The Olympic skating world has been all-abuzz over the Olympic pairs skating controversy.
A French judge has been suspended. The Canadian skaters who were victimized by bad judging are getting gold medals to replace the silvers, the Russian couple still gets to keep their gold medals and the Russian string of victories remains intact … kinda.
But the scandal of the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics is far from being over.
I’m not a big Winter Olympics fan. I prefer the more traditional summer games. Snowboarding and luge somehow don’t kindle thoughts of ancient Greeks wrestling, running and throwing things. However, my wife is goofy for the winter Olympics, and especially any and all skating. Monday last, my wife was flabbergasted – along with Scott Hamilton and apparently every and any skating pundit this side of Moscow.
Olympic competition is supposed to award the gold to those world-class athletes who deliver the best performance on one given day. Monday last, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the Canadian pair of David Pelletier and Jamie Sale out-skated the Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. I don’t know much about skating, and even I could see the Russians had bobbles and the Canadians didn’t.
Olympic officialdom has been struggling to extricate a very uncomfortable and embarrassing wedgies ever since.
Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the suspended French judge, told the International Skating Union she was pressured by her country’s own skating federation to vote for the Russians on that fateful Monday night.
However, who pressured her, and why?
The globally embarrassed ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta continues to tap dance around those questions despite suggesting other officials could be punished and the sport may be in for a long-needed overhaul of its judging system. This flap is far from being over.
Notwithstanding the apparent overwhelming vilification of the ousted French judge, one rather key point seems to have been overlooked in all the fuss.
Five out of nine judges voted to award the gold medal to the Russians. Five. Yet the focus seems to be on the inappropriate “pressure” leveled at the distaff French judge who folded to pressure. What about the other four judges who allowed regional prejudice to overshadow and influence their votes for the Russians.
If the overwhelming conventional wisdom (from Scott Hamilton to my wife) is that the flawless Canadian program was technically superior to the flawed Russian program, how come those four other alleged experts couldn’t see what was so clear?
Pelletier and Sale have demonstrated remarkable class and grace, and their victory has been compounded. Not only do they get the gold medal they apparently deserve, but they also enjoy an outpouring of sympathy, righteous indignation, and a probable windfall professionally.
Without the controversy, they would have been gold medallists in pair figure skating. Although a remarkable achievement, it is not one that usually results in universal international notoriety. Ask most skating aficionados who won the Super Bowl or World Series three years ago and you’ll probably get blank stares. Likewise, those of you who do not normally follow international pairs skating probably haven’t a clue about who are the superstars in that sport.
Pellitier, Sale and their agent scored big-time ….because of the controversy.
However, the righting of the wrong, and the crucifixion of the French judge doesn’t touch the more central issue. Judging is supposed to be impartial, unprejudiced and fair. The presumption (or fantasy) is that judges evaluate technical and artistic merit and they – based on their experience and insights –award scores mitigated by skill levels and not by politics or preference. Now the world knows that is not the case and, in fact, “The emperor has no clothes.”
Sale said, “For the future of our sport, this has to be fixed. The truth still has to come out.” Good luck kiddo! It doesn’t take “The X Files'” Scully and Muldar to recognize that Olympic judging is whacked (not a reference to the previous Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan brouhaha).
Sure judging is more complicated than you or I can grasp. The subjective evaluations of judges are not based on the fastest speed or the most points scored on goal. There is subjectivity and a gaggle of mitigating elements that we mere mortals cannot fathom. I mean, come on – these are sports where hair, make up, music choice and costume selection actually matter.
Still, notwithstanding the subtleties, and anomalies, right is right and wrong is wrong. The original judging of the pair’s figure skating was bad by virtually any standard. If the IOC is going to fix what is broken, they had best do so quickly.