SALT LAKE CITY “Skategate” will have a happy ending, though it’s not quite over.
Canadian pairs figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were awarded gold medals yesterday after an ongoing investigation by the sport’s top governing body uncovered misconduct in a judging scandal that has become the biggest story of the Winter Olympics.
The International Skating Union indefinitely suspended French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne for unfairly scoring the pairs event.
“We’re just happy it’s off our shoulders and we have a gold medal,” Pelletier said. “When I woke up this morning, I was ready to go down the skeleton ride without a helmet on. Now I think I’ll put on my helmet.”
Le Gougne told the ISU that she was pressured by the French skating federation to vote for the winning Russian pair and has signed a statement about how she reached her vote, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta said.
“[Le Gougne] was responsible of misconduct,” Cinquanta said. “And this misconduct has not provided all the skaters involved to be judged equally.”
Cinquanta said that there is no evidence of Russian involvement in Le Gougne’s vote and that the skating union’s investigation would continue.
“The investigation is not concluded,” he said. “But we have got enough evidence to take the first decision. Now please give us some more time.”
Skating officials hope to present Sale and Pelletier with gold medals on Thursday, before the start of the women’s long program.
“Our skating speaks for itself,” Sale said. “You just want the truth to come out. For the future of our sport, this has to be fixed.”
The International Olympic Committee’s executive committee voted 7-1, with one abstention, to accept the ISU’s gold-medal recommendation. Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, the Russians who won the event, will not be stripped of their gold medals.
Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s Figure Skating Federation assailed the decision.
“This is an unprecedented decision that turned out to be a result of pressure by the North American press and turned out in favor of the fanatically loyal [North American] fans,” Valentin Piseyev told Russia’s NTV television by telephone from Salt Lake City.
“You have seen how the public reacts to any, even the tiniest mistakes of our athletes, and how they absolutely don’t notice when the Canadians fall or when the Americans fall,” he said.
The government weighed in on the controversy yesterday, with Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko deploring the scandal that has taken the luster off Russia’s victory.
Mrs. Matviyenko, the most senior woman in the Russian government, said she was heading for Salt Lake City today “to support the moral spirit of our team and hang out with the youngsters.”
“It’s a disgraceful fuss,” Mrs. Matviyenko said before the second gold was announced. “The International Olympic Committee should get to the root of it and not allow American mass media and amateurs to give marks to our skaters.”
The controversy has received wide attention in the Russian press, whose coverage has been tinged with just a touch of bitterness over what is perceived in Russia as the Canadians’ unwillingness to accept defeat gracefully and over reports the Russians may somehow have exerted pressure on some of the judges.
Despite an imperfect performance during Monday night’s free program, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze narrowly defeated Sale and 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 network commentators and rumors of vote-trading among judges.
Rancor mushroomed into outrage during the next three days. Canadian Olympic team officials called for a full investigation; the head of the French Olympic team said Le Gougne was pressured to vote a certain way, and Sale and Pelletier became overnight objects of international sympathy.
The IOC and ISU’s decision to award gold medals to the Canadian pair came just hours before the case was scheduled to be heard by an international arbitration panel for sport. That hearing was canceled.
The ISU originally planned to review the judging controversy at a meeting Monday but was urged by the IOC to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.
“This is a great day, primarily for Jamie and David but also for sport, in particular for fair play and equity,” said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Association. “We frankly climbed a mountain here, and lo and behold we reached the top.”
It is the fourth time the IOC has awarded a second gold medal.
“Our consideration was the fairness of the competition and the athletes,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge.
Canadian synchronized swimmer Sylvie Frechette was awarded gold in 1993 after an unintentional judging error in the tabulation of her score at the 1992 Barcelona Games left her with silver.
American ski jumper Anders Haugen was awarded a bronze in 1974, more than 50 years after he competed in the first Winter Games in 1924. A sports historian discovered a tabulation error in the scores from that contest.
Other controversial Olympic losers haven’t been so lucky. The U.S. men’s basketball team lost the gold-medal game to the Soviet Union in questionable fashion at the 1972 Games; the team has yet to accept its silver medals.
At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. pummeled South Korea’s Si-Hun Park but lost the gold in a 3-2 judges’ decision. Eight years later, it was proven that judges of the event took money from South Korean officials. The result has not been rectified.
Rogge was asked if the Jones case would be re-examined.
“We dealt with the problem of the day,” he said. “We’ll see tomorrow how we deal eventually with other problems.”
In the Athlete’s Village, the decision to reward Sale and Pelletier with gold was met with approval.
“I think it’s great,” Costa Rican cross-country skier Arturo Kinch said. “From my experience at three previous Olympics, figure skating is notorious that when newcomers haven’t paid their dues and they skate a gold-medal performance, then they won’t receive a gold medal. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Cinquanta said the ISU could attempt to improve its judging system.
“A long time ago, I had prepared a project which will be submitted to the council in the next days,” he said. “This is for giving this sport discipline and maybe a more adequate system.”
After a week’s worth of controversy, Sale and Pelletier said they hope public and media attention will now focus on the Games themselves.
“We’re truly honored that they decided to reward us the gold medal,” Sale said. “But again we feel a little bit shy about it because other athletes are setting personal bests and winning medals, and this is what everyone is talking about. That’s not what the Olympics are all about.”
*This article is based in part on wire service reports.