Skating result prompts calls for ISU inquiry


Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Figure skating judges have drawn criticism for years, their whims and shenanigans raising questions about whether the sport even belongs in the Olympics.

The latest flap sure isn't going to help.

A day after the Russians narrowly beat the Canadians for the gold medal in pairs despite an obvious technical error, Canada's Olympic delegation demanded an investigation.

The International Skating Union said Tuesday it would conduct a rare ''internal assessment'' of the way the two performances were judged, but it wasn't clear if that was enough to satisfy the Canadians.

Others in the sport, meanwhile, said figure skating needs to make changes to ensure an ''embarrassment'' like this doesn't happen again.

''You need to look at everything,'' said Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold medalist who was working as a commentator for NBC at Monday night's event.

''You really need to analyze the entire sport from top to bottom and see how something like this could happen. Now is the time -- get through the Olympics, and then just have some really fundamental changes in the organization and structure of figure skating.''

Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the tiniest of margins over Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

''We were the first to skate, and there was nothing to keep our rivals from getting a 6.0 presentation mark for skating after us,'' Sikharulidze told the Sport Express, a Russian newspaper.

''But they didn't, and that means they were not head and shoulders above us. ... So let me repeat, I think that our victory is a worthy one.''

But not only did Sale and Pelletier skate cleanly, they displayed the kind of passion fans will remember years from now. The winners, meanwhile, made an error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel.

The crowd was already chanting ''Six! Six!'' by the time Sale and Pelletier finished, begging the judges to award the Canadians a perfect score.

''When Jamie and David finished, I thought, 'That's easy. They made it easy,''' said Sally Rehorick, Canada's chief of mission, a former skater and judge for 25 years.

Instead, they lost a 5-4 split of the judges, getting only four 5.9s for artistry compared with seven 5.9s for the Russians.

Chinese judge Yang Jiasheng, who favored the Russians, also was supposed to judge the men's short program Tuesday night. But he withdrew a few hours before the competition ''due to illness,'' according to an advisory on the Olympic information network.

Boos rained down as the Canadians' marks flashed, and Pelletier hid his face in his hands as Sale's eyes filled with tears.

''This is not good for the sport,'' Pelletier said Tuesday. ''It is the same in track and field and boxing. Every time there is a controversy like this, it's not good for the sport.''

The ISU wouldn't discuss how the Russians and Canadians were judged, saying only that it was looking into the matter. Union president Ottavio Cinquanta planned a Wednesday news conference.

It wasn't clear when the union's review would be completed or what, if any, action it could take.

Skating has a history of controversies. Ice dancing is the usual culprit, with many believing results are set before competitions begin.

At the Nagano Olympics, Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz contended the Russians and French conspired to keep them off the medals podium. The couple who won the bronze, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, represented France, and Anissina was born in Russia.

At the world championships last March, some fans turned their backs to the ice to protest Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio's victory.

Dick Pound, former International Olympic Committee vice president, said in December ice dancing could easily be dropped from the Olympics if improvements weren't made.

But ice dancing isn't the only problem. Two pairs judges at the 1999 world championships -- Sviatoslav Babenko of Russia and Alfred Korytek of Ukraine -- were suspended after TV footage showed them glancing at each other and appearing to talk before marks were announced.

And coach Frank Carroll remains convinced American Linda Fratianne lost the gold medal in 1980 because judges traded votes along geopolitical lines. Annette Poetzsch of East Germany won instead, while Fratianne settled for silver.

''This is the worst thing that's happened in a long time in figure skating,'' Carroll said Tuesday. ''I can understand where, watching that, if the International Olympic Committee said, 'We don't want figure skating in the Olympics anymore.' Who's going to argue with that?''

Hamilton added: ''The judges really weren't judging the program. Maybe they'd come in with preconceived notions that they didn't want to dismiss.''

Or maybe this is one cold war that hasn't ended.

On Monday night, the Russian, Chinese, French, Polish and Ukrainian judges all favored Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze. The American, Canadian, German and Japanese judges put Sale and Pelletier first.

Carroll said changes are needed.

''It's over with and done,'' he said. ''It's what goes on from here. How do they stop this? What are they going to do?''

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