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Skating judges take a fall



Published: Wed, February 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



If the Super Bowl were decided the way pairs figure skating is decided at the Olympics, the St. Louis Rams would have taken home the Vince Lombardi trophy for no other reason than they were supposed to.

But a funny thing happened on the way to pick up the trophy: The New England Patriots out-played them. The Patriots went home the champions, which is as it's supposed to be in sports.

At the Olympics in Salt Lake City Monday night, everybody knew that the Russian couple, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, were the favorites. But, as just about everybody watching saw, the Canadian couple, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, out-skated the Russians. Judges from three old Soviet bloc countries, joined by France and China, didn't let that little detail get in the way. They gave the gold to the Russians anyway, rewarding reputation rather than results.

Reaction: NBC commentator Sandra Bezic, a former Canadian pairs champion, said she was embarrassed for her sport. That sense of embarrassment apparently did not extend to the winners. "Controversy about what decision?" asked Tamara Moskvina, the Russians' coach. Asked if he and Berezhnaya had skated a winning program, Sikharulidze responded: "Yeah, sure, because I have a gold medal."

It's probably too much to expect Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze to admit that they stole the gold, but the least they could have done was acknowledge the possibility that they'd been given a gift.

It's not as if they never had a chance to think about what would be the right thing to do under the circumstances. Three years ago in Helsinki they got a similar gift at the expense of Chinese skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo (who won bronze Monday]. That night the Chinese skaters had an error-free program while Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze did not complete a jump series because she fell. Nonetheless, the Russians got the World Figure Skating Championship gold, while the Chinese got silver.

There was one other thing worth noting in that competition. Two judges, one from Russia and one from Ukraine, were caught talking and exchanging signals during the judging, in violation of International Skating Union rules. They were subsequently suspended.

The Russian and Ukrainian judges weren't seen talking Monday night, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.




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