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    Tuesday, February 17, 1998

    Judges dance to a different tune

    By STEVE SIMMONS -- At The Olympics

      Victor Kraatz softly touched the side of Shae-Lynn Bourne's face when their original dance program came to an end.
     It was a little gesture of appreciation, a gesture without words, saying everything was going to be all right, that they'll get through this.
      But everything isn't going to be all right.
     This is their soul and their sporting life the figure skating world messed with yesterday morning.
     This is their dreams. This is everything they have worked rigorously for over the past eight years.
     The crooked people of the figure-skating world can play their little political games, deciding who wins and who loses, and apologizing to no one, but never comprehending that there are lives out there being touched and trampled on and dreams they are smothering without concern or thought.
     It is too easy to sit back and laugh at all the deceit of Olympic ice dancing. It is too easy to sneer at the silly veneer of the sport, the makeup and the music, the sequins and the chiffon, but deep down when the music has stopped and the judges have crawled back into their little holes, these are still athletes.
     These are legitimately good athletes who train like other athletes, harder than most. They believed, once upon a time, in some kind of Olympic ideal. They thought if they did their best, if they belonged among the best, that's where they would find themselves at the Olympic Games.
     They believed all that, but the Olympics has created a new kind of athlete through its own brand of dishonesty: An athlete who is disbelieving and cynical.
     Shae-Lynn Bourne would not let the bastards of her sport get the best of her. In the true tradition of her game, she smiled right to the bitter end. She flashed her bright white teeth and watched as they stole her medal, her piece of history, her place on the Olympic podium. But she would not allow them to steal her dignity.
     She wouldn't cry. Not on the ice. Not off the ice. Not for anyone else to see.
     But dammit, we should be crying for her and for Victor Kraatz, crying tears and screaming words, about a sport that can break an athlete's heart and be so icy to think nothing of the shame of the moment.
     "I don't feel awful at all," Bourne said, maybe lying just a little bit. "To be honest, I feel like laughing." And it was not because it was funny. It was because there was nothing else she could do. And maybe, it was all she could do to keep from crying.
     "All I can do is smile," she said. "It's so stupid, isn't it?"
     It is more than stupid. It is, to use her word, "inhumane."
     Shae-Lynn Bourne was probably born to skate. From as young an age as she can remember, she loved the feeling of gliding on the ice, the magic that went with it.
     She grew up in Chatham but by the time she was 11, she knew that skating would be her life. She moved as a youngster to Montreal, to a place where she could get better training.
     At 14, in a regional competition in Timmins, she was spotted by a teenaged skater named Victor Kraatz. She was a pairs skater. He was a dance skater. He was looking for a new partner.
     Kraatz, himself, decided he wanted to be an Olympian when he watched the ice dancing at the Calgary Olympics. He was 14 at the time. He was born in Berlin, moved to Switzerland, then Montreal, then Vancouver and now Lake Placid, N.Y., where he and Bourne now train.
     He had auditioned his partner when he was 18, and even then he calculated in his mind how old they would be in time for these Olympic Games. Now, he is 26 and she is 22, and they ice dance as well as any pair in the world.
     Only they finished fourth at Nagano in one of those pre-ordained moments that figure skating has sadly become notorious for. Those in the know talked about this the minute the Olympics arrived. How their scores would work. Where they would finish. And the truth of this awful occasion was: Their performances here were moot and their placing was pre-determined.
     "I think we skated like champions," Bourne said. "I'm so proud of how we handled ourselves."
     This is more than just athletic fraud. This is tampering with people's lives and skater's hopes.
     "The Olympics is supposed to be about survival of the fittest," Bourne said.
     And if that is so, there is a medal waiting somewhere for her and for Victor Kraatz. Somewhere over the rainbow.