2002 Winter Olympics figure skating scandal

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At the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, it was alleged that the pairs' figure skating competition had been fixed. The controversy led to two pairs teams receiving gold medals: the original winners Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia, and original silver-medalists Jamie Salé and David Pelletier of Canada. This scandal is one of the causes for the introduction of the ISU Judging System, which replaced the 6.0 system in 2004; one of the elements of the ISU Judging System was anonymous results from the judges, though that particular element was dropped in 2014.


In the figure skating pairs competition, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia won the short program over Jamie Salé and David Pelletier of Canada. During the short program, Salé and Pelletier had tripped and fallen on their closing pose. Because the fall was not on an element, it did not receive a deduction, but resulted in the pair being placed second behind Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.

In the free skate, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze made a minor, yet obvious, technical error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double Axel. Meanwhile, Salé and Pelletier opted to skate to "Love Story", a free skate program they had used in previous seasons and that had been well received at the Grand Prix Final before the Olympics. They skated a flawless program, albeit one that some experts considered to be of lesser difficulty than the Russians'.[1] Salé and Pelletier received 5.9s and 5.8s for technical merit, while the Russians received mostly 5.8s and 5.7s. However, the Canadians received only four 5.9s for presentation versus the Russians' seven. Presentation was weighted more heavily than technical merit, so the Canadians had needed at least five 5.9s in presentation to overtake the Russians for first. Since they did not receive that many, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze took the gold and the Canadians won silver.

Judges and officials[edit]

Judges and officials for the pairs event at the 2002 Winter Olympics
Function Name Nation
Referee Ronald Pfenning ISU
Assistant Referee Alexander Lakernik ISU
Judge No.1 Marina Sanaya Russia
Judge No.2 Jiasheng Yang China
Judge No.3 Lucy Brennan USA
Judge No.4 Marie-Reine Le Gougne France
Judge No.5 Anna Sierocka Poland
Judge No.6 Benoit Lavoie Canada
Judge No.7 Vladislav Petukhov Ukraine
Judge No.8 Sissy Krick Germany
Judge No.9 Hideo Sugita Japan

Breakdown of marks[edit]

Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze RUS CHN USA FRA POL CAN UKR GER JPN
Technical merit 5.8 5.8 5.7 5.8 5.7 5.7 5.8 5.8 5.7
Presentation 5.9 5.9 5.9 5.9 5.9 5.8 5.9 5.8 5.9
Placement 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 2 2
Technical merit 5.8 5.9 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.9 5.8 5.9 5.8
Presentation 5.8 5.8 5.9 5.8 5.8 5.9 5.8 5.9 5.9
Placement 2 2 1 2 2 1 2 1 1


During the live broadcast, both the American (NBC Sports' Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton, and Sandra Bezic) and Canadian (CBC Sports' Chris Cuthbert, Paul Martini, and Barbara Underhill) television commentators proclaimed that Salé and Pelletier had won as they finished, and expressed outrage when the judges' marks were announced.[2][3][4][5]

There was immediate suspicion of cheating, according to ABC's Good Morning America and USA Today. Judges from Russia, the People's Republic of China, Poland, Ukraine, and France had placed the Russians first; judges from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan chose the Canadians.[citations needed]

The French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, drew suspicion quickly. When Le Gougne returned to the officials' hotel, Sally Stapleford, chair of the International Skating Union's Technical Committee, confronted her. Le Gougne had an emotional breakdown in which she allegedly said that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating organization, Didier Gailhaguet, to vote for the Russian pair regardless of how the others performed.[6] She reportedly repeated this at the post-event judges' meeting the next day.[6] It was alleged that this was part of a deal to get an advantage for French couple Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the ice dance competition that was to follow a few days later. However, in a later signed statement Le Gougne denied taking part in such a deal and also stated that she had truly believed the Russian pair deserved to win.

Immediate aftermath[edit]

The Canadian press and public were outraged by the result.[7] The American press were also quick to support the Canadian pair.[8][9] NBC, in particular, continued to play up the story and support the Canadians' cause.[2]

Some in the United States and many in Russia, however, felt that Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze had deserved their win, and that it should not be considered invalid by the alleged dishonesty of a single judge.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] Sikharulidze contrasted the reactions to Salé and Pelletier's win at the 2001 World Championships, held in Canada.[12] The Canadians were awarded gold despite Salé falling on the triple toe loop in the short program and then singling her double Axel in the long.[18]

In response to Canadian and American outcry, International Skating Union (ISU) President Ottavio Cinquanta announced in a press conference a day after the competition that the ISU would conduct an "internal assessment" into the judging decision at its next scheduled council meeting. After many hostile questions from the press, Cinquanta also admitted that the event referee, Ronald Pfenning, had filed an official complaint about the judging.[19] Later, on February 13, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Director-General François Carrard held a press conference in which he publicly urged the ISU to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.[20]

