SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Olympics just arent the Olympics without a figure skating controversy, so consider the Salt Lake City Games officially open for business.
ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta said Wednesday that the referee of the pairs competition, American Ronald Pfenning, has made certain allegations about the controversial judging of the event.
Cinquanta did not say what allegations Pfenning made in a letter to the federation. Cinquanta admitted there were other allegations, but the most important is the one of the referee. He is the coordinator of the competition.
Cinquanta also said hehas been embarrassed by the fallout of the the furor over the Russians beating the Canadians despite an obvious technical error. Canadas Olympic delegation demanded an investigation, and the International Skating Union said it would conduct a rare internal assessment.
That assessment could lead to a revision of the judging system, Cinquanta said.
Controversy is practically a staple of figure skating, whether its the Tonya-Nancy brouhaha, complaints about the standings in ice dancing or a ban on undignified moves.
But this one has really struck a chord with both fans and skating insiders prompting calls for reforms in judging and the ISUs organization itself.
This is the worst thing thats happened to figure skating in a long time, said veteran U.S. coach Frank Carroll. I can understand where, watching that, if the International Olympic Committee said, We dont want figure skating in the Olympics anymore, whos going to argue with that?
The IOC isnt giving figure skaters the boot yet, but it is concerned, said Francois Carrard, its director general. The ultimate responsibility for the results lies with the ISU.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia won the gold medal by the tiniest of margins over Canadas Jamie Sale and David Pelletier on Monday night. They won a 5-4 split even though Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel.
Not only did Sale and Pelletier skate cleanly, they displayed the kind of passion fans will remember years from now. The crowd was already chanting Six! Six! by the time they finished, begging the judges to award the Canadians a perfect score.
When Jamie and David finished, I thought, Thats easy. They made it easy, said Sally Rehorick, Canadas chief of mission, a former skater and judge for 25 years.
Instead, the Canadians got only four 5.9s for artistry compared with seven 5.9s for the Russians. Boos rained down as the marks flashed.
Carroll boldly raised the question about whether the French judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, voted for the Russians in a deal to avenge a loss by the French dance team to the Canadians at the Grand Prix in Canada in December.
Does that mean now the Russian judge possibly is going to give the French dance team first (in these Olympics)? Carroll asked.
The ice dancing competition begins Friday.
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In the meantime, Chinese judge Yang Jiasheng, who favored the Russians in a tiebreaker, withdrew from judging the mens short program Tuesday night due to illness, according to the Olympic information network.
Sikharulidze, however, defended the judges decision.
We were the first to skate, and there was nothing to keep our rivals from getting a 6.0 presentation mark for skating after us, he told the Sport Express, a Russian newspaper.
But they didnt, and that means they were not head and shoulders above us. … So let me repeat, I think that our victory is a worthy one.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, the Kremlin press office reported Wednesday, expressing his sincere congratulations on the superb victory.
Almost everyone else disagreed. Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold medalist and an NBC commentator Monday night, said it was clear to him that Sale and Pelletier outskated the Russians.
The judges really werent judging the program, he said. Maybe theyd come in with preconceived notions that they didnt want to dismiss.
Ah, figure skatings age-old problem: Critics of the sport dismiss it for its subjectivity, saying its vulnerable to the whims and shenanigans of the judges.
And historys full of examples to support that. The oldest scam is vote trading, with judges agreeing to vote for a certain skater with the understanding they can call in the debt later.
Carroll remains convinced American Linda Fratianne lost the gold medal in 1980 because judges traded votes along geopolitical lines. Annette Poetzsch of East Germany won instead, while Fratianne settled for silver.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz contended the Russians and French conspired to keep them off the medals podium. The couple that won the bronze, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, represented France, and Anissina was born in Russia.
And two pairs judges were suspended after TV footage at the 1999 world championships showed them glancing at each other and appearing to talk before marks were announced.
Subjectivity in our sport is not a bad thing, as long as the subjectivity is based on fair play in the spirit of the Olympics, Rehorick said. I do feel the credibility of our sport could be negatively affected by this decision.
But some people, including American skater Timothy Goebel, are willing to cut the judges a little slack. Figure skating is all in the details, many of which most fans never pick up.
You just dont know what the judges are seeing, he said after finishing third in the mens short program Tuesday night. They have maybe 30 seconds to make a decision and put a mark up.
Hindsight is always a wonderful thing, he added.
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