Sale, Pelletier share gold with Russian pair
SALT LAKE CITY - The Canadians got their gold after all, not on the ice but in a late-night deal struck in a hotel suite.
There are two Olympic pairs champions now, both their medals tarnished perhaps, but not as much as figure skating itself after the biggest judging scandal of the Winter Games.
The extraordinary deal that awarded Jamie Sale and David Pelletier gold medals capped a furious debate that had engulfed the games for nearly a week.
The agreement also allows Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze to keep their gold medals, narrowly won during Monday night's free-skate program.
"Justice was done, " Pelletier said. "It doesn't take away anything from Elena and Anton. This was not something against them. It was something against the system."
Ottavio Cinquanta, head of the International Skating Union, said judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne of France told the ISU she was under "a certain pressure" to vote for the Russians, leaving the Canadians with silver.
When asked after a news conference whether the pressure came from the French federation, Cinquanta replied, "This is the allegation."
Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely and has signed a statement about how she reached her vote, Cinquanta said. There was no evidence of Russian involvement, he added, without giving further details about Le Gougne's motivation.
"This pressure resulted in putting this judge in a condition not to give the gold medal" to the Canadians, Cinquanta said. "We have declared misconduct."
French federation president Didier Gailhaguet denied the federation put pressure on Le Gougne, who had checked out of her hotel in Salt Lake City. ISU rules prohibit her from discussing her votes publicly.
But in a tearful moment during an ISU review session Tuesday, Le Gougne named Gailhaguet as the one who exerted pressure on her to vote for the Russians, The Washington Post reported on its Web site Friday.
"You don't understand! You don't understand!" lead referee Ron Pfenning quoted Le Gougne as saying, according to the newspaper. "The pressure is enormous! There is so much pressure that my federation, that the president, Didier, put on me to put the Russians first! You've got to help! You've got to help!"
That afternoon, the Post said, Pfenning wrote a letter to the ISU that said:
"During the event review meeting, Marie-Reine Le Gougne informed the panel she had received instructions from the French federation, naming Didier Gailhaguet as having instructed her to place the Russian team first."
Pfenning handed the letter to Cinquanta, setting in motion the investigation that led to Le Gougne's suspension and the awarding of gold to the Canadians.
Cinquanta said he hoped to present Sale and Pelletier with their gold medals on Thursday before the start of the women's long program.
"We do hope we can get the bronze, too, so we can get the entire collection, " Pelletier said, laughing.
Sale said she hopes the investigation goes even further.
"For the future of our sport this has to be fixed, " she said. "The truth still has to come out."
Cinquanta met with ISU council members to carve out the decision in a downtown hotel after the men's program Thursday night. He skirted questions about who exactly pressured Le Gougne, and why. But he suggested that other officials might be punished and that the sport will undertake a long-needed overhaul of the judging system.
"The investigation is not concluded, " he said, "but we have got enough evidence to take the first decision."
Sale said she felt cheated out of her greatest Olympic moment when she and Pelletier weren't able to stand on the top step of the medals podium.
"That's what every Olympian dreams of, and that's all I've dreamt of my whole life, " she said. "I visualized being in the middle and hearing my anthem. I was prepared for it, emotionally and physically.
"You bet I was cheated out of that big time."
The controversy began when Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were awarded a 5-4 decision over the Canadians at the free skate, surprising many observers. Sale and Pelletier skated flawlessly while the Russians made a few technical errors.
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