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Friday, February 15, 2002
 
Le Gougne: 'Emotionally fragile' or tough?

Associated Press


PARIS -- Some call her tough under pressure, others say she's "emotionally fragile." Marie-Reine Le Gougne, an obscure figure skating judge just a week ago, is suddenly in the middle of one of the biggest Olympic scandals ever.

International skating officials accused her of misconduct, and suspended her pending a hearing. Le Gougne had said she was pressured by her own federation to give a gold medal in pairs figuring skating to a Russian couple.

Le Gougne, who lives in the eastern city of Strasbourg, was a skater herself. After making it as far as the French championships, she instead turned to judging.

In January 2001, she spoke toughly in describing her struggle to survive in the world of skating, and denounced what she saw as rampant sexism in that world.

"To succeed, (a woman) has to prove oneself 20 times more than a guy does," she told L'Humanite, a French newspaper. "I know many young girls who quit because they didn't have the strength to continue to fight."

"As for me, they did everything they could to eliminate me, and of course the attacks were often below the belt.

"I got anonymous phone calls ... They enter into your personal life and try to massacre you on all levels. It took 10 years of hell to establish myself (as a judge)."

As an athlete, Le Gougne placed third at the 1976 French championships, and eighth in the 1975 international junior competition in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.

She began judging in 1981, and has worked the World Championships and the men's event at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano. But she attracted little attention until the scandal broke this week.

The 40-year-old French judge says she was pressured by her own federation to give Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze the gold. The vote was close -- 5-4 -- but it surprised many observers, who felt Canadian Jamie Sale and David Pelletier skated flawlessly, while the Russians made a few technical errors.

Didier Gailhaguet, head of the French Olympic committee and the country's figure skating federation, told an Associated Press reporter that Le Gougne was "honest and upright but emotionally fragile under pressure."

Fellow skating judge Philippe Meriguet described her differently to France Soir newspaper: "She's not in the habit of (bending), but rather resisting pressure."