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Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Russia celebrating gold, not debating controversy

Associated Press

MOSCOW -- As far as the Russians are concerned, they won the gold. What's all the fuss about?

Russia let the rest of the world fret about the controversial judges' ruling that gave its pairs skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze the gold medal in Salt Lake City despite an obvious technical error.

The victory over audience favorite Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada continued Russia's dominance in the pairs, stretching back to 1964.

Many skating fans, particularly in North America, thought the streak should have ended Monday night after the Canadians skated a flawless routine that had the audience screaming, "Six! Six!" in a plea for a perfect score. The judges, however, ranked the Canadians' artistry below the Russians.

Canada's Olympic delegation demanded an investigation, and the International Skating Union said it would conduct a rare "internal assessment."

The Russian Olympic Committee, in a statement from Salt Lake City that was reported on Russian television, said the result was fair and should "not be dismantled."

"Victory goes to whomever pleases the judges," pairs coach Tamara Moskvina told the newspaper Izvestia. "My job is to study the tastes of the judges and focus on that."

The decision by the judges raised concerns in the skating world about the subjective rules governing the sport. The Russians won despite failing to skate a technically clean program. Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel -- an error he insisted was "a blot, not a mistake," according to Russian media reports.

"Of course, they could have avoided that error," Russian coach and former Olympic champion Oleg Vasilyev was quoted as telling Russian news agency ITAR-Tass. "But even though Sikharulidze made a slight technical error, ... they produced a superlative artistic impression. It was their victory."

The gold medal win was front-page news in this country, but the Russian media didn't dwell on the controversy, instead celebrating their 38-year history of first-place finishes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to the skaters, expressing "sincere congratulations on a superb victory," the Kremlin press office said.

And Valentin Piseyev, president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, was entirely unrepentant.

"Our skaters were better and they won first place. What else is there?" he told Russia's NTV.