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Wednesday, February 13, 2002
 
Pairs judge pressured to 'act in a certain way'

Associated Press


SALT LAKE CITY -- The French figure skating judge was pressured to "act in a certain way" before she voted to give the gold to the Russians in pairs, the head of the French Olympic team said Wednesday night.

Benoit Lavoie
Canadian judge Benoit Lavoie has a few words with Canadian silver medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier after Monday's controversial result.

However, Didier Gailhaguet denied any wrongdoing on the part of the French skating federation in what has become the biggest story of the Winter Games.

"Some people close to the judge have acted badly and have put someone who is honest and upright, but emotionally fragile, under pressure," Gailhaguet said of judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne. "She is a fragile person and I think she has been somewhat manipulated."

Meanwhile, in a highly unusual move, the International Olympic Committee told the figure skating union to quickly settle the judging dispute that has consumed the Winter Games for two days.

Questions of improper judging have centered on Le Gougne, one of five judges who favored the Russians despite the couple's obvious technical error. Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze edged Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 5-4 in the free skate Monday night.

"We cannot continue to let our judge be lambasted in this way," Gailhaguet said. "What is true is that Marie-Reine has been put under pressure, which pushed her to act in a certain way.

"We have no fear," Gailhaguet said, speaking as president of the French skating federation. "Contrary to the accusations, there was no collusion with the East European nations."

ISU rules prevent judges from commenting publicly about decisions. Le Gougne refused to accept calls to her hotel.

Earlier Wednesday, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta said he had received "certain allegations" from American referee Ronald Pfenning, who oversaw the nine judges scoring the competition.

In responding to questions about reports a judge might have been pressured to vote for the Russians, Cinquanta said the judge denied it.

"I have an allegation and a denial," he said, refusing to identify the judge.

The IOC warned if the skating federation fails to resolve the problem quickly, the IOC itself might step in.

"It's our games, too," IOC director general Francois Carrard said. "We are concerned for the athletes. It is our concern that this be settled expeditiously."

The IOC, in a letter from new president Jacques Rogge to Cinquanta, didn't set a deadline.

Carrard said Rogge and Cinquanta met privately before the regularly scheduled IOC board meeting, and that the skating chief assured Rogge the ice dance competition would take place as scheduled Friday "and be presented in the most proper way."

The dispute could lead to changes in the way the sport is judged.

Cinquanta said he was embarrassed by the furor over the Russians winning despite an obvious technical error. Canada's Olympic delegation has demanded an independent investigation, and the federation said it would conduct a rare "internal assessment."

Pfenning, the only one allowed to present allegations of wrongdoing, could have been relaying a complaint from himself or any of the judges.

Cinquanta did not provide details of the allegations. Others also had questioned the results, "but the most important is the one of the referee," he said.

"He is the coordinator of the competition."

Cinquanta made it clear the integrity of judging -- and the sport itself -- is at stake. So did Rogge.

"We would like to emphasize the high urgency of the matter and the need to take adequate action as quickly as possible," said Rogge, at his first Olympics since replacing Juan Antonio Samaranch last July.

Cinquanta had said there could be no resolution until the ISU executive board meets Monday. However, Rogge's warning could speed up the process.

Regardless, the judging system seems destined for an overhaul.

"We are on the eve of possible revision of the judging system and it could limit the possibility of misunderstandings," Cinquanta said.

Skate Canada, which filed an appeal of the pairs outcome with the ISU on Wednesday, also recognized the impact of the controversy.

"We wouldn't be here if we didn't think this was a crucial time for our beautiful sport," said Marilyn Chidlow, president of Skate Canada.

And an ugly time.

Skate Canada went so far as to call for the independent investigation even though it had no proof of any irregularities.

"We will look for that firsthand information," Chidlow said, "and be very, very careful of our work in the process."

Canadian officials said they don't want the Russians stripped of the gold medal, but they believe Sale and Pelletier should be rewarded if any evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered.

"We are not here to pull someone down, we are here to pull somebody up," said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Association. "We see no reason why the council of the ISU should not consider awarding a second gold medal."

Cinquanta, however, reiterated that the competition was over, meaning the Russians would keep their gold medal.

Sale and Pelletier skated cleanly and the crowd was chanting "Six! Six!" by the time they finished, begging the judges to award the Canadians a perfect score.

The Canadians got only four 5.9s for artistry compared with seven 5.9s for the Russians, even though Sikharulidze stepped out of a jump. Boos rained down from the crowd as the marks were flashed.

Chambers said the COA was filing the appeal right away because, "There is no time to wait, we're at the Olympic Games now and we must file the appeal now for any hope of a decision before the end of the games."

Nancy Kerrigan, a two-time Olympic medalist who knows something about controversy, said Wednesday she was not surprised about the allegations of vote fixing and thought the Canadian team should have won.

Speaking to a sports promotion class at the University of New Hampshire, Kerrigan said the latest uproar should lead to changes in judging.

"It seems like this could be the last straw," she told WMUR-TV at the university. "There should be some kind of adjustment."

Kerrigan said judges should banned from watching practice sessions that could influence their votes and should be allowed to be interviewed afterward to explain their decisions.

Kerrigan was attacked in a knee-whacking incident before the 1994 U.S. National Championships. She recovered to win a silver medal at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Her main U.S. rival, Tonya Harding, denied advance knowledge of the attack on Kerrigan but admitted helping to cover it up. As a result, the U.S. Figure Skating Association banned her for life.

The story dominated the Lillehammer Olympics.