2002 Olympic Winter Games
Figure Skating Championships

Salt Lake City, Utah

9 - 21 February, 2002

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Opening Ceremony


Closing Ceremony

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Daily Notes

Friday, 22 February

Yesterday afternoon, just prior to the start of the ladies free skate officials from the Russian Olympic Committee held a press conference to protest what they assert has been biased judging/officiating in several events of these Games.  They threatened to pack up and go home if the IOC did not take action right away to address their concerns.   They also hinted they may not participate in the 2004 Games in Athens or might even pull out of the Olympic movement entirely.  The situation was further complicated this morning when the Russians filed a protest over the results of the ladies free skate, claiming bias in the judging cost Irina Slutskaya the gold medal.  During the competition last night I commented to the spectator next to me that the show ain't over till the fat lady turns in her marks.  Apparently I was wrong.

This evening the exhibition of champions was held,  and even if the sports politicians aren't done,  I am.  Next stop, Worlds.

Thursday, 21 February

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A dejected Michelle Kwan leaves the ice following the award of medals in the ladies competition.

The figure skating competition concluded at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games with the skating of the ladies long program.

American Sarah Hughes had the best skate of her season and won the long program in a five-four decision of the panel.   She had placed only fourth in the short program and needed help to win overall.   She got it from Irina Slutskaya who by placing second in the long program pushed Michelle down Kwan to third and gave Hughes the overall victory on the free skating total points tie-breaker.

Both of the favorites had skated after Hughes, and after each saw their marks they sat looking shell-shocked for several minutes in Kiss and Cry and later backstage.   Simultaneously, a jubilant Hughes basked in the glow of her unexpected come from behind victory.

Wednesday, 20 February

Margarita Dorbiazko & Povilas Vanagas, the Lithuanian dance couple, piled onto the figure skating judging controversy yesterday, writing ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta a letter protesting the results of the ice dance competition.  In the letter the couple did not ask for any specific action, but protested the lack of fairness in ice dance judging in general, asserting that dance judges prejudge events, rely on reputation judging and do not judge the actual performances given during the competitive skating.   They noted that very frequently skaters and coaches watching an event have opinions of the performances vastly different from those of the judges.  Because I am not well versed in the technical details of dance  I always seek out former dancers and coaches whom I respect at major competition for their opinions on the results of ice dancing.  My experience agrees with the comments of the Lithuanians.  Clearly something is amiss.

The ISU was presented with even more controversy when the results of a short track speed skating result was protested by the Korean's who have files an appeal with Court of Arbitration for Sport and a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court.  All in all it has not been a good two weeks for the ISU.

Tuesday, 19 February

The premier event of the figure skating competition began this evening with the skating of the ladies short program.  Michelle Kwan barely edged out Irina Slutskaya for first place on a five-four decision.  Sasha Cohen took third place while Sarah Hughes placed fourth.  Maria Butyrskaya placed fifth, just behind Hughes on another five-four split of the panel.  Butyrskaya is still in range of a medal but her chances have dimmed considerably given the performances of the ladies currently ahead of her.

Wednesday is an off day for figure skating.  The ladies event will conclude Thursday evening wit the skating of the long program.

Monday, 18 February

The ISU Council met this morning to discuss the judging of the competition here in Salt Lake City and in the afternoon ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta gave a press conference in which he reported that the investigation was continuing, but provided no new details. In addition he reported two new initiatives concerning the future of judging figure skating competitions.

In the first of these, he described a potential new approach where competitions would be judged by 14 judges and a computer would randomly select seven of the fourteen marks for each skater to determine the score. Cinquanta claimed that this approach would eliminate bias, block judging, etc. since the judges would not know if their marks were being considered for any given skater. This assertion, however, is utter nonsense. The system will not filter out bias nor deter bias. Any judge on the panel who wants to favor a particular skater has a 50% chance of being successful and a 0% chance of being caught, therefore it will always be worth the effort to try. In addition, if one assumes that a third of all judges are willing to judge with bias (which is a statistically supportable estimate) then on the average, a random draw of 14 judges followed by a random selection of seven marks will still result in one third of the marks being biased. Similarly, if one judge wants to make a deal with another to swap votes, the proposed method does not deter the attempt. If the judges involved in the deal have a chance of affecting the outcome and little chance of being caught there is, again, no reason not to try. Finally, under the current system it is easy to identify questionable decisions, national bias, block judging, etc., at least on a statistical basis if nothing else because each judges marks can be identified and compared to the others. Under the proposed system only the computer knows whose marks are used and the identity of the judge will not be made public. Thus, any shenanigans on the part of the judges will be hidden from view and never revealed.

This proposal will accomplish nothing and smells more like an attempt to cover up judging misconduct than to root it out. The only way misconduct will be eliminated is by changing the system so that ethical behavior is rewarded, and insuring that judges are filled with the fear of God that misconduct will be caught with certainty, and that punishment will be swift and merciless. So far nothing has been heard from the ISU to indicate that this will happen.

