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2002 Winter Olympics figure skating scandal

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At the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, allegations arose 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. The scandal was one of the causes for the revamp of scoring in figure skating to the new ISU Judging System.


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 it marred the program enough to land the pair in second place behind Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.[1]

In the free skate, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze made a minor, yet obvious, technical error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double Axel. Salé and Pelletier performed a free skate program to "Love Story" which 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 that of the Russians.[2]

Based on the 6.0 system of scoring in use, Salé and Pelletier received 5.9s and 5.8s for technical merit, while the Russians had received mostly 5.8s and 5.7s. However, the Canadians received only four 5.9s for presentation, versus the Russians' seven. Presentation was weighted in the total score more strongly 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, the Canadians were ranked second, and Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze took the gold.

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 and Canadian television commentators (NBC Sports' Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton, and Sandra Bezic and CBC Sports' Chris Cuthbert, Paul Martini, and Barbara Underhill) proclaimed that Salé and Pelletier had won the gold as they finished their program, believing their performances to be superior to the Russians. Subsequently, they expressed outrage when the judges' marks were announced.[3][4][5][6] Suspicions were rapidly raised of cheating in the scoring. 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.[7]

The French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, quickly attracted suspicion. When Le Gougne returned to the officials' hotel, Sally Stapleford, chair of the International Skating Union's Technical Committee, confronted her. Le Gougne was upset and allegedly said that she had been pressured by Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French national skating federation, to vote for the Russian pair regardless of how the others performed.[8] She reportedly repeated this at the post-event judges' meeting the next day.[8] It was alleged that this was part of a deal to get an advantage for the French team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the ice dance competition that was to follow a few days later.[9] Le Gougne later submitted a signed statement in which she denied taking part in such a deal, and also said that she had truly believed the Russian pair deserved to win the gold.[10]

Immediate aftermath[edit]

The Canadian press and public were outraged by the result.[11] The American press were also quick to support the Canadian pair.[12][13] NBC, in particular, continued to report on the story and support the Canadians' cause.[3] 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 marred by the alleged dishonesty of a single judge.[14][15][16] Sikharulidze contrasted these events to the reactions to Salé and Pelletier's win at the 2001 World Championships, held in Canada.[16] The Canadians were awarded gold despite Salé falling on the triple toe loop in the short program and changing her planned double Axel to a single Axel in the long program. Points were deducted for both errors.[17]

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 acknowledged that the event referee, Ronald Pfenning, had filed an official complaint about the judging.[18] 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.[19]

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 awards ceremony was repeated. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze attended, but the bronze medalists, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China, refused.

Post-Olympics aftermath[edit]

On April 30, 2002, the ISU announced that Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were suspended for three years for their roles in the scandal and also prohibited from attending the 2006 Winter Olympics.[20][21] 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,[8] Cinquanta claimed there was no evidence that the Russians were involved in the incident. On July 31, 2002, Italian authorities in Venice arrested organized crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov on U.S. charges that he masterminded the fix at the Olympics. He was released from Italian police custody without being charged, amidst attempts to have him extradited to the United States in 2002–2003.[22]

In 2004, the ISU voted to change the 6.0 judging system because it was considered to be too subjective. As a result, the International Judging System (IJS) was created to score a skater based on the technological grade of execution of the elements and gives a true numerical, mathematical score.[23] In addition to disciplining Le Gougne and Gailhaguet, the ISU adopted a policy of secret judging as part of a new system for figure skating. Judges' marks are posted anonymously, as part of the new ISU Judging System for figure skating. While the ISU claimed this secrecy freed judges from pressure from their federations, critics noted that, instead of preventing judges from cheating, secrecy prevented the public and media from being able to identify cheating. Following the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the ISU Congress changed this policy, and ended anonymous judging to "increase transparency" in the process.[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. Their attempt to take control of competitive figure skating away from the ISU failed. TSU or their respective national federations banished several of the persons involved with establishing the new federation from the sport of ice skating. Those banned included Ronald Pfenning, 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]


