- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) This time there were no tears or tirades as the French judge embroiled in the figure skating scandal calmly told investigators she voted for the Russian pairs team on merit and not as part of any scheme to fix the event.

Three days after Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier received gold medals to match the ones the Russians already had, judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne formally recanted her allegation that she was pressured into a vote-swapping deal, her attorneys told the Associated Press yesterday.

Testifying for three hours Wednesday, Le Gougne retracted the statements she made last week to International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta and denied the accusations that several witnesses heard her make in an emotional outburst after the pairs competition, attorney Max Miller said.

"The three basic aspects of her testimony were that she denied any deal, any vote-swapping," Miller said. "She stated she felt that on merit the Russians were better and that's why she voted for them. The accusations of nefarious conduct were untrue."

Asked why she had named French skating chief Didier Gailhaguet as the one who had pressured her into voting for the Russians over a Canadian pair, Miller said, "She did it to escape further pressure, to deflect criticism.

"She was under extreme pressure, feeling emotionally assaulted and even physically assaulted when she made those statements," he said.

The ISU suspended Le Gougne indefinitely last week, and she could face permanent suspension. Miller said Le Gougne wants to be reinstated.

Gailhaguet, who testified for 45 minutes Wednesday before the ISU investigators, has consistently denied pressuring Le Gougne to vote for the Russians. Gailhaguet said his main goal now also is to have Le Gougne reinstated.

"She has to be totally cleared," he said.

Jon Jackson, the championship judge and San Francisco attorney who witnessed Le Gougne's outburst last week and reported it in a letter to the ISU, had no comment on her changed story.

"I heard what I heard and reported it that way," Jackson said. "Maybe we'll have to see what she has to say in a few more days."

Jackson said he had seen Le Gougne walk up to ISU council member Sally Stapleford and say, "Ice dancing is ruining the sport of figure skating. I have to defend myself. I did this for my dance team. It's a deal with the Russians, first place for first place."

Stapleford said she is "sticking 100 percent" to what she reported about the incident to the ISU in a letter cosigned by two other council members present at the time.

"It's like an ongoing saga," Stapleford said with a sigh. "I think the whole thing is very sad for the sport."

Cinquanta laughed off a question last week about whether there was any chance the Canadians might have to give back their gold for silver again if investigators found Le Gougne and the other judges in the 5-4 decision voted honestly for the Russians.

He said he would not comment on the investigation until it is completed and turned over to the ISU Council, perhaps as late as June.

Miller, a local attorney who has represented the French delegation in commercial matters, and colleague Erik Christiansen accompanied Le Gougne into the interview with ISU investigators Gerhard Zimmermann of Germany and Gerhardt Bubnik of the Czech Republic. A court stenographer recorded her testimony.

"She was fine," Miller said. "There were no tears yesterday."

But Miller described Le Gougne as "fragile right now."

"That's understandable. Her picture is all over the place and there have been a lot of accusations," he said.

Christiansen described Le Gougne's previous interview with Cinquanta as "informal."

"This is the first time she had the opportunity to present her story in a formal way to the ISU," he said. "The perception of what happened has come out of the mouths of people who may have had their own vested interests."

Last week, Cinquanta said Le Gougne's accusations of being pressured to back the Russians to ensure a French victory in ice dancing led to her suspension, as well as the decision to award a second set of gold medals to Sale and Pelletier. The Russian pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sukharulidze, were allowed to keep the golds they won.

"We anticipate that this first stage of the investigation will be completed sometime in March or April," Christiansen said. "Then the findings would be presented to the ISU Council, perhaps as late as June."

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