Fun and Games

  • Share
  • Read Later

THE ECSTASY: Sale and Pelletier were all smiles after getting gold

The Olympic motto is citius, altius, fortius — faster, higher, stronger. How about fairer? Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier left the ice last Monday after a figure-skating performance that Sale, like most spectators, deemed "absolutely perfect." Their closest competition, Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, had made a clear error — he stumbled coming out of a double axel. Yet five of the nine judges placed the Russians first. They got the gold, and the Canadians settled for silver.

As rumors flew about misconduct, skating officials began an investigation and Canada filed an appeal. "Skategate" was born, raining humiliation on the sport but also raising the possibility of reform in a world that insiders say is insular, secretive and corrupt.

In the hot seat was French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne. She told an International Skating Union panel that "a certain pressure" compelled her to vote for the Russians. The I.S.U. suspended Le Gougne and recommended that the Canadians be given a gold medal. I.O.C. chief Jacques Rogge praised the "decision of fairness and justice."

Though the ruling gratified Sale and Pelletier, they said the title wasn't enough. "For the future of our sport," Sale said, "the truth still has to come out." Slowly, some of it began to. Le Gougne reportedly told the panel that it was her own federation's president, Didier Gail-haguet, who had influenced her. The idea was that by helping Russia to a gold, a Russian judge might return the favor in ice dancing, in which France is a favorite. (There is suspicion, but no evidence, of Russian collusion in the incident.)

While most judges are not corrupt, skating veterans say fixes have been a problem for years. "All titles are decided ahead of time," said France's Isabelle Duchesnay, a 1992 silver medalist in ice-dancing. If there's an upside to Skategate, it's the new momentum for reform and the raised hopes that all judging will be as clean as the golden performance of Sale and Pelletier.