Just handing out more gold doesn't figure to clean mess

Commentary

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 16, 2002|By Bob Ford | Bob Ford,THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

SALT LAKE CITY - Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, was handing out gold medals like dinner mints yesterday, and everyone went away happy. Gold medals tend to do that.

The Canadians were happy because national darlings Jamie Sale and David Pelletier had their silver medals from the pairs competition upgraded.

The Russians were grumbling a little, but happy enough, because Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze got to keep the gold medals they were awarded for the small feat of actually winning the event on Monday.

NBC was happy because it had a fuzzy, warm ending to the rampaging story it helped create when its commentators decided the original outcome was a tragedy worthy at least of a miniseries if not a Ken Burns nine-parter.

The IOC and the International Skating Union were extremely happy because this controversy was swept away in a compromise that would make all the bad questions disappear - even if they were inventing the rules as they went along.

"This was an extraordinary deliberation in the presence of an extraordinary situation," said ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta. "It was not the most brilliant situation."

What it was, of course, was a mess, and one that exposed the sport of figure skating as the political animal it has always been and - just to be clear on this - will continue to be.

For the moment, however, everyone went away happy.

Except the French, although there's nothing particularly remarkable about that.

Madame Marie Reine Le Gougne, the French judge whose vote for the Russians was tossed out because of "misconduct" has been suspended. She maintained to the end that her marks were given with a clear conscience and based on her true feelings, but they nailed her for the crime of not reporting "outside pressure" to the referee of the event. This is the figure skating equivalent of not reporting that leaves are expect to fall in autumn.

On the basis of that suspension, the ISU justified its decision to award a second set of gold medals and move on. There was another way to decide the matter in keeping with the rules, but that wasn't considered for a moment.

They could have thrown out the supposedly tainted vote and used the scores from the alternate judge that evening, a Czech official who reportedly gave higher marks to the Canadians. If that had happened, however, and they actually treated the thing like a sporting event with definite outcome, then the Russians would have been downgraded to silver.

It would have been a nice ceremony, with the Russians having the gold medals removed from their necks as their national anthem was played backward - although whether anyone would notice the difference is hard to tell. Then the next sound would have been the ICBM silos cranking open as soon as the Kremlin boys figured out where they put the keys to the damn things.

So that little solution wasn't a real possibility. Instead, it's gold for everyone. Rogge was presumably in the athletes' village last night setting them up for the house. Gold on me, guys. Gather around.

"I am happy for the resolution," Rogge said at the news conference yesterday, picking up on the theme of the day. "This is definitely now a closed matter. And I believe that the full attention will come back to the athletes from now on."

That was the point, after all. The IOC, tiring of the bad publicity, leaned on the skating federation to get the thing solved quickly. Right or wrong, that's what Cinquanta did.

"In 24 hours we have set, I will say as a former speed skater, a world record," Cinquanta said proudly, just two days after promising his organization would not be rushed to judgment.

"It was an Olympic compromise. Everybody took the highest road possible," NBC's Scott Hamilton said. "At least we're not as bad as boxing."

Not exactly the sort of motto that makes you swell with pride, but it was all figure skating had yesterday.

The skating officials did promise that changes will be made in the judging system at some unspecified point in the future. That would be nice, although mandating fairness in a judged sport is essentially an unreachable goal.

"Any individual in the world has a nationality," Cinquanta said, quite reasonably.

But yesterday all the individuals of the world went away happy. If they did not, Mr. Rogge will find them and give them shiny medals. This is the new Olympic solution, and I just hope we're not paying for all the gold it will take.

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