, Le Gougne voted for Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze in exchange for a Russian judge's vote for the French ice dancers, ESPN.com reported, citing a skating official it did not identify.

Ferguson said she wasn't entirely surprised the judge broke down at the Tuesday review.

"I have judged with the judge in question and I have also been around judging and judged myself for over 40 years," she said. "So when you learn someone is confused, you realize there is probably going to be a problem."

This problem turned into a scandal overshadowing the Winter Games.

And the investigation isn't over, even though Sale and Pelletier will be presented their gold medals after the original dance competition Sunday night.

In France, Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet said figure skating needed an overhaul.

Ferguson, an ISU member since 1984, believes something positive will come out of the pairs mess.

"I think it will hurt it and then it will heal it," she said.

"I think it will probably lead to a lot of other innovations. There are a number of people on the council who would like to do innovative things and change the direction we are going in.

"Maybe this will help."