Last Word Judgment on the judging in figure skating: more rotten than ever

February 13, 2002

I tried. I really did. For several hours on Monday night and
yesterday morning I tried to find someone, anyone, who agreed
with the judging of the pairs skating competition, which had
Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada placed behind the
Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

I failed, just as those five judges who voted for the Russians
failed their sport and their Olympic oath. Not one person I
talked to, fan or expert, skater or judge, was anything less
than absolutely certain that the Canadian pair had been robbed.
It was the worst decision I've seen in my 18 years covering
figure skating.

Two-time gold medalist Katarina Witt was nearly teary-eyed at the
injustice. "Halfway through Sale and Pelletier's program, I knew
I was watching the gold medalists," Witt said. "It was the
performance of their lives. It's what you train for all those
years, to be in perfect harmony with yourselves, your music, the
program and the audience."

Not one person but those five judges from China, France, Poland,
Russia and Ukraine. Next I ran into Tai Babilonia; she and Randy
Gardner were the last U.S. pair to win a world championship, in
1979. "It's what I hate about our sport," she said. "This sort of
thing has been going on for years with the Russians, and you can
quote me."

What was the judging panel at rinkside looking at? Who knows? The
International Skating Union (ISU) doesn't make those folks
available for comment, inviting speculation from the likes of me.
Perhaps they were rewarding Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze for past
excellence, a sort of Olympic gold medal-lifetime achievement
award. That would bode well for Michelle Kwan.

Then there's the Eastern Bloc tit-for-tat theory. The Russian,
Polish and Ukrainian judges stick together for old times' sake;
and maybe a steak dinner later on, then get the Chinese judge to
go along with their bloc with the promise that they'll vote the
Chinese pair of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao into the bronze medal
slot. The French judge? Ah, payback time for France comes during
the ice dancing competition. Look for the French dancers Marina
Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat to win, followed by the Italians
and the Russians. (Ottavio Cinquanta, head of the ISU, is
Italian.) That should leave the popular Canadian dance couple of
Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, who in December won the
prestigious ISU Grand Prix finals, in fourth.

When the sport puts forth a transparently bad judging result,
it's impossible not to look for goblins everywhere. The untidy
fact remains that the more than 16,000 people in attendance, and
countless millions more watching on TV, have walked away from a
brilliant night of skating feeling the sport is either beyond
their comprehension, or irredeemable.

--E.M. Swift

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)