Icing down a bruise

May 02, 2002

INTERNATIONAL ICE skating officials have a long way to go to assure fans and aspiring young skaters that the sport is honest.

The suspensions handed down Tuesday to French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and French ice federation president Didier Gailhaguet fall short of inspiring confidence. The two are banned from judging international skating events for three years, and banished from the 2006 Winter Olympics, for allegedly trying to fix the outcomes in pairs and dance competitions at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

The International Skating Union ruled they had colluded to ensure a gold medal for the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. In the spectacle that erupted after the judging, a second gold medal ultimately was awarded to the second-place Canadian pair, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Career banishment from the international skating scene would have been a better ruling.

That Ms. Le Gougne and Mr. Gailhaguet refuse to hang their heads and depart quietly suggests the arrogance in ice skating's upper echelon. Ballot deals and worse have been alleged for years, but this winter's scandal embarrassed the Olympic movement as well as the sport itself. It sparked flurries of new allegations, to which the punished judges now threaten to add.

And it would be best if they did. It's time to unearth the corruption in skating and then clean house, reputations be damned. It should be done to assure young skaters, some of them preteens, who rise at dawn to be at the rink before school and who fall, fall, and fall again while perfecting their jumps, that the physical and mental demands made in the name of athletic perfection won't be demeaned by sport politics.

In June, proposed revisions to the subjective system of judging ice competition will be considered by skating's international officials. It's another chance for skating's leaders to show at least an ounce of the backbone so characteristic of the sport's current and future stars.

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