Spinning out of control

August 02, 2002

IF THE FACTS weren't so pathetic, international ice skating's still-unraveling judging scandal could be a plot for a late-night movie.

Thin Ice. There's this Russian mobster, see. He's been making calls to an ice starlet's mommy. She needs a gold medal, and he needs a visa, and in their tawdry world nothing else matters -- not the millions of television viewers assuming skating competition to be fair, not the aspirations of world-class competitors who've given their lives preparing for their fleeting moment in the light of the Olympic flame.

He calls in some buddies. A series of bumbling intrigues and alleged conspiracies fix the judging in favor of French ice dancers at the Winter Games. And for months, they get away with it.

Meanwhile, Olympic and international ice skating officials are focusing their attention on a separate scandal in which a weepy French skating judge and a French skating official succumb to pressure to favor Russian pairs. Turns out, they're small fry: The pinstriped feds glide to center ice with wiretap evidence, proving definitively the sport's inability to police itself.

Score for technical merit: 0. Artistic merit: 0 Fan pleasure: 0. Titillation factor: 10. Mother of mercy, can this be the end of international ice skating as a sport? This whole sordid tale simply fuels the arguments of detractors who consider ice skating to be no more a sport than the Westminster Dog Show.

Ice skating's fans and competitors will not be appeased by simple pledges to reorganize skating's highly subjective judging system, not when recent revelations suggest the long arm of the mob can so easily find its way into the judge's box.

Clearly, the whole truth has yet to come out; when it does, it will implicate more than a few greedy or lonely hearts.

For the sake of the sport, a house cleaning is order, all the way to the top of the federations, if necessary.

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