Person of the Week: 'Skate Gate' Judge Marie Reine Le Gougne

  • Share
  • Read Later

French skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne

Marie Reine Le Gougne is no Tonya Harding — the clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan was an outside job, an assault on the sport, not by it. She's no Arnold Rothstein — he rigged the 1919 World Series for money. She's not even one of those East German judges who used to fight the Cold War from high above the Olympic ice. But she is the face of the scandal that's ending the week as everyone's top story. Suddenly all of figure skating smells rotten, and the sport's all-powerful judges are faceless no more.

The way the allegations go, pressure from outside sources was the reason "skate gate" judge Le Gougne voted for Russian pairs team Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over the cleaner-skating Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier Monday night. Didier Gailhaguet, head of the French Olympic committee, told a reporter that Le Gougne had been pressured to cast her vote a certain way.

Gailhaguet later said that he had been misinterpreted, that while Le Gougne had been approached by "certain people who had an interest to see their couple win," that did not affect her vote. Still, it's hard to explain the judge's ruling. Replays showed that Sikharulidze clearly botched a jump, and when the marks were flashed the crowd booed loudly — and continued to boo as the Russians were awarded their medal. "Some people close to the judge have acted badly and have put someone who is honest and upright, but emotionally fragile, under pressure," Gailhaguet said Wednesday. "She is a fragile person and I think she has been somewhat manipulated." Le Gougne herself, because of ISU rules forbidding judges from explaining their decisions, isn't talking.

Friday, the Olympic powers-that-be came through with some damage control. The International Skating Union announced it was suspending Le Gougne, Gailhaguet promised to get to the bottom of it all and Canada got what it wanted most — an additional gold medal awarded to Sale and Pelletier.

"We're happy that justice was done," said Pelletier — who had the crowd in stitches with some aw-shucks-Canuck one-liners — at the afternoon press conference. "We hope the inquiries won't stop here, but keep going."

The International Olympic Committee would rather it all resolved as quickly as possible, and will do its best to get Salt Lake talking about something else now that everybody's got a gold. The question, though, is whether Marie Reine Le Gougne will be the catalyst for an overhaul of what cynics call "boxing on skates." Even if we never hear from Le Gougne herself, she has reminded us that figure skating has been tainted by backroom dealing, pre-judging by judges and other vices one might expect from a highly popular "sport" that has few inherently objective measures of its winners and losers.