Suspended for three years and banned from the 2006 Winter Olympics for unethical conduct related to the Salt Lake City Olympics pairs figure skating competition, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and French federation chief Didier Gailhaguet ridiculed the International Skating Union's actions Tuesday and vowed to prove their innocence.
The ISU announced sanctions against the pair after two days of council meetings at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. It said Le Gougne acted improperly in voting for a Russian pair on Gailhaguet's orders and in not reporting Gailhaguet's coercion to the ISU. Le Gougne initially said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians but later recanted and said she voted her conscience.
Gailhaguet was punished for telling Le Gougne to vote for Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
"We went through the papers, we went through the evidence and then we decided," ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta said. "We are more than confident we took the right decision.
"It was not an easy case. It's a sad moment."
Figure skating had endured previous judging controversies, but the flap at Salt Lake City mushroomed into an international incident that overshadowed the Games. The ISU recommended giving the Canadians duplicate medals, and the International Olympic Committee, angry that its showcase event was being tainted by scandal, authorized the unprecedented award.
Le Gougne said the suspensions were levied so the ISU could justify awarding the second set of medals.
"I hoped that [Tuesday night] would be the end of a nightmare that has lasted 21/2 months. Unfortunately, that's not the case," she said. "But I am more determined than ever. So it's no longer a nightmare. Now it's a real battle. I want my dignity and honor restored."
She also said she will air the ISU's dirty linen. "I will explain how things work," she said. "It's a system that is extremely biased, dictatorial and even corrupt."
The 40-year-old Frenchwoman called the ISU hearing a farce and a masquerade, in part because the ISU didn't allow her attorneys to call witnesses favorable to her stance. The ISU council heard from 13 witnesses; among them were two judges and Gailhaguet's Salt Lake City chauffeur, Bruce Edwards of Anaheim, who testified about a suspicious conversation he overheard between Gailhaguet and an unidentified Russian woman.
"There is not a shadow of proof," Gailhaguet said. "It is an attempt at political assassination. This affair is far from over."
Gailhaguet and Le Gougne said they will initiate an appeal and follow that by appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, if necessary.
The ISU did not say whether Gailhaguet will be forced to surrender his seat on the ISU council, saying only he and Le Gougne cannot attend ISU-sanctioned events for three years. Gailhaguet, who in recent weeks has been accused by several former and current French judges of pressuring them into voting for certain skaters in exchange for favorable votes for French skaters, did not participate in the council's 11-0 decision Tuesday.
Whether Gailhaguet keeps his council seat is significant, because it is a power base in decisions that affect the sport."That's really the whole issue, though, isn't it?" said veteran figure skating coach John Nicks, who works with Olympic fourth-place finisher Sasha Cohen in Aliso Viejo.
"I think the decision regarding [Le Gougne] was pretty obvious and appropriate.... But the larger issue is Didier and what happens with him and the French association. I think that needs to be clarified."
The U.S. Figure Skating Assn., which last week recommended lifetime bans for judges and officials guilty of improper actions, said it was encouraged by the ISU's move but also urged judging reform.
However, Skate Canada, the governing body for figure skating in Canada, hailed the ISU's action. "This is a great day for international figure skating and for skaters," it said in a statement. The sanctions send "a strong message to all international judges that they must be free of influence from their home federations."
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.