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Friday, February 15, 2002
Canadians express joy at vindication

By Eric Adelson
ESPN The Magazine


SALT LAKE CITY -- In a Canada House room packed with Roots jackets and Labatt's Blue signs, Canadians from Prince George to Prince Edward Island erupted in chants of "CANADA! CANADA!" as the word came down Friday morning that pairs skaters David Pelletier and Jamie Sale had been awarded dual gold medals.

"Absolute euphoria," said a beaming Mark Lowry, director of sport for the Canadian Olympic Association. "It's a great day for Canada."

The day began in a Salt Lake City coffee shop, where Lowry, Sale and Pelletier met with Canadian Minister of Sport Paul De Villers. The group received a surprise visit from members of the Canadian men's hockey team, who presented Sale and Pelletier with hockey jerseys bearing their names.

"It was a way to let them know they had the support of the whole team," Lowry said.

Hours later, Sale and Pelletier learned they had the support of the International Olympic Committee. Both the Canadian and Russian pairs will receive gold medals.

"There is great relief in this place," said De Villers, standing amid dozens of rabid fans and a horde of Canadian media. "It is satisfying to know the integrity of the Olympics has not been sacrificed. I'm delighted."

De Villers met with IOC president Rogge and former IOC vice president Richard Pound on Tuesday -- the morning after Sale and Pelletier skated nearly flawlessly yet wound up with a heavily-disputed silver medal. Rogge asked De Villers how he was enjoying the Games, and De Villers answered right away, "Great, except for the events of last night."

The meeting lasted a half hour, with De Villers speaking at length of his "profound disappointment." The meeting ended amicably.

"He said he saw the problems in judged sports in general," De Villers said Friday. "I took from that he took it seriously. And today's announcement shows he did."

After the initial wave of exhilaration died down, the folks at Canada House gathered around a big screen TV to watch a replay of Sale and Pelletier's final skate -- and celebrate an official gold medal performance all over again.

In Edmonton, Alberta, Sale's mother cried happily when she heard Rogge's announcement on TV at the rink where Sale trains. Patti Siegel immediately was on a cellphone to her daughter, tears streaking her cheeks.

Later, though, she expressed regret that the Canadians had to wait four days to be declared champions.

"I'm not really overjoyed," she told The Associated Press. "The fact that it has to come this way really is not the same. I'm sorry, but it's not. They took their moment away. The celebration of a first place should be once."

Jacques Pelletier, David's father, said the IOC decision created the proper record of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

"It wasn't a flash in the pan," he said of the performance by Sale and his son. "He's won his last 10 competitions and the Russians were in some of those. The symbol of what (the gold medal) represents is extremely important."

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, on a trade mission to Russia, said from Moscow that the IOC decision "merely confirms what we all knew in our hearts."

"It is a triumph for the incredible sportsmanship and class that Jamie Sale and David Pelletier have shown in the face of an extraordinary situation," Chretien said in a statement. "They are Olympians in the truest sense. They have done themselves, their families and their country proud."

He also said he expected no friction at a weekend lunch date with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"He won't be upset," Chretien said. "He has gold and I have gold so we will celebrate gold."

Across the country, Canadians seemed relieved the episode was over after overwhelming media coverage since Monday. Now they could focus on the nation's main Olympic interest -- men's hockey -- with Canada playing its first game later Friday.

While happy for Sale and Pelletier, Canadian Olympics and skating officials said they hoped the episode would help prevent a recurrence

Mike Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Association, praised the IOC and the ISU for resolving the issue but said the decision left untreated the "chronic disease" of unfair judging.

Jan Ullmark, who coaches Sale and Pelletier, was more concerned about his skaters. On the phone to them from Edmonton, he asked about the plans for getting their gold medals at a Feb. 21 ceremony.

"Tell them I think it should be a total ceremony, even if it's just for you two, at the plaza with the anthem," Ullmark said. "They can't just give it to you. There should be a proper celebration and a proper medal ceremony."

Eric Adelson writes for ESPN The Magazine. The Associated Press contributed to this report.