Olympics: Russian fury at pairs gold award

By Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 16 February 2002 01:00

Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, denied the Olympic title by a controversial judging decision in Monday's ice skating pairs competition, were yesterday awarded a gold medal by the International Olympic Committee, which confirmed that it had suspended the French judge at the centre of allegations of misconduct.

The Canadian pair will thus share the title with the Russian partnership of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who were given the verdict on a 5-4 decision despite making at least two obvious errors in their programme.

But if the IOC thought it had thereby kept everybody happy, then the initial reaction from Moscow suggested they should think again. The head of Russia's Figure Skating Federation, Valentin Piseyev, was irate at the decision, saying: "This is an unprecedented decision that turned out to be a result of pressure by the North American press, and turned out in favour of the fanatically loyal [North American] fans."

The Russian Olympic Committee official Rudolf Nezvegsky said: "By doing this, they just struck a huge blow not only to the Olympic spirit of fair competition, but also to the whole nature of sport."

Salé and Pelletier are due to receive their medal before the women's free programme on Thursday. "We are happy that justice was done, and it doesn't take away anything from Anton and Elena," Pelletier said.

Ottavio Cinquanta, the president of the International Skating Union, said a council meeting convened after Thursday evening's men's free programme had considered evidence and concluded that the French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, had acted "in a way that was not adequate to guarantee both pairs equal conditions". He refused to comment on whether she had come under pressure to favour the Russians following suggestions that a trade-off had been set up to allow France to win the ice dance title on Sunday.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, confirmed that the ISU's proposal to suspend Le Gougne and award an extra gold to the Canadians had been agreed at an executive meeting held yesterday morning. Seven members had voted in favour, one against, and there was one abstention.

"This was based absolutely on the Charter and the regulations of the IOC," said Rogge. "This is not the first time the IOC has taken a similar decision," Rogge added. "I don't think this has damaged the the movement. We have acted swiftly on behalf of justice and fairness to the athletes and this is definitely a closed matter."

The closest precedent in Olympic history occurred in 1993, when the Canadian synchronised swimmer Sylvie Frechette was belatedly awarded an extra gold medal after it was shown that a judge at the 1992 Games in Barcelona had inadvertently mistyped her result into a computer, pushing her down to silver medal position.

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