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  • Saturday, March 27, 1999

    Truth taking it on the chin

    By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
      The compelling thing about the truth is that it has no borders, no language, no season.
     And so it is that the immutable nature of it has a lot of people around figure skating running for cover at the moment.
     Skating, as we've long suspected, is fixed.
     What else are we to infer from the cloud currently hanging over the world figure skating championships in Helsinki? Two judges, one Russian, one Ukrainian, are caught on videotape making what appear to be obvious signals to each other.
     The Ukrainian nods at the conclusion of a pairs skate. Glances are exchanged. The Russian points with his toe to his left. Are we to assume he was absent-mindedly doing a Cossack dance?
     This charade, caught on video by CTV, came just before the overwhelming fan favourite, China's pair of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, got their marks.
     It turns out that the two judges graded the top seven pairs in the same order and placed the Russian winners first and the Chinese second. They scored a second Russian pair third but Poland's Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek won the bronze anyway.
     Figure skating has long been accused of being tied to a system that almost prohibits breakthroughs. A relatively new performer can pull off a quintuple jump, it seems, and it will not matter against the tried-and-true performer they've seen for years.
     There could be some compelling reason for this, in the same way a challenger has to knock out a champion in boxing to take his championship. It's never been adequately explained to me.
     But this is different. This, the figure skating world will tell you, smacks of outright judging conspiracy.
     Figure skating judges are supposed to focus solely on what is before them on the ice. They are not to look sideways or anywhere other than what is happening on the ice.
     In the case of figure skating, justice may not always be done but it must be seen to be done. And looking at a fellow-judge is an absolute no-no. The exchanged glances between these two judges, the nods, the foot signals, accomplished one thing.
     They broke the rules. And it's on tape. Where it goes from here is up to the International Skating Union and it might keep in mind what has gone on elsewhere in sports lately.
     We saw another judging debacle two weeks ago, the night Lennox Lewis absorbed one of the biggest rip-offs in boxing history. Lewis exposed Evander Holyfield badly in their so-called unification bout in a near shutout in New York.
     That it was called a draw was one of the greatest farces in boxing history -- which speaks volumes in itself. Lewis won going away against a Holyfield who got old in one night.
     The only person smiling after the sham was promoter Don King, a man incapable of embarrassment, when he cackled about the rematch. Anyone who pays a nickel for that, let alone $79.95 on pay television, wants to be fleeced.
     It has taken a battering, truth has, this year in sports. From Toronto Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson's fraudulent Vietnam record to the sleazebags who got their snouts caught in the Olympic trough right up to the presidency of the United States, it has never been suspended in so many areas.
     The beauty is it always winds up with its feet on the ground in the end. Figure skating is only the latest to be finally exposed to some of it.
     Kernels: Barry Martinelli, who has stepped down as coach of the Western Mustangs pucksters, is keeping his hand in hockey. Martinelli has been invited to help the Belgian national team next fall as a guest coach. He also will do some scouting in the Western Pro League and will see some games this weekend in Texas. He remains in sports administration at Western. . The London Hunt Club might lose a shot at a PGA Seniors stop to a Western Canada club.

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