Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Reviews mixed for figure skating controversy

February 19, 2002


— Damien Dreis of Seattle was so determined to witness Sunday night's special medals ceremony for pairs figure skating, he "played the pregnancy card."

Damien and his wife, Debbie, didn't have tickets for Sunday's ice dancing at Salt Lake Ice Center. The ice dancing immediately preceded the medal ceremony where Canadians David Pelletier and Jaime Sale received their belated gold medals.

So the Dreises had to get creative.

"Some people were on their way out of the stadium and gave us their ticket stubs," Dreis said.

But that was just a start. Once spectators leave Olympic venues, they cannot be readmitted for security reasons.

"I went up to the gate and told the guy my wife is pregnant," said Dreis, who's wife, a first-grade teacher, really is pregnant. "He said, 'No way,' and I practically had to pull her shirt up to convince him she is pregnant. I told him she felt bad and we had to go outside to get fresh air.

"Finally, he said, 'Hey, you didn't see me do this,' and let us go in."

Gaining entrance to the Salt Lake Ice Center was just the culmination of a bizarre weekend for the Dreises.

For people who were submerged in a submarine in the Great Salt Lake the last 10 days, there has been an ongoing Olympic scandal over the judging of the pairs figure skating.

Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold even though the average fan and most expert commentators were convinced the Canadians skated the best program.

Then it was revealed that the French judge had been "pressured" into voting for the Russians. That's when the whole thing blew up and ultimately, the Canadians were granted gold medals too. That's the short version.

The Dreises aren't even fans of figure skating they're football fanatics. And they had no plans to attend the Olympics. But Damien became intrigued with the figure skating brouhaha. Besides, he owed Debbie a Valentine's Day gift. At the last minute, he canceled a business trip and they hopped a plane for Salt Lake City.

"We flew in from Seattle just to see that ceremony," Damien said. "It was a historic deal, I thought. It was just the whole injustice of it."

However, Dreis made one major miscalculation he assumed the second medal ceremony would be held in Olympic Medals Plaza, and bought a pair of tickets for $200. After they sat in their seats for about half an hour, and there was no mention of pairs figure skating, they realized something was up.

That sudden awareness began a mad dash to the ice center.

Was it worth it?

"It was pretty spectacular," Dreis said.

But more ardent figure skating fans said they were saddened by this week's events.

Lyn Grimaud, of Salt Lake City, has been volunteering as an athlete usher. She also has a friend who is a figure skating judge. He assures her that major competitions aren't fixed.

She isn't buying it.

"I love to watch, but it was appalling to see it this flagrant," Grimaud said. "It makes you sick to your stomach to find out that what you'd always suspected is true."

Tony and Angela Quila traveled to Utah from their home in the Philippines to attend figure skating.

The Quilas said residents of the Philippines have always felt their boxers were robbed of medals in the Seoul, Korea, Olympics in 1988, and they identified with the Canadian figure skaters.

"You fight for your rights," Angela Quila said. "You can't be a meek little mouse. We don't expect things to change over night. It will take the awareness of the public and the determination of the governing body."

Jim and Karla Brown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, came to Utah after the pairs competition. But they felt the effects of the controversy at home.

"I was crying in my office," Karla said. "I was always skeptical of the judging, but I thought, 'Who am I to question the results?'

"But when it's so blatant, you think, 'jeepers.'"

For Tom Keenan, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., too much time had already been spent analyzing the mess. When asked about the pairs skating, he had a simple response.

"Enough already!" he said.

Steamboat (Colo.) Pilot and Today reporter Tom Ross is on assignment at the Olympics in Utah.

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