The second initiative involves a complete reworking of the scoring concept, in which the skaters accumulate points for technical content, with no upper limit to the score.   This simple minded scoring approach will reduce skating to pure ice jumping in which all that matters is the accumulated jump total and little else.  This method of scoring will be the death of ice skating.

In the evening the ice dance event concluded with the free dance. Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat held of Irina Lobacheva & Ilia Averbukh in a five-four decision to win the gold medal. The Italian couple of Barbara Fusar Poli & Maurizio Margaglio placed third.

Sunday, 17 February

img_0979.jpg (20217 bytes) The ice dancing original dance was held this evening.   There was some movement in the placements for the lower couples, but among the top ten teams no changes occurred.

Following the skating gold medals were presented to Jamie Sale & David Pelletier by IOC member and ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta.  The Canadians enter the arena joined by Elena Berezhnaya & Anton Sikhuralidze who were wearing the medals presented them on Monday evening.  The two teams stepped onto the podium together and the Canadians then received their medals.  The flags of the two nations were raised and the two national anthems played, first the Russian and then the Canadian.

Satruday, 16 February

Today is an off-day for figure skating.  Several press conferences are in progress today dealing with the circumstances surrounding the pairs event; and while the immediate question of the gold medal has been resolved, the issue of who pressured who and what if any deals were struck remains.  ISU president Cinquanta has vowed to continue the investigation, and Fench Olympic and skating federation official Didier Gailhaguet has been named as a possible target in the investigation.  Gailhaguet unequivocally denies any personal involvement or involvement of the French sports federations.

It is likely that any continued investigation will be held behind the closed doors of the ISU.  The ISU will probably try to keep as many details of the investigation out of the public spotlight as possible, and in this respect the timing of the announcement of the second gold medal for Sale & Pelletier should not go unnoticed.  By announcing their decision just prior to the meeting of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the ISU avoided the unpleasant situation of having its judges testify before another body and having its dirty laundry aired.  Skating judges have never been required to give testemony about their decisions and that is a situation the ISU would probably like to avoid at all costs.

Russia, not surprisingly in not pleased with the decisions of the ISU and IOC in this matter.  Anton Sikharulidze was reported in the press as saying ``The media is making us like bad guys. We are not bad guys. We never talked to judges. I don't have enough money to buy nine judges,'' he said. ``We are good skaters and we are good guys. I can't really enjoy this. ... I can't even talk to my parents about this.''  Valentin Piseyev, the head of the Russian Figure Skating Federation also criticized the IOC, saying it bowed to pressure from the press and skating fans.

Sale & Pelletier are now scheduled to recieve their medal Sunday evening in conjunction with the ice dance original dance.

Friday, 15 February  (PM)

The two compulsory dances were took place tonight under the cloud of the pairs judging skandal.  The French team of Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat took both dances.

Friday, 15 February

Hours before the Court of Arbitration for Sports was to meet today, the ISU suspended French Judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne for misconduct and recommended to the IOC that Sale & Pelletier be awarded a second gold medal for the pairs event.  The IOC voted to accept this recommendation.  Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze will retain their gold medal and there will be no silver medalist for the competition.  Earlier in the week figure skating officials had recommended to ISU president Cinquanta the marks of the French judge be stricken and replaced with the marks of the substitute judge, which would have given sole possession of the gold medal to Sale & Pelletier, but he rejected that recommendation.  It is expected that the gold medal will be presented to Sale & Pelletier next week, perhaps prior to the start of the Ladies event.

Friday, 15 February  (AM)

Thursday, the Canadian officials filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sports to compel the nine judges at Monday night's pairs free skate competition to testify before a CAS panel.

A hearing is scheduled for today in Salt Lake City to rule on the request.   Arbitrators, from England, Switzerland and Italy will hear the request.  If granted, the CAS could compel the judges to testify, and if a ruling were granted in favor of the Canadians could order Jamie Sale & David Pelletier be awarded a second gold medal if evidence of wrong doing was found,  in effect tying the Canadians with Russians Elena Berezhnaya & Anton Sikharulidze.  There is precedent for this, with a second gold in synchronized swimming having been awarded in a case arising out of the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

The CAS is used to resolve Olympic disputes to keep the cases out of the legal system and its ruling would be binding on the various sports governing bodies involved.

The ISU is conducting its own review but a meeting in not scheduled until next Monday, well after the start of the Ice Dance competition which begins today.  The International Olympic Committee would like this matter resolved quickly, but at this point their is no predicting how long things will drag on.

In the meantime, the judging of the Ice Dance event is tainted even before it begins.   The public will be suspicious of the result regardless of what happens, and there is concern that the judges will second guess their marks to avoid the appearance of having fixed the competition.

