Archive for Sunday, April 28, 2002

Skating under siege

Hearing slated for Monday

April 28, 2002

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— The reputation of figure skating is on the line again. No Olympic gold medals are at stake this time just the credibility of the entire sport.

The French judge and skating chief at the center of the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics go before a hearing of the sport's world governing body on Monday and Tuesday. The process should demonstrate how serious the International Skating Union is about cleaning up the sport as a whole.

Facing the ISU panel will be Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the judge suspended for misconduct after voting in favor of the Russian pairs skaters, and Didier Gailhaguet, the French skating federation head who allegedly pressured her to do so.

The outcome of the closed-door hearings, and the fate of proposals for a new judging system, will be watched closely by the rest of the Olympic world. Figure skating's Olympic status could depend on it.

"Things have to change," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. "We have said clearly we want to avoid this unnecessary controversy in the future. It's in the interest of the sport of skating itself. Everything they can do to improve transparency is welcome."

Senior IOC member Dick Pound said the problem goes far beyond the Salt Lake City case, and the ISU must take decisive long-term action.

"Yes, you should deal with those who have been judged to have done something wrong," he said. "More important, you have to find a way to fix things for the future. You can't just have a show trial and shoot a couple of peasants.

"You are going to face a situation if they don't fix it up at some point where people are going to say, 'Don't go into figure skating. It's just too crooked."'

Pound said the IOC should consider dropping figure skating from the Olympics if it doesn't clean up its act.

"If it persists and the Olympics get a bad name as a result of a sport, no matter how important it is, you have to think what to do," he said.

The ISU council hearings at a Lausanne hotel will deal exclusively with the judging of the pairs event in Salt Lake City, one of the biggest scandals in Winter Games history.

Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze initially won the gold medal, defeating the Canadian pair of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier by a score of 5-4, despite a technical error.

At a post-competition judges' review, Le Gougne allegedly broke into tears and said she had been pressured by Gailhaguet to vote for the Russians, in an apparent deal to ensure victory for France in the ice dancing event.

Later, Le Gougne recanted her accusations against Gailhaguet, saying she had been trapped by ISU officials into making false claims against him. Gailhaguet has denied any wrongdoing.

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