French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Utah, judges awarded the Russian figure skating pair the gold medal in a decision that led to major controversy, as many thought the Canadian silver medalists deserved to win gold instead. The French judge soon admitted that her federation had pressured her to vote for the Russians in a deal designed to help the French ice dancing couple. The scandal resulted in the awarding of a second gold medal and the creation of a new judging system for figure skating at the international level of competition.

Summary of Event

Figure skating is one of the most popular, visible, and highly anticipated events of the Winter Olympic Games. Scandal erupted at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, after judges were accused of fixing the scores of the finals in pairs figure skating. The pairs-skating event featured a rivalry between two teams, the Russians and the Canadians, both of whom had won world championships. Audiences eagerly awaited a great competition for the gold medal. Both teams skated well in the short program, and both had a chance for the gold medal in the decisive long program held several days later. Only one team would win the gold, or so everyone thought. [kw]Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics, French Judge Admits Favoring Russian (Feb. 11, 2002) [kw]Olympics, French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter (Feb. 11, 2002) "Skategate"[Skategate] Olympics;figure skating Olympics;2002 Figure skating Le Gougne, Marie Reine Salé, Jamie Pelletier, David Berezhnaya, Elena Sikharulidze, Anton "Skategate"[Skategate] Olympics;figure skating Olympics;2002 Figure skating Le Gougne, Marie Reine Salé, Jamie Pelletier, David Berezhnaya, Elena Sikharulidze, Anton [g]United States;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [g]Europe;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [g]Russia;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [g]France;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [c]Corruption;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [c]Sports;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] [c]International relations;Feb. 11, 2002: French Judge Admits Favoring Russian Figure Skaters in Winter Olympics[03160] Cinquanta, Ottavio Rogge, Jacques

On February 11, 2002, the final night of the pairs-skating event, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia performed a technically difficult program, but not without errors. The Canadian pair of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier followed with a flawless but less technically difficult program set to the music from the film Love Story. The audience cheered the Canadians with great approval. Television commentators Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, both former Olympic medalists in skating, were sure that the Canadians had delivered the gold-medal-winning performance. The judges’ marks came up on the scoreboard. The Russian team received first place ordinals from five of the nine judges on the panel, giving them the gold medal in a controversial 5-4 split. The final decision was met by shock and bewilderment from spectators, commentators, and Salé and Pelletier and their coach.

Questions about judging were not new to the sport of figure skating. Judges often have been accused of voting with a bias toward either the Eastern bloc or the Western bloc, Cold War terms that divided nations along geographical and political boundaries. In the 2002 Olympics pairs-skating competition, the judges representing countries in the Eastern bloc—Russia, China, Poland, and Ukraine—placed the Russians first. The judges from the Western bloc—the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan—placed the Canadians first. The judge from France, a Western bloc nation, placed the Russians first. That judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, admitted shortly after the event that she had been pressured to vote for the Russian pair. She claimed at the time that the head of the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet, made a deal to aid French ice dancers Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, scheduled to compete later in the Games. Le Gougne recanted her story after speaking to International Skating Union (ISU) president Ottavio Cinquanta. In a press conference, Cinquanta stated that there was no evidence to prove Le Gougne’s original allegations but promised an internal ISU review.

The growing scandal, not the first for these Games, received worldwide media attention. In the face of the scandal, the Canadian pair made multiple television appearances in both the United States and Canada, and the Russian pair made appearances as well. The Games in Salt Lake City already had been tainted with scandal before it had begun. The Salt Lake City Organizing Committee (SLOC) had been accused of bribing International Olympic Committee (IOC) members with cash and gifts to ensure acceptance of the city’s bid to host the Olympics. Four IOC officials and two top SLOC executives had resigned during the course of the affair.

The Canadian press dubbed the pairs-skating scandal Skategate. Past instances of cheating and controversial judging decisions resurfaced during the media controversy. The IOC and the ISU were forced to take action amid accusations that figure skating results were determined in backroom deals before events. IOC president Jacques Rogge pressured the ISU to quickly resolve the situation and strongly urged it to award a second pair of gold medals to the Canadian team.

The ISU had no official guidelines on how to resolve cases of cheating in judging. Ultimately, Rogge and Cinquanta announced that the Canadians would receive their gold medals in a new medals ceremony, but the unprecedented solution did not satisfy everyone. The Canadians were happy to receive their gold medals, but they felt cheated of the moment of victory they felt they earned. The French judge was suspended while the investigation continued, but many believed she should have been permanently banned from judging. Meanwhile, the ISU introduced an interim judging system just months after the 2002 Olympics ended, and it developed an entirely new judging system—the Code of Points—for all international competitions beginning in 2006.

Impact

The controversial judging and the well-publicized scandal ensured embarrassment for both the sport of figure skating and the Olympics. Because of the subjective nature of its judging, many thought it best to drop figure skating, or certain events in skating, from the Olympic Games. Dropping or curtailing figure skating, however, was unlikely because of the sport’s popularity with viewers; skating also is a major source of revenue for the Games. Still, the scandal had to be addressed to restore the sport’s credibility, and the credibility of the Olympics.

The ISU developed its new judging system, the Code of Points, to replace the traditional judging system that had been in place for decades. The new system closely resembles those used in the sports of diving and Gymnastics gymnastics. In figure skating’s old system, in which judges would mark skaters on a subjective scale of 0.0 to 6.0 and assign ranking ordinals, judges now give skaters set numbers of points for performed jumps, spins, and other elements. Judges also assign points for skating skills, choreography, and other elements that used to fall under the second—artistic—mark in the 6.0 system. These scores are anonymously entered into a computer, which randomly selects the scores of nine judges and eliminates the highest and lowest scores. The judges’ anonymity and the assignment of points versus ranks is meant to add more objectivity to the system. The Code of Points was used for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.

The pairs scandal was a turning point, both good and bad, in the sport of figure skating. The new judging system changed how skaters trained and developed their programs, and provided for more objective judging. However, many believe that the damage to the sport’s credibility brought on by the scandal contributed to a subsequent decline in public interest in the sport, as measured by television ratings and ticket sales. "Skategate"[Skategate] Olympics;figure skating Olympics;2002 Figure skating Le Gougne, Marie Reine Salé, Jamie Pelletier, David Berezhnaya, Elena Sikharulidze, Anton

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Garbato, Sonia Bianchetti. Cracked Ice: Figure Skating’s Inner World. Milan, Italy: Libreria dello Sport, 2004. Memoir of a former ISU judge, technical committee member, and council member. Places the 2002 pairs scandal within the context of a sport riddled with scandals and corruption for years before.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Joy. The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Stories of the lives and careers of the three pairs medalists from the 2002 Olympics as well as a backstage view of the judging scandal. Emphasis on the subjectivity of the second (artistic) judging mark, formerly used in skating competitions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pound, Richard W. Inside the Olympics: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Politics, the Scandals, and the Glory of the Games. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Insider recounting of the modern history of the International Olympic Committee from a longtime committee member.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Beverley. Gold on Ice: The Salé and Pelletier Story. Toronto, Ont.: Key Porter Books, 2002. A brief work that discusses the early lives and careers of the Canadian pairs team at the heart of the scandal as well as the investigations and politics of the scandal itself.

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