Friday, February 15, 2002
Rogge: 'It was resolved in the most just way'
SALT LAKE CITY -- When it heard the head of international skating say it would take five days to review the biggest judging scandal in Winter Olympic history, the IOC knew it had to force it onto a faster path.
On Friday, barely two days later, the International Olympic Committee got what it wanted -- a quick end to the gold medal controversy in pairs figure skating that was beginning to overshadow the rest of the Winter Games.
The result was a combination of private jawboning and low-key public statements that allowed the IOC to underscore its role as boss of the Olympics, while promoting the athletes and protecting an important sport that was under unprecedented pressure.
"It was resolved in the most just way," IOC president Jacques Rogge said as he announced that a second gold medal in the event would be given to Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, whose second-place finish after a flawless performance had created an international firestorm.
This is the first Olympics as president for Rogge, elected last July to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch after 21 years in the most powerful job in international sports. And the skating case was his first real chance to stamp his more open style on the games.
The decision announced Friday was done with amazing quickness for an organization not known for speed.
On Monday night, Sale and Pelletier, the reigning world champions, finished second to Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze by the narrowest of margins, 5-4 on technical merit. The decision was booed by the crowd at the Delta Center and lambasted by TV commentators.
While it was dramatic, it seemed at first to be just another flap over figure skating judges. And the IOC -- which had just been told by an arbitration court in a doping case that it couldn't tell Olympic sports how to act at the games -- initially stuck to its usual line on the separation of powers and responsibilities at the world's biggest sports event.
After the International Skating Union announced an unusual "internal assessment" of the judging, IOC director general Francois Carrard said Tuesday night the committee was "concerned," but that "the ultimate responsibility for the results lies with the" ISU.
The criticism accelerated, with the story leading network newscasts and filling papers and Web sites. Wednesday morning, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta told a news conference that allegations had been made against a French judge who voted for the Russians. That got the IOC's interest. But Cinquanta's next statement, that the ISU would not act until its regular council meeting the following Monday, made Rogge turn pale.
"The five days president Cinquanta discussed caught our attention," IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said. "He (Rogge) felt the games were going very well and a matter like this, if left to run its course, can only have a downside. ... We just couldn't have the issue drag on, with so much public interest and top athletes involved, and an important federation."
Wednesday afternoon, Rogge called in Cinquanta, an IOC board member, and urged him to speed up the review. Officials familiar with the conversation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rogge mentioned that the IOC had traditionally "fast-tracked" other issues at the games, including drug testing and eligibility disputes.
The IOC then issued a brief but very unusual statement, publicly asking for the speeded process. It was under pressure itself. In addition to the media reaction, the IOC was being flooded by public criticism, with thousands of e-mails urging justice for the Canadian skaters.
"It's our games, too," IOC director general Francois Carrard said.
Pressure also built Wednesday when the Canadian Olympic Association appealed to the ISU to hold an independent investigation of the judging -- and raised the issue of a double gold medal for the first time.
"We are not here to pull someone down, we are here to pull somebody up," COA President Michael Chambers said.
Later that night, France's Olympic chief said the French figure skating judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, was "manipulated" into voting for the Russians in the pairs competition.
Dick Pound, an IOC member from Canada, said the case was having "an adverse effect on the IOC," which was just emerging from its biggest scandal, the million-dollar corruption case invoking Salt Lake City's winning bid for these very Winter Games.
On Thursday morning, Cinquanta said the ISU would not speed up its schedule. Although this seemed to fly in the face of the IOC's request, there was no move to crisis mode.
"We will continue to work as long as necessary," Carrard said.
Rogge said the IOC would "consider any request from the ISU."
Rogge and Cinquanta continued talking, those familiar with the talks said. "There was no table pounding. That's not Jacques' style," one of the sources said. "There were long conversations."
Cinquanta said the break came Thursday night when Le Gougne told him she had been "submitted to a certain pressure" from her federation and signed a statement about how she reached her vote.
"This pressure resulted in putting this judge in a condition not to give the gold medal" to the Canadians, Cinquanta said, refusing to give further details.
Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely, with final penalty to be imposed by the ISU Council later this year. The ISU then drew up a proposal for dual gold medals, which Cinquanta presented to Rogge in a phone call shortly before midnight. Rogge then called a meeting of the IOC's executive board for Friday morning, and the board approved awarding the duplicate medal on a 7-1 vote with one abstention.
"I don't think this has created damage to the Olympic movement, because it was resolved fast," Rogge said. "This is definitely a closed matter."