Monday, February 11, 2002
Updated: February 12, 3:23 AM ET
Russians win despite controversy, collision
SALT LAKE CITY -- When the marks flashed and the boos rained down, David Pelletier buried his face in his hands and Jamie Sale's eyes filled with tears.
There was no easy way to explain how they could have looked so magical, yet come away with silver.
If only they'd made some mistake, left something out, maybe then they could understand. But this is figure skating, and the answers are rarely simple.
"That's the way skating works," said Sale, trying to contain her emotions. "It's judged."
In a decision that immediately sparked yet another judging controversy, Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze edged Sale and Pelletier of Canada by the minutest of margins Monday night to win the pairs gold.
"It was like somebody punched me in the stomach," Pelletier told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning after the Canadians stayed up all night giving interviews. "But at the same time, we can sit here and talk about it for weeks but it's not going to change the results."
But it should change the sport, said longtime coach Frank Carroll.
"This is the worst thing that's happened in a long time in figure skating," said Carroll, who was Linda Fratianne's coach in 1980, when Fratianne lost the gold medal to East Germany's Anett Potzch amid allegations of judges trading votes along political lines.
"People say figure skating shouldn't be in the Olympic Games because it's a play sport, it's not a real sport (and) -- you can almost see where they're coming from ... when you watch that on TV," Carroll added. "The ISU has a lot of work to do as far as getting the judging system worked out."
A call to a spokeswoman for the International Skating Union on Tuesday morning was not immediately returned.
NBC commentators were amazed at the decision. Sandra Bezic, a former Canadian pairs champion, even went so far as to say she was "embarrassed for our sport."
"How did that happen?" asked Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion. "(They) won that program, there's not a doubt for anyone in the place, except for maybe a few judges.
"That will be debated forever."
For the Russian coach, however, the issue was closed.
"For two years, we considered that Elena and Anton won, but it went to the other couple," said coach Tamara Moskvina, referring to recent losses by her top pair, including their loss to the Canadians at last spring's world championships in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sale and Pelletier put on the kind of memorable performance that defines a career. And the Canadians did it even after Sale had the wind knocked out of her when she crashed into Sikharulidze during warmups.
Though she initially felt "paralyzed" by the crash, Sale and Pelletier skated with passionate abandon. Every move and detail of their "Love Story" program was flawless, including two huge throw jumps. Fans were chanting "Six! Six!" when it ended -- begging the judges to award the Canadians a perfect score.
Pelletier was so overcome he dropped to his knees and kissed the ice, then leaned back and let out a scream as he pumped his fists.
"We didn't come here to win gold, we came here to do our best," Sale said. "We were on tonight, we really were. What else can you ask for?"
Especially considering the pressure they've been under. Sale and Pelletier had won nine competitions in a row, including the world championships last spring, and they gave Canada its best hope to win its first pairs gold since 1960.
They couldn't go anywhere without someone wishing them well -- expectations that became more of a burden than an inspiration.
"The last six months were so tough," Pelletier said. "You go to the grocery store and it's, 'Bring back the gold.' You go to the hardware store and it's, 'Bring back the gold.' I'm just trying to buy a hammer!"
Family and friends tried to ease the couple's pain by serenading them with "O, Canada" when they arrived at Canada House in Salt Lake City early Tuesday.
"I was sad to come second," Pelletier said. "But like Jamie said, nothing will ever take away that performance."
But it will always be tinged with thoughts of what might have been.
Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze's program, to "Meditation," was strong but hardly perfect. Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel, and they couldn't match the Canadians' emotion.
Yet they still collected seven 5.9s for artistry, with the Chinese and Polish judges favoring the Russians and making the difference, ensuring a Russian or Soviet pair has won every gold medal since 1964.
The Canadians got only four 5.9s for artistry.
But Sikharulidze refused to apologize for the shiny golden disc hanging around his neck. He and Berezhnaya were silver medalists four years ago, and it's been anything but a smooth transition from second to first.
They withdrew from the 2000 world championships after Berezhnaya failed a drug test, which she said was caused by over-the-counter cold medicine. They were then suspended for three months by the International Skating Union and stripped of their European crown.
"Yeah, sure, because I have a gold medal," Sikharulidze shot back when someone asked if he and Berezhnaya had skated a winning program. "All competitions are decided by fate."
China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won the bronze.
American champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman finished fifth in a performance Ina called "the best rush I have ever felt in my career."
Ina, who was ninth in the 1994 Games and fourth in Nagano in 1998 when she partnered with Jason Dungjen, leaped up like a schoolgirl with straight A's on her report card when she saw the couple's marks.
"I can walk away and say, 'Wow, that was terrific,' " she said.
That's a feeling Sale and Pelletier will never know.
"What we can't control, we can't control," he said. "That's the way it is."