Skating judging still up in the air

Controversy in pairs hovering over games

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 15, 2002|By Frank Fitzpatrick | Frank Fitzpatrick,THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

SALT LAKE CITY - Like the dark morning clouds that daily obscure the nearby Wasatch Mountains, the controversy involving pairs figure skating judging continued to hover ominously over these Winter Olympics yesterday, three days after a Russian duo's victory triggered tears and turmoil.

On the seventh day of these now-blemished games, a French Olympic official denied reports that a judge from his nation had been "manipulated" into voting for the Russians, thus denying a Canadian team the medal most observers believed they had won.

However, a story surfaced in Canada that the same French judge had spoken with a British skating official before Monday night's pairs finals and expressed concerns that she was being pressured to vote for the Russians. An International Olympic Committee member said he would not comment on the story broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

There were few other new developments as skating officials and the Olympic committees from the involved nations huddled privately, seeking ways to appease the aggrieved Canadian runners-up and, maybe more importantly, to save the badly damaged sport's reputation.

Last night, the finals of the men's competition took place in an atmosphere tainted by this latest ice scandal.

Meanwhile, the IOC continued without success to pressure the International Skating Union into resolving the matter "expeditiously" so that these games, born out of an IOC vote-buying scandal, can regain their equilibrium.

Despite a written plea from IOC leader Jacques Rogge, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta again insisted yesterday that complaints about the pairs judging would not be addressed officially until his association's executive board gathered here on Monday.

Last night, IOC director general Francois Carrard indicated his organization could do nothing until the ISU acted.

"It's their procedures," Carrard said. "It's their call. It's their responsibility."

Asked again and again if the IOC was satisfied with the decision by the ISU to postpone its ruling until Monday, Carrard would say only that the ISU had been informed that the international body desired "a quick resolution."

"We know that they are working hard on their investigation," said Carrard. "We know they are at it. We expect a quick resolution."

Carrard said he did not believe the scandal was diverting attention away from the games internationally, the way it seemed to be doing here in the midst of the Olympics.

"The perception is different worldwide," he said. "There are many, many countries that are seeing a beautiful games. ... Our main concern is that the competition continues to go smoothly."

Attention remained focused on Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the French judge whose vote for Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze is widely believed to have been the difference in the competition.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Didier Gailhaguet, who heads the French Olympic Committee, said the judge had been "manipulated." Yesterday, however, questioned by Agence France-Presse, Gailhaguet denied making the allegation.

That denial further clouded a situation in which no one, save Gailhaguet a day earlier, has made any official public accusations against Le Gougne. There has been, though, much speculation that she may have traded her pairs vote in return for Russian support of French ice-dancers, who are considered medal possibilities.

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