The Blog

Give Back the Gold

Yes, the Canadian pair should have won the figure skating competition. Regardless, they should give the gold medals back.

11:01 PM, Feb 20, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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PITY poor Vanessa Gusmeroli. On Tuesday night, the French figure skater gave an outstanding performance in the women's short program and got good marks--from everyone except the Canadian judge. The judge from the Great White North scored Gusmeroli 0.3 points behind the average of the other eight judges on both technical merit and presentation, which is just about as far as you can go in black-balling someone without attracting attention.

Gusmeroli finished the night in tenth place. She won't medal, but she would've had a shot to finish higher if the Canadian judge had been from, say, Mauritius.

So tonight when the American trio of Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, and Sarah Hughes faces off against Russia's Irina Slutskaya (isn't she happy she didn't go to middle school in the States), there's a good chance that the blowback from the pairs fiasco will continue.

Remember what happened last week with the pairs? After judges awarded the gold medal to the Russians Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, the International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee conspired to give the Canadians Sale and Pelletier a second gold medal.

By this point, there's little argument that the Canadians deserved to win. But if Sale and Pelletier really loved their sport, they would give the gold medals back.

At the press conference last week when ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta announced the second gold, he claimed that he had "evidence" of "misconduct" by French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne. When pressed to reveal his evidence, Cinquanta refused, saying, "I'm not going to be able to give you any specific information." NBC reported that Le Gougne told Cinquanta that she had been put under pressure to vote for the Russians by the French figure skating federation. Also, Cinquanta exonerated the Russian delegation, saying that there was "no evidence of Russian involvement" in the "misconduct."

Immediately after Cinquanta finished his media session, Le Gougne appeared to insist that that she had never been put under pressure and had made no such claims.

So it seems that there are three possible scenarios:

1) The scoring wasn't fixed and the judges made a bad call.

Oddly enough, this would be the least damaging situation for the sport. Errors on the part of the officials happen all the time in sports--two glaring errors put the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl this year--and athletes agree to live by the ruling on the field. It's not fair, but it's life. If the judges screwed up honestly, the Canadians should give back the medal.

2) The scoring was fixed and the ISU has proof.

If the ISU really does have proof that the French judge conspired to award the medal to the Russians, then not only should they have awarded the Canadians the gold--they should have stripped the Russians of their medal and given them the silver.

When asked why the Russians wouldn't be given the silver, Cinquanta said that "justice and fairness" to the athletes dictated his decision. But while it isn't the Russian pair's fault--no one has suggested that they were part of any conspiracy--they didn't earn the gold in the first place. If the ISU has proof, then a second gold is actually an insult to Sale and Pelletier.

3) The scoring was fixed and the ISU does not have proof.

This scenario seems the most likely. Cinquanta has accused a judge of misconduct and she denies it. If he had evidence, why wouldn't he put his cards on the table? Further, the ISU contends that the Russian federation played no part in the case. So by their theory of the case, the French conspired to help the Russians win a medal because . . . ?

Plus, if there was a conspiracy to hijack the medal, it seems unlikely that there would be a paper trail. Deals like that are made in whispers. Given the best circumstances, the ISU probably only has rumor and hearsay, not proof.

And here is where it would be most crucial to Sale and Pelletier to return the gold medals. If an unprovable conspiracy can alter the outcome of a sport's premier event, then the sport is sick. By accepting the gold, they aid in a public-relations cover-up, and help to further delegitimize figure skating. Canadians should swallow hard, keep the silver, and use their bully pulpit to shame the sport into reforming the way it's officiated. It's not fair and it's not right, but it would be the noble thing to do.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.