Friday, February 15, 2002
The question remains: sport or entertainment?
By Jim Caple
SALT LAKE CITY -- After a week of judging scandals, rumors of vote-swapping, North American outrage and general questioning of figure skating's legitimacy in the Olympics, the sport turned to ice dancing Friday night, where the warm-ups look like backstage at a Siegfried and Roy show.
Talk about questions of legitimacy. Ice dancing has been questioned virtually since its inclusion in the Olympics and is fodder for Saturday Night Live spoofs. Former IOC vice-president Dick Pound said as recently as December that ice dancing could easily be dropped from the Olympics because of its past judging controversies.
In an attempt to improve the scoring after a judging controversy at the Nagano Olympics, the International Skating Union modified the rules interpretations. But there was concern over the discipline again even before the competition started because of the pairs scandal.
At least one paper reported earlier this week that the ice dancing competition was already decided, with Russia set for the gold, Italy the silver and France the bronze. After the dull, repetitive opening compulsory dance competition Friday, the French pair of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat was in first place with the Russian pair, Ilia Averbukh and Irina Lobacheva, in second, and the Italians, Maurizo Margaglio and Barbara Fusar Poli, in third. Of course, they are considered among the three best pairs in the world as it is, so that isn't necessarily suspicious, despite the speculation of a fix.
The Canadian team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz are fourth. The top U.S. ice dancers are Namoi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, who are 11th. The other Americans, Beata Handra and Charles Sinek, are 20th.
The competition continues Sunday with the original dance and concludes with the free dance Monday.
Many of the skaters said they just wanted to put controversies aside and concentrate on their skating. Margaglio said he did not think a fix possible and dismissed the speculation as mere rumor.
"That is just something ... that is in the air," Margaglio said. "We are doing something different. We are skating on the ice."
France's Anissa said she and her partner are paying no attention to the controversy.
"There have been several times in the past where we feel we've been misjudged," she said. "In our career, this has happened to us in the past, as well."
"Each of us have our profession," Russia's Averbukh said. "You are reporters and your job is to print and publish stories. We our skaters and our job is to skate. That's all I have to say about it."
"Back in the past people were questioning whether this was a sport," Kraatz said. "With how things are going, it is a sport."
Well, he might get some argument there.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.