2002 Olympic Winter Games figure skating scandal

2002 Olympic Winter Games figure skating scandal

At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games held in Salt Lake City, the figure skating competition was the source of much controversy and one of the immediate causes for the revamp of scoring in figure skating.

The competition

In the pairs competition, Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia had won the short program over Jamie Salé and David Pelletier of Canada. In the free skating, Berezhnaya/Sikharulidze made a minor (but obvious) technical error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel. Meanwhile, Salé/Pelletier skated a flawless program, albeit one that many experts considered to be of lesser difficulty than that of the Russians.

The Canadians were the clear crowd favorite; they left the ice to a round of stormy applause. Former Olympic medalists Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, who called the competition for NBC along with Tom Hammond, were certain that the Canadians would win the gold. When Salé/Pelletier started a throw triple loop toward the end of their routine, Hamilton said, "The gold is theirs." At the end of the routine, Bezic – herself a Canadian – cried, "Simply perfect!" As the Canadians left the ice, Hammond said, "And the Russian domination, nearly four decades, perhaps ended again by Canadians."

CBC Television's announcer, former pair skater Paul Martini, was almost as certain that his countrymen had ended the long run of Russian dominance. At the end of Salé/Pelletier's routine, Martini exclaimed, "Gold dust all over it – one of the great skates in Olympic history!" [CBC coverage of Salé/Pelletier routine] ]

The Canadians received three 5.9s for technical merit, while the Russians received mostly 5.8s and 5.7s. However, for presentation, the Canadians received four 5.9s to the Russians' seven. Presentation was weighted more heavily than technical merit at the time; the Canadians needed at least five 5.9s to overtake the Russians for first. There was obvious disagreement from the crowd; loud chants of "Six! Six! Six!" gave way to a chorus of boos when the presentation marks came out.

As it turned out, this margin held until the end, giving the gold medal to the Russians. Salé/Pelletier accepted their silver medal with grace but open disappointment. It was the 11th consecutive time (dating to 1960) that a pair from the Soviet Union, the Unified Team, or Russia had taken the gold in the pairs competition.

Breakdown of marks


The scandal

The NBC announcers were stunned when it was announced that the Russians had won. Hamilton, who had predicted "some giant, huge, high, enormous second marks" for Salé and Pelletier, asked, "How did "that" happen?" He added that only "a few judges" thought the Russians had won. Bezic yelled "No!" several times. [ [NBC coverage of Salé/Pelletier routine] ] Right before the medals ceremony, Bezic said, "My heart breaks, and I'm embarrassed for our sport right now." [ [http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/winter02/figure/news?id=1330413 ESPN.com - NBC commentators surprised, shocked by judges ] ] On CBC, Martini and his former skating partner, Barbara Underhill, both exclaimed, "Unbelievable!" when the presentation marks came out, and Underhill added, "This is "wrong!"

There was immediate suspicion of cheating. Judges from Russia, the People's Republic of China, Poland, Ukraine, and France had placed the Russians first; judges from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan chose the Canadians. Suspicion fell almost immediately on the French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne. When Le Gougne returned to the officials' hotel, she was immediately confronted by Sally Stapleford, chair of the International Skating Union's Technical Committee. Le Gougne had an emotional breakdown in which she said that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating organization, Didier Gailhaguet, to vote for the Russian pair regardless of how the others performed. She repeated this at the post-event judges' meeting the next day. It was alleged that this was part of a deal to get an advantage for French couple Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the ice dance competition that was to follow a few days later. However, in a signed statement, Le Gougne denied taking part in such a deal and also stated that she had truly believed the Russian pair deserved to win.

Immediate aftermath

The reaction in Canada was extremely hostile. Among the headlines in Canadian newspapers were "Skategate" (from the Toronto Sun), "Outrage!" (from the Edmonton Sun), "Scandal on Ice" (from the Winnipeg Free Press), "Au Vol! (Robbery!)" (from Journal de Montreal) and "Ice Storm" (from the Calgary Sun). [ [http://www.slate.com/id/2062053/ Canada: ""We wuz robbed." - By June Thomas - Slate Magazine ] ] The American press and public were quick to take up the cause of the Canadian pair. "USA Today"'s Christine Brennan claimed that the decision ruined "one of the great performances in Olympic history" and felt that "there's no defending figure skating anymore." [ [http://www.usatoday.com/sports/comment/brennan/2002-02-12-brennan-pairs.htm USATODAY.com - No defense for bad judgment ] ] In an editorial, the "New York Times" called the decision "a throwback to the days of the Cold War." [" [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9503EFDC1F3CF930A25751C0A9649C8B63 A Duo Deprived] ." New York Times editorial, February 13 2002]

