A gold medal decision

Pairs skating: Four Olympic gold medals awarded in Salt Lake City, only two slightly tarnished.

February 16, 2002

THE DECISION of the International Olympic Committee on Friday was swift and sure, like the skating of Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. But unlike their performance, it was not flawless.

In this case, though, flawless may well have been impossible to achieve. After a huge international flap, the IOC agreed to award the Canadian pair what they deserved for their gold-medal performance in figure skating earlier this week. The first-place gold had originally gone to Russian skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

Judging of events such as skating has long been controversial because of the subjectivity involved, and also because of the political rivalry and backroom trading that is a legacy of the Soviet bloc nations. In this case, though, the IOC suspended the French judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, for misconduct because she admitted being pressured to give the Russian pair unfairly high scores - though apparently not by the Russians. The IOC wisely acted quickly to throw out her scores, use those of the alternate judge, and award the Canadian team gold medals.

But the Canadian team won more than gold. They can take credit for, however inadvertently, focusing attention on the questionable integrity of the judging process in the world of professional ice skating. Officials are now pledging to enact new rules and safeguards to protect the sport from irretrievably damaging itself.

Many observers have said the IOC should have taken the gold away from Ms. Berezhnaya and Mr. Sikharulidze. After all, there can only be one first-place team.

True enough. But in the past, when Olympian contenders have been stripped of their medals, it was because they cheated or broke the rules. These two did neither. And in previous cases of judging errors where medals were redistributed, they were not taken from the accidental winners.

Ms. Sale and Mr. Pelletier have been tremendously gracious about the lack of fair play; the rest of the world should follow suit.

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