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WINTER OLYMPICS | FROM SILVER TO GOLD

It's an Outrage to Russians

They charge that IOC decision to give the Canadians a second pair of golds is a result of media pressure.

February 16, 2002|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Russian Olympic skating gold medalist Anton Sikharulidze, distressed and indignant at Friday's decision to award a second gold to the rival Canadian skating pair, said there had been competitions in which he and partner Elena Berezhnaya had skated as well as their Canadian rivals but had to accept silver medals. But he said they never complained.

He said the decision to award a second gold was "totally wrong" and "not done."

There was a chorus of outrage in Russia over the decision, with accusations that the Canadians were unsporting for refusing to accept the judges' decision.

"If someone insists that our skating is equal and that it is impossible to determine who is the best--Russia or Canada--then let's remember the past and think about all the championships and tournaments when both pairs were also said to be equal, but the Canadians would get the gold, while we would have to be content with silver.

"We would just comply with the decision of referees, take our silver and we never complained. If we are so equal, let us take the gold medals for all those cases too," Sikharulidze said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City.

After Canadian skaters, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, were narrowly defeated by the Russian pair in the ice-dancing competition, an outrage erupted over the decision.

A French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne, said she had been pressured over the judging, but French Olympics officials reported that she nonetheless voted honestly.

Sikharulidze said the controversy over the decision was based on the perceptions of laypeople, not experts.

"In fact the opinion of laymen, the opinion of the crowd and not professionals, determined the fate of the golden medals," he complained. "I personally have not seen any true experts in figure skating against the original decision of the panel of referees."

Sikharulidze said the controversy had been enormously stressful as he and Berezhnaya faced hostile media that seemed to support the Canadian cause.

"It is very difficult to fight their television and crowds of aggressive, unfriendly reporters. We do not have anyone backing us up," he said.

He was sure that he and Berezhnaya had won the medal fairly, but in future they would be even more motivated in competition against the Canadian pair.

"The unscrupulousness is the saddest thing--they are ready to wangle these medals by hook or by crook. To them, it does not matter how they get the medals, it only matters that they do get them," he said.

Canadian skater Pelletier was so outraged over the original judging, which gave the Russian pair gold despite flaws in their skating, that he announced he was thinking of quitting over it. However Sikharulidze said he would never dream of quitting over a judging controversy.

"If someone is unhappy about something in figure skating, if someone thinks about quitting--let him quit. It means that a person is not confident enough, that he is not strong and that he does not trust himself. We are prepared to carry on and win more medals," he said.

Tariel G. Sikharulidze, Anton Sikharulidze's father, speaking by telephone from St. Petersburg, Russia, said the idea of two gold medals was "ridiculous."

"What has happened here leaves a huge stain on the reputation of the Games. It is a disgusting story, and I feel that I have been spat in the face.

"In sports it is he who does better than everyone else who gets the prize, not the one with the biggest mouth."

He said if it had been the Russians who had missed out on gold in similar circumstances, no one would have dreamed of awarding a gold medal to the Russian team.

"That the Canadians have finally wrung the gold medals for themselves can only be explained by the unprecedented campaign in the mass media which presented the situation as if the Russian couple had robbed the Canadians," he complained.

He said the controversy and resulting decision to award a gold medal to the Canadians created a bad precedent that opened the way for endless debates among athletes and teams.

Tatyana Berezhnaya, 49, Elena Berezhnaya's mother from Nevinnomyssk, in southern Russia, was shocked.

"What has happened is totally unfair and wrong," she said in a telephone interview. "I think that the way our figure skaters were treated is sheer discrimination.

"What we have seen in Salt Lake City is a dirty gamble, not figure skating. It is very unsporting. As a mother of an Olympic champion, I feel so deeply offended I am ready to cry.

"My daughter and her partner do not deserve to share the first place with anyone else. They were the best."

Before Friday's decision awarding the gold to the Canadians, Russian Figure Skating Federation chief Valentin Piseyev, denied any impropriety relating to judges, dismissing the allegations as nonsense. He complained that a massive attack had been launched on the Russian skating pair.

"All the ill-wishers simply cannot live with the fact that Russian skating pairs have remained unbeaten for the past 38 years running.

"As to the intrigues around the [Russian skaters], I can only say, one must accept defeat honorably," he said.

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