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Pairs Figure Skating Flap Continues - 2002-02-13


Nearly always there will be some disputes in sports that are decided by judges, as opposed to those decided by times and distances. But, sometimes, there is widespread criticism over the results in subjective sports. That is clearly the case in pairs figure skating at the Winter Olympics.

Russians continued their domination of the pairs event, winning here Monday night for the 11th straight Olympics. But their performance had many figure skating followers, and others, shaking their heads.

Despite an obvious stumble at the beginning of their program, and some other elements that were not up to their usual excellence, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won gold, edging Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. But to most of the fans in the Salt Lake Ice Center, many in the media, and probably most who watched on television, the Canadians' near-perfect routine should have earned them the gold.

The Canadian Chief de Mission (head of the delegation), Sally Rehorick, is also a judge for the International Skating Union, and she told reporters here Tuesday she believed the Canadian skaters should have won. "When that decision came in, I decided I didn't want to judge again. I don't know whether it's embarrassment. I was horrified," she said. "As a judge, you go in, and you want things to be fair. What I was looking for, as a judge sitting there was, is the decision going to be clear cut [decisive], because not all decisions are clear cut. And when Jamie and David finished skating, I thought, 'Oh, well, that's easy. They made it [the decision about the gold medal] easy.' So certainly, I think it's bad for judging right now."

Many are aware that reputations and previous results have an impact on figure skating judging. But the Canadian pair had defeated the Russians at last year's World Championships, and at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating two months ago.

And Sally Rehorick thinks Jamie Sale and David Pelletier clearly beat Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze here at the Olympics. "Anton made a major error on his double axel. He stepped out of it. The landing on the two throw jumps for Elena -- she was on a very stiff knee, [and in] the second one, the rotation was not very well controlled. In the death spirals [where her head nearly touches the ice], Elena does not get down into an arched position. The lifts are much easier for Anton and Elena. They don't cover the full distance of the ice. They don't come down as easily. They don't have as difficult changes of positions or entries," said Ms. Rehorick. "The Russian pair are a wonderful pair, exquisite pair, and that's why judging them against David and Jamie is so difficult, but last night [Monday night] Jamie and David skated better."

Later Tuesday, International Olympic Committee Director General Francois Carrard addressed the media on the subject. "Sports where you have judging are sometimes sources of controversy. It's not the first, and it's not the last one, because you don't have the absolute objective answer," he said. "Sports have to be governed by the international sports federations. We [the IOC] have a general overlook over them, but it's their call for the results."

Mr. Carrard added that the International Skating Union has announced they are having an inquiry into the pairs judging here, and, later Wednesday, officials from the skating union are expected to meet with the media.

No matter what, the results from the pairs figure skating here -- with the Russians beating the Canadians -- won't change. Canadian silver medallist David Pelletier said, "The Olympic dream can sometimes turn into an Olympic nightmare."

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