Redemption is golden as Canadians get due

Sale, Pelletier join Russian co-champs

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 18, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - He held her hand and she held his.

On the podium, they hugged their rivals as flashbulbs burst in the sold-out arena. She silently mouthed the words to the Canadian national anthem, while he sang them aloud. And amidst a thunderstorm of cheers, the two sweethearts waved and waved, clutching their medals with no intention of letting go any time soon.

Canadians David Pelletier and Jamie Sale finally got their gold medals last night, nearly a week after a controversial judging decision in the pairs figure skating competition placed them behind Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Since then, Pelletier's and Sale's faces have been splashed across nearly every front page in North America, as this strange scandal turned the 2002 Winter Games into both a circus act and soap opera.

The International Olympic Committee voted this week to award a rare second set of gold medals after French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said she had been pressured to give the Canadians low marks during the free program to ensure the Russians of gold.

Though Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze originally bristled at the idea of sharing the top of the podium in a second ceremony, they seemed happy to participate last night, as anthems from both countries were played in front of fans who cheered for both winners.

"This is a proud moment for us and for every Canadian that was at home watching," Pelletier said. "I'm just so happy we got to share this moment with Anton and Elena. I think the four of us were part of history."

The moment was a tad artificial; that much was apparent. But with all that had occurred, things went about as well as they could have. It seemed easy pretend the two pairs of skaters might be bitter rivals, unwilling to look one another in the eye as they were forced to share a moment of glory.

But nothing could have been further from the truth last night. Sale and Berezhnaya giggled and joked on the podium while Pelletier and Sikharulidze shook hands like they were old friends. There were no tears shed, though Sale came close, ensuring that the moment was genuine.

"The focus was on us for so long, but people forget we're only figure skaters," Pelletier said. "We're doing this because we love the sport. I think all of us showed good sportsmanship and made a good example to the youth out there."

"I'm so happy because I think now it's finished," Sikharulidze said. "I think everyone is happy because this is the right decision."

International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta got the only boos of the night when he entered the arena, but it was quickly drowned out by cheers when he produced the second set of gold medals.

"It was exactly what we were hoping for," Sale said. "It was a wonderful moment."

Sale winked at Cinquanta to let him know everything was OK, and afterward the skaters posed for picture after picture, a portrait of four champions, brought together by the strangest of circumstances.

Sale said: "We were kind of joking and I said, `We're never going to experience this again. It's the most bizarre thing that has ever happened.' We're all trying to make the best of it, and we're all really pleased."

As they left the ice, Sikharulidze threw his bouquet of golden flowers into the crowd.

"We're all happy," he said.

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