Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Canadians want a dual gold medal
By Jim Caple
SALT LAKE CITY -- If you liked the Florida recount, you'll love the growing figure skating controversy.
Two days after the pairs competition ended in a controversial victory and the day after the gold medal was awarded to the Russsian pair, the Canadian Olympic Association has begun an appeal to gain Jamie Sale and David Pelletier a gold medal, as well.
"We don't want to say anything to tarnish the medals won by the Russian pairs," COA president Michael Chambers said. "We're not here to pull someone down but to pull somebody else up. It has happened before and I don't see why it can't happen again. If it turns out to be the case ... that the judging was tarnished, that there was one or more judges acting inappropriately, the council of the ISU should consider awarding a second gold medal."
The Canadians also have asked for an external investigation into the judging.
Saying he was "embarrassed" by the controversy, ISU council president Ottavio Cinquanta said his organization has begun an internal examination into the allegations of judging impropriety. Reluctant to deal in hypotheticals, he did say that it was not impossible to change the medals but that it was extremely unlikely.
Cinquanta said the referee for the pairs judges, Ronald Pfenning of the United States, made a formal allegation regarding the judging. Cinquanta would not reveal the specifics of the allegation, nor which judge it was directed at but he did say the person in question denied the allegation. He said there were other allegations but the "most important is the one of the referee."
The Canadians declined to go into the specifics of their appeal but Chambers said it focused on allegations that the judges were not acting in good faith as required in the ISU regulations. As of now, the Canadians say they have no evidence to prove their charges. "The information we have is second hand," Skate Canada president Marilyn Chidlow said. "We act on fact. We will look for that first-hand information and be very careful about our work in progress."
The controversy erupted Monday after judges scored a narrow victory for Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over Sale and Pelletier. While the performances were close, the Russians had a technical error and the Canadian pair was the clear crowd favorite. The crowd filled the arena with jeers when the judges posted their scores.
Allegations over tainted judging began almost immediately, with many focusing on the scoring breakdown by nation. The U.S., Canadian, Japanese and German judges scored Sale and Pelletier higher while the Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Chinese and the French judges scored Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze higher.
Chidlow said she can't remember exactly when she first heard the allegations but Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported Wednesday that the pairs competition was fixed, with judges trading scores in the pairs for scores in the dance. The paper reported that the ice dance medals have already been decided, with the gold set for the Italians, the silver for the Russians and the bronze for the French.
Cinquanto denied any knowledge of such a pre-arrangement.
Longtime skating coach Frank Carroll also revealed suspicions to a reporter, asking whether the Russian judge will side with the French skaters in the dance competition in exchange for the French favoring the Russian pair. The Russians have won the gold in every Olympics since 1964 while the dance is the French team's best shot at a figure skating medal.
Cinquanta said the ISU council will examine the allegations at its originally scheduled meeting Monday when it planned to examine changes in judging anyway. That will be the day after the ice dancing program ends but Cinquanta was baffled by suggestions the ISU should act more quickly. "Why?"
"Hopefully, the judges will remember the Olympic oath during the opening ceremonies and it will be a fair competition," said U.S. dancer Peter Tchernyshev.
The Canadians said they were pleased that Cinquanta is open to changes in judging, but Chambers said that an independent review is necessary. He acknowledged that the team has no recourse if the ISU turns it down.
"It doesn't seem to us to be very difficult to establish an independent inquiry," Chambers said. "The ISU seems to disagree with us on this, but we think to their own benefit it would bring credibility to the process if they were to have an independent review from to someone from outside of themselves."
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.