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March 18, 2016

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Judges smearing a beautiful sport

By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

 It is time to end the charade.

 Long past the time, actually, for the cretins who manoeuvre themselves onto the judging panels of the Olympic Games figure skating competition to be held accountable for smearing an otherwise beautiful sport.

 If you think what happened to Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier was a disgrace, the worst could be coming. Ice dance, starting Friday, might plumb even darker levels of hypocrisy and dishonesty.

 World opinion yesterday, editorially and otherwise, charged the awarding of a gold medal to the Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze was one of the great ripoffs in Olympic history. Sale and Pelletier's perfect routine, dozens of figure skating analysts add, was a gold medal performance from start to finish in comparison to the Russians' sometimes shaky skate.

 So, what next?

 Well, surely the time has come to put the International Skating Union on notice that unless it can prove deserving of Olympic family membership, it will be ousted. Its judging has made it the Games' weird uncle. (A sport bringing disrepute to the international Olympic movement is really saying something.)

 We've all known for some time what can go on in a judging panel. Just three years ago, Monday's bronze medallists, China's Xue Shjen and Hongbo Zhao, were similarly cheated. Two judges were caught on videotape making signals to each other.

 That was at the world championships in Helsinki. Exchanged glances, nods and foot signals got Russian Sviatoslav Babenko and Ukrainian Alfred Kortyek barred from future competitions. But only after they graded the top seven pairs in the same order, then placed Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze first.

 Former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound of Montreal recently called for the removal of ice dancing, four years after first proposing it in the wake of judging scandals at the Nagano Olympics.

 His concern is understandable. Rumours out of Salt Lake City suggest the order of ice dance finish has already been secretly laid out, with Canadian champs Shae-Lynn Bourne of Chatham and Victor Kraatz slotted in for fifth place. What kind of sport is this?

 Many of figure skating's problems are geopolitical along with competitive. The judges who voted for the Russian pair came from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, China and France. The judges who favoured Sale and Pelletier were from the U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan.

 It is an old story: you favour our pair and I'll keep a close eye on your singles skater, etc. Figure skating is the most undemocratic of sports because so many in it have no conception of democratic principles. Old East Bloc friendships are still in place. Vote-trading is part of the deal.

 It's hard to understand the French angle, unless it is answered in the next paragraph.

 These people have no more sense of shame than, say, boxing promoter Don King has shown after some of his shams. Despite what has gone on, their arrogance would well let them stick with the rumoured order of ice dance -- Italy, Russia, France, Lithuania and Canada.

 The flawless performance by Sale and Pelletier in the defining routine of their lives ought to have been the story of the Olympics. Her shrugging off a practice-ice collision, their zeroing in on the Russians' off-night by not putting a skate out of place, Canada's break of the 40-year Russian pairs stranglehold all left the roaring crowd knowing they'd seen history.

 Little could they suspect the history would have such dark overtones.

 Sale and Pelletier were victims. But so were the Russians, by a tarnished gold medal. But mostly, figure skating suffered. Its credibility is teetering as badly as it ever has.

 What the world audience saw was the equivalent of tank-town boxing. It was elite figure skating marked by the stench of a fixed fight in a ratty club.

 The difference is that in boxing, you can at least overcome the judging by deciding the outcome yourself.

 Come to think of it, when you look at those figure skating judges, you have to wonder.

 Where is Tonya Harding when we need her?

2002 Games Figure Skating Coverage

Inside Figure Skating

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