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Tuesday, February 26, 2002
 
Federation head points finger at media

Associated Press


PARIS -- The president of the French skating federation called the decision to award a second Olympic gold medal to Canada in the pairs competition "total nonsense."

Didier Gailhaguet, returning from the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, also insisted Tuesday that there was no wrongdoing on the part of either French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne or the French skating federation.

"We were dirtied in a media affair without precedent," Gailhaguet said.

Le Gougne sparked one of the biggest controversies in Olympic skating history this month when she cast a crucial vote in favor of Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. The Russians won 5-4 despite an obvious technical error.

Le Gougne at first said she'd been pressured into voting for the Russians by Gailhaguet -- apparently in a vote-swapping deal to assure a victory in ice dancing for the French couple, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. But then she recanted that story and said she had voted honestly and with her conscience.

Canadian judge Benoit Lavoie was quoted in Tuesday's editions of Le Journal de Montreal as saying that Le Gougne "confessed to not having had a choice in favoring the Russian couple."

Lavoie added that Le Gougne also "implicated Didier Gailhaguet as the source of this pressure."

And he denied the French judge's accusation that he lobbied colleagues to favor Sale and Pelletier.

"All I can say is I've never had trouble sleeping," Lavoie said during a news conference Tuesday in Ste. Foy, Quebec. "I feel comfortable with everything I did."

Breaking his silence over the controversy, Lavoie said he felt Sale and Pelletier clearly deserved the gold medal, but denied campaigning on their behalf.

"In my heart it was clear. There should have been a majority -- or even unanimity," he said. "I'd really thought they won."

The International Olympic Committee suspended Le Gougne indefinitely and awarded a gold medal to the Canadian pair. Gailhaguet criticized those actions and said he thinks Le Gougne voted for the Russians simply because she believed they deserved to win.

"To accuse people, you need evidence," he said. "In no case did we cheat."

"It was total nonsense to award two gold medals," Gailhaguet added.

After retracting her earlier story, Le Gougne suggested she was pressured by senior skating officials in Canada and that Sally Stapleford, chairwoman of the International Skating Union's powerful technical committee, suggested she identify the French federation as the culprit.

Stapleford was born and raised in Britain and lives in London, but also holds a Canadian passport.

"I have trouble understanding this enormous pressure (on Le Gougne)," Lavoie said. "We're trained for it. We all have pressure. (Le Gougne) has experience. She's been to the Olympics before."

The Canadian Olympic Association has dismissed any claims of Canadian pressure.

"I don't know if she did that, I wasn't there," Gailhaguet said Tuesday. "But if she did, she should immediately resign."

He also said the French skating federation has made proposals to reform the judging system.

"That's what we wanted, but we have systematically been rebuffed by the Anglo-Saxon countries," he said. "So who is profiting from the crime?"

The ISU will meet in April to make a final decision about the accusations. The ISU Council received a report from its investigators.

Le Gougne and Gailhaguet will have a chance to defend themselves at the meeting in April. No date has been set.