On February 15, Cinquanta and IOC President Jacques Rogge, in a joint press conference, announced that Salé and Pelletier's silver medals would be upgraded to gold. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were to keep their gold medals as well, since there was no evidence of wrongdoing on their part. Four of the nine judges on the panel felt they deserved it. Both pairs' point totals were thrown out. For the first time in history, the awarding ceremony was repeated. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze attended, but the Chinese pair, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, refused. Le Gougne was suspended effective immediately for "misconduct".[21]

Post-Olympics aftermath[edit]

On April 30, 2002, Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were suspended by the ISU for three years and prohibited from attending the 2006 Winter Olympics for their roles in the scandal.[22] Although at least one eye-witness to Le Gougne's outburst in the hotel lobby reported that she had specifically confessed to a deal with the Russians,[6] Cinquanta claimed there was no evidence that the Russians were involved in the incident, and so the ISU never made any serious investigation of their alleged involvement.

On July 31, 2002, Russian organized crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was arrested by Italian authorities in Venice on U.S. charges that he masterminded the fix. He was released from Italian police custody without being charged, amidst attempts to have him extradited to the United States in 2002–2003.[23]

In addition to disciplining Le Gougne and Gailhaguet, in 2002 the ISU adopted a policy of secret judging, in which judges' marks are posted anonymously, as part of the then-new ISU Judging System for figure skating. While the ISU claimed this secrecy freed judges from pressure from their federations, critics pointed out that instead of preventing judges from cheating, secrecy only prevented the public and media from being able to identify cheating. The policy of anonymous judging was discontinued at the ISU Congress following the 2014 Sochi Olympics.[24]

In March 2003, a group of skating officials who were unhappy with the ISU's leadership and handling of the crisis in the sport announced the formation of the World Skating Federation, in an attempt to take control of competitive figure skating away from the ISU. This attempt to set up a new federation failed, and several of the persons involved with its formation were subsequently banished from the sport by the ISU or their national federations. These officials included Ronald Pfenning, the referee of the pairs competition at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Sally Stapleford, Jon Jackson, and other witnesses to Le Gougne's outburst.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Swift, E. M. (February 25, 2002). "Thorny Issue". Sports Illustrated.
  2. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (February 19, 2002). "As the Story Unfolds, NBC Has the Biggest Part". The New York Times.
  3. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games: Pairs Figure Skating. NBC Sports. February 11, 2002.
  4. ^ "NBC commentators surprised, shocked by judges". ESPN.com. Associated Press. February 12, 2002.
  5. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games: Pairs Figure Skating. CBC Sports. February 11, 2002.
  6. ^ a b c Jackson, Jon (January 2005). On Edge. p. 197. ISBN 1-56025-804-7.
  7. ^ Thomas, June (February 14, 2002). "We wuz robbed". Slate.
  8. ^ "No Defense for Bad Judgment". USA Today. February 13, 2002. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  9. ^ "A Duo Deprived". New York Times. February 13, 2002.
  10. ^ "Skating on Thin Ice? It Figures". Los Angeles Times. February 13, 2002.
  11. ^ "Maybe the Russians really did win". Pasadena Star News. February 13, 2002.
  12. ^ a b Dixon, Robyn (February 16, 2002). "It's an Outrage to Russians". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Loosemore, Sandra (writer for CBS Sportsline) (February 2002). "2002 Olympic Pairs Free Skate Analysis". SkateWeb.
  14. ^ Wallechinsky, David (2009). Complete Book of the Winter Olympics. ISBN 9781553655022. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  15. ^ "2002 Olympic Winter Games: Pairs Figure Skating Highlights". Golden Skate. February 12, 2002. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008.
  16. ^ Mittan, Barry (March 2, 2002). "As the Skate Spins". Golden Skate. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008.
  17. ^ Schmemann, Serge (February 17, 2002). "Fury Aside, Russian Skaters See Upside". New York Times.
  18. ^ "Canadian pair wins audience, gold". 22 March 2001.
  19. ^ MSNBC coverage of press conference, February 13, 2002
  20. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games. NBC Sports. February 13, 2002.
  21. ^ "ISU Communication no. 1181: Sanctions Related to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Pair skating event: Text of the decision of the ISU Council of April 30, 2002" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2009. Retrieved November 4, 2007. (9.03 KiB)
  22. ^ "Three-year Ban for Skating Judge". BBC News. April 30, 2002. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  23. ^ Barr, John; Weinbaum, William (April 18, 2008). "Wanted man: 'Little Taiwanese' and his big role in an Olympics scandal". ESPN.
  24. ^ Butler, Nick. "ISU vote to abolish anonymous judging system in figure skating to 'increase transparency'". insidethegames. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  25. ^ "Decisions of the Council on Eligibility" (PDF). International Skating Union. March 24, 2005.
  26. ^ "Additional ISU documents on the WSF founders eligibility hearings". International Skating Union. Archived from the original on 2009-10-14. Retrieved 2010-01-27.

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