Some in the United States and many in Russia, however, felt that Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze had deserved their win, and that this win should not be marred by the dishonesty of a single judge. ["Skating on Thin Ice? It Figures", "Los Angeles Times," February 13, 2002] ["Maybe the Russians really did win", "Pasadena Star News", February 13, 2002] [ [http://articles.latimes.com/2002/feb/16/sports/sp-olyrussia16 "It's an Outrage to Russians"] , "Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2002] [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C05EFDB113FF934A25751C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink "Fury Aside, Russian Skaters See Upside"] , "New York Times", February 17, 2002]

In response to what had become an international outcry, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta announced in a press conference a day after the competition that the ISU would conduct an "internal assessment" into the judging decision at its next scheduled council meeting. After many hostile questions from the press, Cinquanta also admitted that the event referee, Ron Pfenning, had filed an official complaint about the judging. [MSNBC coverage of press conference, February 13, 2002] Later on February 13, International Olympic Committee Director General François Carrard held a press conference in which he publicly urged the ISU to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. [Report on NBC, February 13, 2002]

On February 15, Cinquanta and IOC President Jacques Rogge, in a joint press conference, announced that Salé and Pelletier's silver medal would be upgraded to a gold. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were allowed to keep their gold medal as well, since there was no proof of impropriety on their part, and many felt that they, in fact, deserved it, as was the opinion of four of the other eight judges on the panel. Both pairs' point totals were thrown out. Le Gougne was suspended effective immediately for "misconduct." [PDFlink| [http://www.isu.org/vsite/vfile/page/fileurl/0,11040,4844-137120-154336-25640-0-file,00.pdf ISU Communication no. 1181: Sanctions Related to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Pair skating event: Text of the decision of the ISU Council of April 30, 2002] |9.03 KiB ]

Post-Olympics aftermath

On April 30, 2002, Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were suspended by the ISU for three years and barred from the 2006 Winter Olympics for their roles in the scandal. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/1959181.stm BBC SPORT | OTHER SPORTS | Three-year ban for skating judge ] ] Although at least one eye-witness to Le Gougne's outburst in the hotel lobby reported that she had specifically confessed to a deal with the Russians, [Jon Jackson, "On Edge", p. 197] Cinquanta claimed there was no evidence that the Russians were involved in the incident, and so the ISU never made any serious investigation of the alleged involvement.

On July 31, 2002, Russian organized crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was arrested by Italian authorities in Venice on U.S. charges that he masterminded the fix. [http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002/08/03/skate_medals020803] He was released from Italian police custody without being charged, amidst attempts to have him extradited to the U.S. in 2002-2003. [ [http://www.boston.com/sports/other_sports/olympics/articles/2005/08/30/ex_russian_sports_official_said_killed] Dead link|date=March 2008] [ [http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/columns/story?id=3352977 ESPN - Wanted man: 'Little Taiwanese' and his big role in an Olympics scandal - Olympics ] ]

In addition to disciplining Le Gougne and Gailhaguet, in 2002 the ISU adopted a policy of "secret judging", in which judges' marks are posted anonymously, as part of the new ISU Judging System for figure skating. While the ISU has claimed this secrecy frees judges from pressure from their federations, critics have pointed out that instead of preventing judges from cheating, secrecy only prevents the public and media from being able to identify cheating.

In March 2003, a group of skating officials who were unhappy with the ISU's leadership and handling of the crisis in the sport announced the formation of the World Skating Federation, in an attempt to take control of competitive figure skating away from the ISU. This attempt to set up a new federation failed, and several of the persons involved with its formation were subsequently banished from the sport by the ISU and/or their national federations. These officials included Ron Pfenning, the referee of the pairs competition at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Sally Stapleford, Jon Jackson, and other witnesses to Le Gougne's outburst.


* [http://web.archive.org/web/20020214003307/http://www.icecalc.com/events/owg2002/results/SEG006.HTM Official free skate results before the second gold was awarded]
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20020214011829/www.icecalc.com/events/owg2002/results/CAT003RS.HTM Official overall results before the second gold was awarded]
*Goodwin, Joy. "The Second Mark". ISBN 0-7432-4527-X.
*Jackson, Jon and Pereira, James R. "On Edge : Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed". ISBN 1-56025-804-7.

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