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OLYMPICS HELENE ELLIOTT

Skating Judgment Day Coming

April 27, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT

By now, the only judge who hasn't accused Marie-Reine Le Gougne or Didier Gailhaguet of unethical conduct is Judge Judy.

The mud continues to fly around Le Gougne, the French figure skating judge who was suspended by the International Skating Union during the Salt Lake City Olympics, and Gailhaguet, the head of the French figure skating federation.

The latest charges, from European judges, are that Le Gougne said before the Olympics she planned to vote for Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia over Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada in the pairs competition, and that Gailhaguet pressured judges in previous competitions to vote according to his wishes.

Le Gougne, who signed a statement acknowledging she said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians but later said she misspoke because of her unsteady emotional state, will have a hearing Monday at ISU headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, her lawyers have already planted the seeds for an appeal.

They claim the ISU should have subpoenaed all nine judges from the Olympic pairs panel--only Sissy Krick of Germany was called--and that its questioning of witnesses showed bias against Le Gougne. They also objected to the ISU's refusal to consider Le Gougne's claims of misconduct by referee Ron Pfenning, technical committee chairwoman Sally Stapleford and Canadian judge Benoit Lavoie.

They plan to present evidence that Stapleford and Pfenning lobbied for the Canadians. They also contend Le Gougne has been made a scapegoat.

He said, she said, they said. Who to believe?

Morry Stillwell, chairman of the ISU's Grand Prix management committee and a past president of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., isn't sure what to think, except to anticipate the matter to end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"I've been hearing the quotes from some other people, and I have a strong feeling some of those have an agenda of their own," he said of judges who have come forward with accusations against Le Gougne or Gailhaguet. "They have their own reasons to do it, which may have little to do with this situation."

The pairs judging controversy, which resulted in Sale and Pelletier being raised to co-gold medalist status with Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, spurred ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta to propose reforms that will be on the agenda of the ISU Council meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in June. Stillwell said he'd like to see the revival of a proposal made two years ago that would have given national federations less power over judges and might have helped avoid the Le Gougne scenario.

The proposal stipulated that once a judge had been nominated by his or her federation and had taken the required test, that judge would not have to be nominated each year. Current rules call for each federation to renominate each judge every May. Judging is considered a perk, so it's not farfetched to think federations might threaten to withhold judges' nominations unless the judges promise to obey the federation.

"That's how the federations control their judges," Stillwell said. "[The proposal] would go a long ways toward stopping that.... It was vetoed by the federations. There are a lot of things the ISU gets nailed for, but there are 52 federations voting on these things."

Stillwell said the judging flap didn't hurt the credibility of figure skating "in the long run." But that seems like wishful thinking.

Only a few weeks after the Salt Lake City Games, the world championships at Nagano, Japan, were marred by allegations the father of Israeli ice dancer Galit Chait threatened a coach and skaters, and that U.S. judge Sharon Rogers received death threats in her hotel room. Also, about 20 ice dance duos signed a petition protesting the third-place finish of Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski over Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas of Lithuania, but Cinquanta told them to keep their gripes in-house and suggested ice dancing could be removed from the Olympic program.

The integrity of the sport rests on the impartiality of its judges.

If Cinquanta can't devise a system that will guarantee that--or something close to it--the sport will slowly strangle. Why should skaters train for years for a chance at a medal, only to run into judges who have made backroom deals that doom their dreams?

On Track

Everybody's in the pool for the 1,600-meter relay teams at today's USA vs. the World races at the Penn Relays.

Marion Jones is expected to lead a reunion of the quartet that won gold in the 1,600 at Sydney, joining LaTasha Colander-Richardson, Monique Hennigan and Jearl Miles-Clark. The U.S.'s second team will be Michelle Collins, Debbie Dunn, Sasha Spencer and Nicole Teter. Teams from Canada, Russia and Jamaica are also scheduled to enter.

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