It’s a pretty sport with an ugly side |

It’s a pretty sport with an ugly side

There’s a new “Miracle on Ice.” The Canadian pairs figure-skating team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier will be getting gold medals after all.

In a surprise move, the International Skating Union suspended French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and asked the IOC to award a second set of gold medals early Friday morning.

The decision settles a scandal that has clouded the Salt Lake Games since the long program of the pairs competition was skated on Monday.

Or does it?

Figure skating is perhaps the most beautiful blend of grace and strength in the sports world. Grace, eloquence and athleticism – what more could you ask for?

How about honesty, integrity and some basic common sense?

To say that the Salt Lake Games have been rocked by the pairs figure-skating scandal that’s unfolded in our living rooms would be a gross understatement.

In the first 10 minutes at my desk Friday, I had three people come up to ask if I had heard about the second set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian couple. The story was less than about a half an hour old.

Figure skating offers – hands down – the most popular set of events in the winter Olympics, and people have been talking.

The stir started the second the scores were posted. It’s easy to understand why.

A person didn’t need to know the difference between a triple salchow and a triple axle to see that Canadians Sale and Pelletier skated a clearly faultless performance. It was equally obvious that the Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze had some technical flaws. Even the slowest of viewers had to wonder why a perfect skate was rewarded with second place.

Scott Hamilton, perhaps one of the sport’s best spokesmen, broke out with an exclamation of disbelief on live television.

Since then, there has been a steady barrage of former and current skaters and officials calling for serious reform of a flawed system.

Well, Friday morning, the IOC and the International Skating Union finally stepped up and corrected an injustice.

ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta announced that the French judge Le Gougne, who was in the middle of the dispute, had been suspended.

“She acted in a way that was not adequate to guarantee both pairs equal condition,” Cinquanta said. “We have declared misconduct.”

At the request of the ISU, the IOC executive committee quickly voted to award a second set of medals to Sale and Pelletier.

Seems like they finally did the right thing, doesn’t it?

Don’t be fooled, though. The credit for the sudden largesse should really go to the Canadian skating federation (Skate Canada) and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

The Canadian officials pulled off perhaps the best move of the games, even though it happened in the background.

While Cinquanta was busy telling Bob Costas during prime-time NBC coverage that the ISU wouldn’t be pushed into moving any more quickly than the originally planned Monday hearing, the Canadians pulled an end-around and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The independent court, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, has the power to compel the IOC to abide by any decisions that it makes.


Follow the bouncing ball.

First, there’s a ludicrous awarding of the gold medal, then a flurry of indignation, then denials of wrongdoing. The denials are followed by admissions of impropriety, which are followed by claims of misinterpretation.

Finally, the head of the ISU says that they are not going to rush the process, even though they have substantial allegations that a judge was pressured to vote the way she did.

Then Canadian officials landed a quad axle – the CAS scheduled a hearing for Friday afternoon and ordered the ISU to ensure that its referees and judges remain in Salt Lake City and be prepared to have all records available.

Suddenly, the ice melted.

Sale and Pelletier get the gold medals they deserve, the public is happily filled with the Olympic spirit again, and the IOC gets to put its dirty laundry back in the dark room.

Let’s hope that – for once – they clean it before they put it back, instead of letting the stench remain.

Shawn Swillinger is sports editor at The Union. He can be reached by phone at 477-4240 or by email at

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