SALT LAKE CITY — The Gang of Nine received their top-secret instructions long ago.
Assignment: Judge the ice dance competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City, United States of America.
Level of difficulty: Piece of cake.
Required equipment: The ice dance results from the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 2001 World Championships; you will need them to determine the winners at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Paperback novel; maybe three or four. Magazines and newspapers; you will need them when the paperback novels run out. Coffee. Jolt! Cola. Caffeine tablets. Pillow; you will need it when the coffee, cola and caffeine run out.
But that was before Monday and the ruckus caused by pairs judging controversy. In other words, the jig is up.
Now, for the remainder of the figure skating competition, every figure skating judgment will be scrutinized and second-guessed, along with every figure skating judge. Even in the greatest foregone conclusion in international sport, ice dancing.
Ice dancing has been in danger of having its Olympic credential pulled since the judging controversy of 1998, the event ending in a 1-2-3 finish that appeared to have been determined weeks in advance. After the Canadian pair of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Viktor Kraatz seemed to be outrageously underscored at fourth place, the judge from Canada, Jean Senft, went public with accusations of vote trading among the judging panel.
After being reprimanded for national bias by the International Skating Union, Senft took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, producing tape-recorded phone conversations with Ukrainian judge Yuri Balkov that indicated collusion among at least three ice dance judges. The CAS overturned the ISU's ruling, but the ISU responded by suspending both Senft and Balkov.
Even more damning was a famous photograph, taken by an Italian photographer, showing an ice dance judge nodding off during the competition.
That figures to change today, as ice dance compulsories get underway. It's a new world now, and that world is watching. No more snoozing. No more doodling.
This time, the ice dance judges will even have to figure out the voting procedure--and wait until after the dancers actually step onto the ice before pushing buttons.