Sunday, February 17, 2002
Updated: February 18, 4:20 PM ET
With tears and smiles, Canadians get their gold
SALT LAKE CITY -- These are gold medals to be shared, not divided.
Jamie Sale and Elena Berezhnaya climbed the medals podium hand-in-hand to cheers of a packed arena, while David Pelletier and Anton Sikharulidze chatted like dear old friends.
Bound together in history by scandal, the pairs figure skaters are now linked forever by a medal.
Standing next to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, their Russian co-champions, Sale and Pelletier accepted the gold that was awarded Friday in an extraordinary move by the International Olympic Committee.
"We were just kind of laughing, saying `This is so funny, we'll never experience this again,"' Sale said after the ceremony Sunday. "It was a moment to be the four of us."
A week of bitterness, turmoil and tears was erased in a celebration of two very different couples, both champions.
"I am so happy because I think now it is finished," Sikharulidze said.
Sale and Pelletier accepted their medals from International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta, who made the recommendation to award the duplicate golds and who suspended the judge in the middle of the uproar for misconduct.
But the magnitude of the moment didn't seem to sink in for Sale and Pelletier until "O Canada" was played after the Russian anthem. As the Canadian flag rose beside the Russian flag, tears of joy filled Sale's eyes and Pelletier began blinking rapidly, as if to keep from crying.
When a camera closed in on Sale, her grin spread a little wider and she winked.
"This was better than I expected," Pelletier said. "The four of us were part of history. It was a tough few days, but now we're happy to put some closure to it and we can go on and be happy with our gold medal."
When the anthem finished, the couples turned to the cheering crowd, waving their yellow roses in acknowledgment. Pelletier and Sikharulidze hugged; Berezhnaya and Sale did, too.
Then Pelletier put his arms around Berezhnaya as if they were the best of friends. Afterward, the Canadians gave the Russians gifts, tokens of a camaraderie forged in the midst of a nightmare.
"Both of us have had a hard time ... and it is not fair to us as athletes," Sale said.
Sale and Pelletier, who are also a couple off the ice, finished second to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze by the slimmest of margins, losing 5-4 in the pairs free skate last Monday.
Boos rained down at the Salt Lake Ice Center when the marks flashed, and Pelletier buried his head in his hands as Sale cried. With silver medals around their neck that time, both wept as they stood on the podium and listened to the Russian national anthem.
The tears Sunday night were different.
Skating has a long history of questionable decisions, but this one was bigger than any other.
When French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she'd been pressured to put the Russians first, the ISU knew it had to do something extraordinary. At the ISU's request, the IOC on Friday awarded a second gold medal to Sale and Pelletier, making them co-champions.
"It is an exit out of a situation there isn't really an exit out of," Valentin Piseyev, chairman of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, said before the ceremony.
Sale and Pelletier originally were supposed to get their gold medals Thursday night -- bumping up against the women's free skate. But not even the darlings of Salt Lake City could interfere with that. After all, Americans hope to see Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen or Sarah Hughes win a medal that night. Or maybe a few.
Five minutes after the original dance ended, the two couples -- dressed in their national warm-up suits -- appeared in an entry way just off the ice. One big difference: Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were already wearing the burnished gold medals.
At first, it didn't look like a momentous occasion. While the Olympic anthem played, Pelletier and Sikharulidze chatted like two schoolboys in the back of the room.
As the couples were introduced -- "Welcome to the gold medalists!" -- Berezhnaya and Sale smiled at each other and climbed the podium. Pelletier and Sikharulidze followed, still talking and laughing.
Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze had worried about how they would be received, but within minutes it was clear the reception would be grand.
Then, finally, it was Sale and Pelletier's turn, and the crowd responded with a roar that shook the building.
"It was just a bizarre moment, it was so weird," Sale said. "But we said we will make the best of it, and we smiled and went out and had fun.
"We are never going to experience that again. We hope not, anyway."