Friday, February 15, 2002
Updated: February 16, 8:15 PM ET
Sale, Pelletier share gold with Russian pair
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Canadians got their gold after all, not on the ice but in a late-night deal struck in a hotel suite.
There are two Olympic pairs champions now, both their medals tarnished perhaps, but not as much as figure skating itself after the biggest judging scandal of the Winter Games.
The extraordinary deal that awarded Jamie Sale and David Pelletier gold medals capped a furious debate that had engulfed the games for nearly a week.
The agreement also allows Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze to keep their gold medals, narrowly won during Monday night's free-skate program.
"Justice was done," Pelletier said. "It doesn't take away anything from Elena and Anton. This was not something against them. It was something against the system."
Ottavio Cinquanta, head of the International Skating Union, said judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne of France told the ISU she was under "a certain pressure" to vote for the Russians, leaving the Canadians with silver.
When asked after a news conference whether the pressure came from the French federation, Cinquanta replied, "This is the allegation."
Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely and has signed a statement about how she reached her vote, Cinquanta said. There was no evidence of Russian involvement, he added, without giving further details about Le Gougne's motivation.
"This pressure resulted in putting this judge in a condition not to give the gold medal" to the Canadians, Cinquanta said. "We have declared misconduct."
French federation president Didier Gailhaguet denied the federation put pressure on Le Gougne, who had checked out of her hotel in Salt Lake City. ISU rules prohibit her from discussing her votes publicly.
But in a tearful moment during an ISU review session Tuesday, Le Gougne named Gailhaguet as the one who exerted pressure on her to vote for the Russians, The Washington Post reported on its Web site Friday.
"You don't understand! You don't understand!" lead referee Ron Pfenning quoted Le Gougne as saying, according to the newspaper. "The pressure is enormous! There is so much pressure that my federation, that the president, Didier, put on me to put the Russians first! You've got to help! You've got to help!"
That afternoon, the Post said, Pfenning wrote a letter to the ISU that said:
"During the event review meeting, Marie-Reine Le Gougne informed the panel she had received instructions from the French federation, naming Didier Gailhaguet as having instructed her to place the Russian team first."
Pfenning handed the letter to Cinquanta, setting in motion the investigation that led to Le Gougne's suspension and the awarding of gold to the Canadians.
Cinquanta said he hoped to present Sale and Pelletier with their gold medals on Thursday before the start of the women's long program.
"We do hope we can get the bronze, too, so we can get the entire collection," Pelletier said, laughing.
Sale said she hopes the investigation goes even further.
"For the future of our sport this has to be fixed," she said. "The truth still has to come out."
Cinquanta met with ISU council members to carve out the decision in a downtown hotel after the men's program Thursday night. He skirted questions about who exactly pressured Le Gougne, and why. But he suggested that other officials might be punished and that the sport will undertake a long-needed overhaul of the judging system.
"The investigation is not concluded," he said, "but we have got enough evidence to take the first decision."
Sale said she felt cheated out of her greatest Olympic moment when she and Pelletier weren't able to stand on the top step of the medals podium.
"That's what every Olympian dreams of, and that's all I've dreamt of my whole life," she said. "I visualized being in the middle and hearing my anthem. I was prepared for it, emotionally and physically.
"You bet I was cheated out of that big time."
The controversy began when Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were awarded a 5-4 decision over the Canadians at the free skate, surprising many observers. Sale and Pelletier skated flawlessly while the Russians made a few technical errors.
The victory allowed the Russians to extend their streak of winning gold in the pairs in every Olympics since 1964.
The controversy renewed complaints over the subjectivity of judging and brought to mind the Cold War era, when many competitors suspected that medals were sometimes awarded on the basis of politics.
Sikharulidze reacted bitterly to the decision.
"The media is making us like bad guys. We are not bad guys. We never talked to judges. I don't have enough money to buy nine judges," he said. "We are good skaters and we are good guys. I can't really enjoy this. ... I can't even talk to my parents about this."
In Washington, President Bush said, "I do think it's the right thing to award two gold medals for the skaters." Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko said she was upset the scandal that has taken the luster off her country's victory.
The Canadians, meanwhile, were "heartened and encouraged" that the investigation is not over, Marilyn Chidlow, president of Skate Canada, said.
When the decision was announced a cheer went up at the Canadian Olympic Lodge that serves as a hospitality house in downtown Salt Lake City. Fans soon gathered to sing the national anthem.
"Welcome to Canada and welcome to our gold!" volunteer Tom McAfee yelled to visitors as they entered.
Responding to a recommendation from the ISU, the IOC's executive board voted 7-1 on Friday morning, with one abstention, to give the Canadians the gold.
"We took a position that is one of justice and fairness for the athletes," new IOC president Jacques Rogge said.
Russian member Vitaly Smirnov abstained from the vote, while He Zhenliang of China voted against the recommendation, according to an Olympic source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The head of the Russian Figure Skating Federation criticized the IOC's move.
"This is an unprecedented decision that turned out to be a result of pressure by the North American press, and turned out in favor of the fanatically loyal" fans, Valentin Piseyev told Russia's NTV television.
Cinquanta acknowledged that "public opinion helped a great deal" in influencing the ISU's action. "That's a good thing," he added.
The IOC decision was not unprecedented.
Duplicate medals have been awarded four times. The latest was in 1993, when the committee gave a second gold medal in synchronized swimming from the Barcelona Games to Canada's Sylvie Frechette.
"We hope it doesn't happen again," said Rogge, at his first Olympics after replacing IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch last July.
Some people questioned whether the Canadians' victory would tarnish what it means to win gold.
"There will be an asterisk," said Stephen Harris, associate editor of the Journal of Olympic History. "Everybody who wins a gold medal now, when it's not decided by speed or time, they will always second-guess it."
Skaters have been complaining about politics and biased judges for decades, and some believe this decision will open the way to many athletes challenging judges' votes.
"I think this kind of a situation is going to have repercussions in other disciplines," said Ivan Rezek, coach of the Czech pairs team that finished eighth. "Everyone will cry out asking for a gold medal."
The IOC decision came just hours before the case was to be heard by an international arbitration panel for sport. The hearing was canceled.
Since Monday, there have been reports that Le Gougne was pressured to cast her vote for the Russians. On Wednesday night, Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French Olympic team, told The Associated Press that Le Gougne had been "under pressure, which pushed her to act in a certain way" when she voted.
But he maintained the pressure did not come from his federation.
"I completely deny the scandalous allegations," Gailhaguet said Friday.
The ISU had planned to review the scoring at a meeting next week, but the deal allowed the matter to be settled in the swift manner the IOC had urged.
In the 1993 case, the IOC's executive board agreed that Frechette was placed second because of a judging error and should be awarded a gold.
The decision came after the Canadian swimming federation protested because a Brazilian judge was not allowed to correct the 8.7 score she mistyped into her computer. The intended 9.7 would have given Frechette the gold. The IOC's decision did not affect Kristen Babb-Sprague of the United States, who was originally awarded the gold and kept her medal.