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Potential for scandal exceeds wildest Olympic dreams



Published: Mon, August 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Every two years -- it used to be every four years, but the Olympics became such a big business that the Summer and Winter games were put on a staggered schedule --the world is treated to an incredible array of Olympic dream stories.

Young athletes, many of whom have virtually surrendered their childhoods to pursue an Olympic dream, are featured in these heart-warming stories about overcoming adversity or dedicating success to a deceased parent or grandparent.

Now, an Olympic nightmare is unfolding.

In February, the world watched a seemingly inexplicable result in the pairs figure skating competition at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the smallest of margins over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. At the time, it appeared to be nationalism run amok, with Eastern Bloc judges, joined by the French judge, giving the Russian pair an unearned edge.

Indeed, the next day, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said she'd been pressured to vote for the Russians in exchange for the support of Russian judges for a French ice dancing duo. She later recanted but still was suspended, as was Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation.

Duplicate gold solved the problem

The French judge's numbers were dropped from the results, resulting in a tie. Berezhnaya, Sikhar ulidze, Sale and Pelletier all got gold medals, the International Skating Union and the Olympic Committee announced revisions in the judging procedure, and all most people could do was wait for the next Winter Olympics to see if the reforms worked.

Now, it turns out that the vote trading may have been orchestrated by a Russian gangster who, in ways not yet explained, hoped to parlay his help for the French ice dancers into a French visa.

If true, this uncovers a level of corruption within the Olympics that will demand the cooperation of the International Olympic Committee and, at the least, the governments of France, the United States and Italy. Italian police uncovered the plot while monitoring telephone conversations of the Russian Mafioso, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The United States is prosecuting Tokhtakhounov because the fix was executed on U.S. soil. And the French are going to have to delve into who in its skating federation so wanted the French ice dancers to win that he made a deal with a mobster and how did he hope to make good on his end of the bargain.

The Olympic nightmare won't be over until all the questions are answered.




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