Thursday, 14 February

The actions of the French judge in the pairs competition remained at the center of the gold medal controversy with statements appearing the media from the head of the French Olympic Committee, Didier Gailhaguet, lending credence to the allegations against judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and then denying them.  Gailhageuet also denied that French officials pressured Le Gougne to vote in any particular way.  Various press conferences mostly rehashed events and information from previous days and added little clarity to the situation.  From ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta's press conference it seem clear that the ISU is responding to this as an individual event and does not plan an inquiry or review of the climate within the ISU that allows events such as these to occur all to frequently.

The ISU, and particularly the ISU president, have had their heads in the sand for years when it comes to facing the fact that fundamental changes are needed in the procedures and practices of the ISU to deter and minimize the chances of wrong doing by the judges.   This is the third major controversy in four years, and in each case the ISU has looked into the specific situation but has ignored the underlying problems these cases have brought to light.

On a happier note, the men's event concluded with the free skating portion of the event this evening.  Alexei Yagudin won the gold medal with a performance that received a record setting four marks of 6.0 in the second mark.  Evgeny Plushenko moved up to second while American Timothy Goebel captured the bronze.  Goebel completed a record setting four quadruple jumps in his program, a first in Olympic competition.

Tuesday, 12 February

In the men's short program Alexei Yagudin took the lead, while Evgeni Plushenko fell on his combination jump and placed fourth.  By finishing out of the top three, Plushenko's chances of capturing the gold here are greatly diminished.   Timothy Goebel placed third in the short program and now is in an excellent position to medal.

The fallout from the judging of the pairs free skating continued today with the Canadian Olympic Committee requesting that the ISU investigate the circumstances surrounding the judging of the event.  Subsequently, the ISU issued the following statement under than name of the ISU General Secretary, Ferdi Schmid.

"The International Skating Union -- following certain reactions received by the public and media on the results of the Pairs event at the Salt Lake Ice Center last night (Monday 11 February) and also to respect the public opinion -- is doing an internal assessment to monitor if the ISU Rules and Procedures have been respected.

Any further comments will be give when appropriate."

In the meantime, allegations are now flying that the French judge on the pairs panel was involved in behind the scenes deal making to fix the results of the ice dancing event coming up later in the week.  Should these allegations prove true, the ISU should void the marks of the judges involved, and recalculate the results using the marks of the substitute judge and the remaining untainted judges.  If this cannot be accomplished under the current rules, the rules should be changed to allow it.  In addition, to restore any chance of credibility in the upcoming ice dance event, the entire current panel of ice dance judges should be sent home and a new panel drawn and brought in to replace them.

On Wednesday, ISU Pesident Ottavio Cinquanta will hold a press conference to address the controversy.

Monday, 11 February

The pairs event concluded with a controversial free skate in which Elena Berezhnaya & Anton Sikharulidze bested Jame Sale & David Pelletier in an incomprehensible five-four decision.  Observers have used terms such as "ashamed" and "embarrassed for our sport" in describing the result.   "This is the worst thing that's happened in a long time in figure skating,'' said longtime coach Frank Carroll.  When their marks were posted, Sale & Pelletier, who skated after the Russians, looked stunned.  On the medals podium Sale was in tears, and also later at the post-event press conference.

There will undoubtedly be repercussions from this decision which is nearly universally condemned, and the spotlight will again be on the ISU to institute some form of judges accountability system.  After the judging controversy at the last Olympics the ISU looked at judges accountability, but dropped the ball when the heat subsided a few months later.  The same was also true within the USFSA.  This result shows the folly of those decisions.

Saturday, 9 February

The skating competition began this evening with the pairs short program.   Skating fans began lining up at the doors to the Delta Center at the appointed time, 2 hours before the start of the competition, but due to rampant disorganization inside the venue were required to stand in the bitter cold for another 20 minutes.

One the doors were opened the upper bowl quickly filled to capacity, and later it became evident by their enthusiastic response to the skaters that these were the true skating fans who were here to cheer on all the skaters, and did so with gusto, unlike their counterparts in the lower bowl who were more restrained in their responses.

The lower bowl includes most of the highest price seats which the average fan can not afford, and for the first hour the lower bowl was half empty, with the absent ticket holders missing the performances of all the top teams who, by chance, had all drawn to skate in the first two warmup groups.  Part of the problem was that the security screening area does not have the capacity to handle the crush of spectators destined for the arena at the last minute.  As the starting time approached cries rang out from the crowd to hurry the process along to no avail, and in the end it was the ticket holders own fault.  Anyone who showed up less than an hour before the start time thinking they would waltz right into the Area was being truly naive.

Anyone planning to attend the figure skating events should show up at the screening area more than two hours in advance and should start lining up at the Arena at least 90 minutes prior to the start of the event, if not sooner.

Friday, 8 February

Openeing Ceremony Kicks off 2002 Winter Games

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Copyright 2002 by George S. Rossano