Friday, February 15, 2002
Will this decision cause a chain reaction?
SALT LAKE CITY -- Now that Jamie Sale and David Pelletier have a gold medal, Liz Manley wonders if maybe she should ask for one, too.
Manley was only joking, but there are plenty of skaters worried that Friday's decision will throw their sport into even greater turmoil -- if that's possible.
Skating's history is littered with dozens of people wronged by politics and biased judges. Will they be clamoring for their just reward now, too?
"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."
Scott Hamilton wasn't so sure.
"It's not so much a can of worms, but it could open a can of sour grapes," the 1984 gold medalist said. "This is a special set of circumstances, an extraordinary set of circumstances."
The International Olympic Committee awarded Sale and Pelletier a gold medal after the French judge in Monday night's pairs final admitted she was pressured by her own federation to put the Russians first.
It's the biggest judging scandal ever at the Winter Games, and it's overshadowed everything else in Salt Lake City.
It's also made Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze feel like "villains," even though they did nothing wrong.
"The media is making us like bad guys," a bitter Sikharulidze said. "We are not bad guys. We never talked to judges. I don't have enough money to buy nine judges."
While Sale and Pelletier's silver medal became an international incident, judging controversies are as much a part of skating as lutzes and loops. It just wouldn't be an Olympics without someone crying foul -- or just crying, period.
Manley could have made the case in 1988, when she was fourth in compulsory figures and had to settle for silver behind Katarina Witt despite winning the free skate.
And how about Linda Fratianne, who "won" a silver medal in 1980 under circumstances similar to Sale and Pelletier's.
"Is this going to cause a million athletes to come forward and say, 'Where do I get my gold medal?"' Manley asked. "I'm happy with the decision, but at the same time I have to say the other side of me is scared on where it's going to lead."
The International Skating Union said it still plans to investigate and see what can be done to prevent judging irregularities in the future. But that's not going to help the people who got robbed in the past.
"One of the questions I'm always asked is, `How would your life be different if you'd won the gold medal?' I'll never know that, and I said earlier that Jamie and David will never know that," Fratianne said from her home in Ketchum, Idaho.
"I'm so happy for them that they now can experience what it's like to have a gold medal."
As the reigning world champion, Fratianne went to the Lake Placid Games as the favorite. She wound up with the silver in what most believe was a fix.
She's been told that judges conspired along geopolitical lines to keep her from winning the gold medal. Her mother even overheard two international judges in a bathroom say before the competition began that Fratianne was going to get the silver medal.
An East German, Anett Poetzsch, won the gold.
"My life has gone on and my life is full," Fratianne said. "But it's hard to look back and not think, `What if we yelled a little louder?' `What if I could have found some proof?"'
When Fratianne saw Sale crying on the medals podium Monday night, she started crying, too. Fratianne was so devastated by not winning the gold that she wrapped her silver medal in tissue paper and stuffed it under her bed.
It wasn't until her daughter, Ali, asked to see it four years ago that Fratianne pulled it out.
"I don't want to come across as a spoiled brat who's ungrateful to have a silver medal," she said. "But it's such a bittersweet memory for me. I felt like I let my family down, (coach) Frank Carroll, my country.
"On the flip side, I know just like Jamie and David that I did everything possible in my power as an athlete to go out and skate. ... I'm just elated for them."
As are most people outside the skating world. When the announcement was made that the Canadians would get a gold medal, a huge cheer went up from the crowd of 16,000 at the snowboarding finals.
At the Canadian Olympic Lodge, fans began singing the national anthem.
"Welcome to Canada and welcome to our gold!" volunteer Tom McAfee yelled as visitors walked in the door.
American luger Clay Ives, who competed in the 1994 and 1998 games for Canada, was thrilled when he heard the news.
"That's great!" said Ives, who won bronze in luge doubles on Friday. "I'm a proud Canadian as well. But this doesn't have to do with citizenship or anything. It's all about fairness."
Spectator Kurt Desautels of Denver agreed.
"It's nice to see somebody was rewarded for their effort and their training," he said. "They were never bitter about the results, and that to me embodies the whole Olympic spirit. I thought they showed a lot of class."