- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Funny numbers. Alleged corruption. The whiff of foul play.
Forget the Salt Lake City Olympic bid scandal we're talking about figure skating.
Innuendo and intrigue were the order of day at Salt Lake Ice Center yesterday, as the International Skating Union announced an "internal assessment" of a controversial Russian pairs victory that was the talk of the Winter Olympics.
"It's the most blatant [thing] I've seen in my career," said veteran figure skating coach Kathleen Casey.
Despite an imperfect performance during Monday night's free program, Russia's Elena Brezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze narrowly edged out Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who skated a clean and inspired routine.
The final result a 5-4 split that saw judges divide into North American and Eastern European voting blocs prompted tears from the Canadian pair, on-air howling from NBC commentators Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic and whispers of vote-trading among judges.
"It was the result of a lot of behind the scenes stuff, nothing that was going on on the ice" said veteran coach Frank Carroll, who is working with U.S. skater Timothy Goebel at Salt Lake. "It was disgusting. And I don't think many people disagree with me"
In response to the uproar, the ISU declared it would look into the matter, issuing an official statement more than two hours into what officials dubbed a "standard" closed-door review meeting between the pairs judges and an event referee.
Meanwhile, the Chinese judge who favored the Russians in the tiebreaker withdrew from judging last night's men's short program "due to illness."
"The ISU following certain reactions received by the pubic and media on the result of the pairs event at the Salt Lake Ice Center [Monday] night and also to respect the public opinion is doing an internal assessment to monitor if the ISU rules and procedures have been respected," said ISU general secretary Fredi Schmid.
Of course, none of this is new at least not in the oft-tawdry world of figure skating, which rivals both politics and prizefighting for back-room shenanigans and suspicious scoring.
Most observers felt America's Nancy Kerrigan topped Ukraine's Oksana Baiul at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. However, Baiul took the gold on a 5-4, East-West split from a judging panel that included the father of Baiul's first coach.
Likewise, Russia's Irina Slutskaya defeated America's Michelle Kwan on a 4-3 split in the recent Grand Prix final, even though Kwan landed six triples to Slutskaya's four.
Then there's Hugh Graham, an American figure skating judge at the 1992 Albertville Games. In the book "Inside Edge," journalist Christine Brennan writes that Graham thought America's Paul Wylie, a silver medalist, outskated gold medal winner Viktor Pretrenko of Russia. Nevertheless, Graham voted Wylie second in order to avoid the appearance of bias.
In 1978, the entire Soviet judging bloc was suspended for an entire year after showing national favoritism.
"At times, certain judges are pressured," said NBC's Hamilton, a figure skating gold medalist in 1984.
Jirna Ribbons, a Belgian figure skating raconteur, argued that the Russian pairs victory was simply a close call in what has always been a highly subjective sport.
"There's a lot that goes into presentation," she said "It's the glides, the flow, the lyrical interpretation of the music, the choreographic complexity."
Carroll wasn't as charitable.
"It wasn't taste," he said. "It was blatant whatever. It wasn't even close. One pair struggled through it, the other skated beautifully and gorgeously and from the heart."
At the Ice Center, the popular conspiracy theory holds that French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne voted for the Russian duo in exchange for a future Russian vote in the ice dancing competition, which begins Friday.
The proposed scheme works as follows: Because the top French pair of Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis were out of the Games with an injury, France was without a contender in the event. However, the French ice dancing duo of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat are the 2000 world champions and could very well win a gold medal.
Meanwhile, Russia lacks a serious contender in ice dancing. In pairs, though, a Soviet or Russian team has captured every Olympic gold since 1964.
In essence, then, a swap would give both nations a better shot in their strongest events.
One drawback: The judges for ice dancing have yet to be selected, which means the French could be left without a Russian judge in the event.
Nine judges are picked from a pool of 10, with the odd man out serving as an alternate.
And keep in mind: This is all speculation.
"We have no evidence that [a behind the scenes deal] occurred," said Sally Rehorick, a former Olympic figure skating judge and the Chef de Mission of the Canadian Olympic Association.
Fix or otherwise, Carroll said, the damage already has been done.
"How about all those people that say figure skating doesn't belong in the Olympics, that it's tiddlywinks?" he said. "This just adds fuel to the fire.
"It makes you think: My God, maybe this shouldn't be an Olympic sport. Maybe it's too politically motivated. Maybe there's too many axes to grind."
Casey countered that things aren't as bad as they seem not so long as the lucrative professional tour awaits Sale and Pelletier, who have handled the entire mess with dignity and restraint.
"Listen Jamie and David are now rich," she said. "Tonya [Harding] and Nancy [Kerrigan] sent the money through the roof in this sport. The audience loves controversy.
"That said, this was a bit blatant."

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