Friday, February 15, 2002
Gold puts temporary patch on titanic problem
By Jim Caple
SALT LAKE CITY -- And in a related development, Al Gore and George Bush will share the oval office. Gore gets it Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Bush gets it Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Dick Cheney, of course, is in charge on Sundays.
"The International Skating Union presents: Watergate on Ice" reached a conclusion of sorts Friday when the ISU announced that there was evidence of judging misconduct in the pairs competition Monday and that the Canadian pair, David Pelletier and Jamie Sale, also will receive gold medals.
Given the misconduct of French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, this was the right call, though it is believed that the ISU and IOC considered many possible solutions before reaching this decision. Rock, paper, scissors. Applause-o-Meter. Skins Game. Cutting cards. Shooting for it. And "Guess which hand is holding the gold medal." Eventually, everyone agreed the fairest solution was to give Pelletier and Sale the gold.
And just so there was no confusion, IOC president Jacques Rogge made it absolutely clear public opinion played no part whatsoever in the decision. ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta was a little more honest, acknowledging that public opinion played a great part in the decision.
Obviously, world opinion played a major role in this, in no small part because the Canadians are such an attractive pair to Western media and fans. Sale is a knockout while Pelletier is a funny, handsome man who had reporters laughing when he joked that "We hope we can get the bronze, too, so we can have the entire collection." Throw in a week worth of worldwide publicity and sympathy and these guys are going to sell more tickets than "Lion King on Ice."
They're set, but the matter isn't really closed. There are still many questions to answer. Why did the French federation pressure Le Gougne? What backroom deals were cut and with what countries? What past competitions were tainted? And will the IOC now be dispensing gold medals like they're Pottery Barn catalogues?
"David told me, 'I don't have to have the gold medal, I just want the truth to come out,' " said Pelletier's agent, Craig Fenech. "They want this to be the catalyst that changes the sport so that it never happens again. We want this to be the beginning, not the end. This can't all be laid on one French judge."
No, it can't and there still is strong suspicion of a conspiracy among the Russians and the French. Cinquanta said there is no evidence yet that the Russians were involved, but that the ISU will continue looking into it. Good luck, boys. I suspect the Russians will be tougher nuts to crack than the French judge.
ISU: Excuse us, madame Le Gougne --
Le Gougne: All right! I admeet eet! I deed eet! I deed eet! God forgive me, but I deed eet! Sacre bleu, just stop hounding me!
ISU: Yes, that is very interesting, but we just wanted to tell you that you dropped your glove.
Cinquanta says the ISU based its decision on Le Gougne's written statement, but was vague about what that statement said. IOC director Francois Carrard was more clear, saying the judge only admitted to being pressured to score a certain way but did not actually bow to the pressure. "She said she voted her conscience. Her misconduct was in not reporting (the pressure)."
In other words, what we have here is a Buck Weaver situation. He was the White Sox third baseman who refused to throw the 1919 World Series, but also failed to squeal on his rest of his Black Sox teammates. Commissioner Landis banned him for life, which was pretty harsh, but at least Weaver could eventually rest in peace with the knowledge that John Cusack portrayed him in "Eight Men Out" instead of Charlie Sheen, who portrayed Happy Felsch.
Anyway, Le Gougne's statement gave the ISU and IOC the loophole it needed to make everyone happy without admitting that the whole sport is screwed up.
Cinquanta said the ISU will continue its investigation, but they'll sweep this under the rug once the Olympics are over and all this fades from the spotlight. For now, everyone is happy. Sale and Pelletier are happy. The Canadian officials are happy. The Canadian media is happy. And Rogge praised the ISU for moving so quickly, said the matter is closed as far as the IOC is concerned and urged everyone to return their attentions to the rest of the Olympic athletes.
As a wise man once said, "These aren't the droids you're looking for. Go about your business. Move along."
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.