Tuesday, February 19, 2002
French and Japanese officials trade barbs
SALT LAKE CITY -- On a day the International Skating Union leader called a "great moment for us" as he proposed a revolutionary new judging system, two figure skating officials swapped ugly accusations about their roles in reform and the lingering Olympic scandal.
An ISU vice president said Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation, had pressured judges in the past and should be kicked out of the ISU if he forced a French judge to cheat last week at the Olympics.
"As far I know, it is not the first time for Didier to make such pressure. There were other cases in the past," said Katsuichiro Hisanaga of Japan, the highest-ranking figure skating official in the ISU.
He did not detail other cases, but said Gailhaguet should be thrown off the ISU executive council if its members believe judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne's accusation that he urged her to vote for a Russian couple in pairs skating.
Told of Hisanaga's comments, Gailhaguet denied pressuring any judge.
"Very honestly, if there is someone at the table of the council who had better shut up, I think it is Mr. Hisanaga," he said. "Because Mr. Hisanaga, since he has been vice president of the ISU, has brought about no reform whatsoever, no single positive point for the ISU.
"Overall, the competence of Mr. Hisanaga is left wanting."
The exchange came as the ISU council discussed changes to the subjective judging system used in figure skating events worldwide. The system has drawn harsh criticism since the pairs event last week, which led to Le Gougne's suspension for misconduct and a second set of gold medals for Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta said an internal investigation is underway. One of the witnesses contacted Tuesday by the ISU was Jon Jackson, an ISU championship judge and an attorney from San Francisco.
Jackson wrote a letter to the ISU last Wednesday detailing what he described as an emotional and spontaneous "confession" by Le Gougne in a hotel lobby about an hour after the pairs competition.
"I was right there. She came right up to Sally Stapleford (an ISU council member) and said, 'Ice dancing is ruining the sport of figure skating. I have to defend myself. I did this for my dance team. It's a deal with the Russians, first place for first place.'
"She was very clear and unequivocal. There was no misunderstanding. She's a very bright woman and she speaks perfect English. I walked away feeling they're finally going to crack open corruption in figure skating. I had just witnessed a very clear confession."
Jackson said he wrote a letter to the ISU about the incident after watching Cinquanta's news conference Wednesday.
"It sounded like maybe he didn't have all the information," Jackson said. "It was surprising to me."
Cinquanta announced a plan Monday to swap the current system with one that relies on a simpler grading system and a computer's random selection of scores. That way, judges wouldn't know beforehand whose scores would be used.
But the plan must be studied before it can be approved. One thing that remains in front of the ISU is the skating scandal.
Cinquanta, who comes from the sport of speedskating, said Gailhaguet would be interviewed by a special commission appointed by the ISU to get to the bottom of what happened and determine whether Gailhaguet bears responsibility.
"We punished her because she admitted having done this," he said of Le Gougne. "If Mr. Gailhaguet or another one would admit a mistake we will also punish him."
Apart from being French figure skating president, Gailhaguet is also the French team chief at the Olympics, the second-highest post under French Olympic federation president Henri Serandour.
Gailhaguet was asked to leave the meeting when other members reviewed Le Gougne's statements that he pressured her to vote for the Russians. She provided the swing vote in a 5-4 decision that gave the gold to the Russian couple over Sale and Pelletier.
Le Gougne wanted to tell the ISU her version of what happened but she was not allowed to appear before the 11-member council's closed session.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the event, Le Gougne told the French sports daily L'Equipe over the weekend that she had never made a deal involving the pairs competition.
However, Cinquanta said Le Gougne admitted wrongdoing after an interview with him and others that was conducted "extremely professionally."
"I think she was under the best conditions," he said. "Obviously she wasn't happy. But what she said and what she signed was something that she reviewed. She looked at it."
Others criticized Le Gougne's claim that she was verbally attacked by Stapleford, the ISU technical committee chairwoman, at a hotel following the pairs skate.
Jackson called Le Gougne's version of what happened inaccurate.
Jackson also laughed off Le Gougne's assertion that Stapleford came up with the idea that the French judge might have been pressured to vote as she did by Gailhaguet and that Stapleford was part of a Canadian conspiracy to support Sale and Pelletier.
Stapleford was born in Britain, grew up there and still lives in London, but also has a Canadian passport because her father was Canadian.
"When accusations get that ridiculous," Jackson said, "it's an indication that people are running scared."
Stapleford also denied Le Gougne's allegation Monday, saying she saw Le Gougne in the hotel and she "ran off in a very emotional state."