In 2021, one of the episodes of Netflix documentary series Bad Sport showcases this controversial event. In early 2022, former skater Tara Lipinski and her husband Todd Kapostasy (a producer of sports documentaries) were co-producers of the 4-part docu-series titled Meddling, which studied the 2002 skating controversy at the Salt Lake City Olympics. It was broadcast on NBC subsidiaries.[27][1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "'Meddling' Documentary Dives Into 2002 Olympic Figure Skating Scandal". Cheddar. Archived from the original on April 1, 2022. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  2. ^ Swift, E. M. (February 25, 2002). "Thorny Issue". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (February 19, 2002). "As the Story Unfolds, NBC Has the Biggest Part". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 16, 2017. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  4. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games: Pairs Figure Skating. NBC Sports. February 11, 2002.
  5. ^ "NBC commentators surprised, shocked by judges". ESPN.com. Associated Press. February 12, 2002. Archived from the original on November 12, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  6. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games: Pairs Figure Skating. CBC Sports. February 11, 2002.
  7. ^ Daigle, Katy (February 15, 2002). "Overblown Skating Controversy". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Jackson, Jon (January 2005). On Edge. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 197. ISBN 1-56025-804-7.
  9. ^ Sarkar, Pritha (February 9, 2014). "Americans unruffled by 'laughable' allegations". Reuters. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved March 12, 2023. French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was banned after admitting she had been pressured to back the Russians in an arrangement that would also lead to French couple Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat winning the ice dance.
  10. ^ Hersh, Philip (August 6, 2002). "French skating judge insists she voted her conscience". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved March 12, 2023. "I don't want to comment on Mr. Rogge's decisions," Le Gougne said. "All I say is I put the Russians first because they were the best. "I voted with my conscience on February 11, 2002, and today I would make the same choice without hesitation."
  11. ^ Thomas, June (February 14, 2002). "We wuz robbed". Slate. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  12. ^ "No Defense for Bad Judgment". USA Today. February 13, 2002. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  13. ^ "A Duo Deprived". New York Times. February 13, 2002. Archived from the original on October 27, 2022. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  14. ^ "Skating on Thin Ice? It Figures". Los Angeles Times. February 13, 2002. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  15. ^ "Maybe the Russians really did win". Pasadena Star News. February 13, 2002.
  16. ^ a b Dixon, Robyn (February 16, 2002). "It's an Outrage to Russians". Los Angeles Times. Moscow. Archived from the original on September 4, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2002.
  17. ^ Nii, Jenifer K. (March 22, 2001). "Canadian pair wins audience, gold". Deseret News. Archived from the original on August 11, 2022. Retrieved August 11, 2022.
  18. ^ MSNBC coverage of press conference, February 13, 2002
  19. ^ XIX Olympic Winter Games. NBC Sports. February 13, 2002.
  20. ^ "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)
  21. ^ "Three-year Ban for Skating Judge". BBC News. April 30, 2002. Archived from the original on February 24, 2003. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  22. ^ Barr, John; Weinbaum, William (April 18, 2008). "Wanted man: 'Little Taiwanese' and his big role in an Olympics scandal". ESPN. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 23, 2022. Retrieved October 4, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Butler, Nick (June 8, 2016). "ISU vote to abolish anonymous judging system in figure skating to 'increase transparency'". insidethegames. Archived from the original on March 25, 2019. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  25. ^ "Decisions of the Council on Eligibility" (PDF). International Skating Union. March 24, 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 21, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2010.
  26. ^ "Additional ISU documents on the WSF founders eligibility hearings". International Skating Union. Archived from the original on October 14, 2009. Retrieved January 27, 2010.
  27. ^ Pittman, Travis (February 15, 2022). "Four questions answered about Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir". KUSA. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved March 12, 2023. Lipinski and Kapostasy are co-executive producers for the documentary "Meddling," looking at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics pairs figure skating scandal.

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