Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Skating investigation said to be wide ranging
SALT LAKE CITY -- Two key players in the figure skating scandal testified Wednesday before investigators appointed by the sport, and the head of the French Olympic team said the probe would go beyond initial vote-swapping allegations.
International Skating Union officials heard from Didier Gailhaguet, who is also the French figure skating president, and Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the French judge he allegedly pressured into throwing her vote to the Russians in the pairs competition last week.
Though the internal investigation was expected to focus on who made a deal and why, and who pressured Le Gougne to vote against a popular Canadian duo, Gailhaguet said investigators were looking at "a much larger context than that."
"I think the investigation does not center on a single problem," said Gailhaguet, who testified for 45 minutes.
The ISU investigators also questioned Le Gougne, who has hired two Salt Lake City attorneys to plead her case.
She has been unreachable for comment, but Gailhaguet said she was "satisfied to be able to be heard. It has gone well from what I heard."
The two officials conducting the probe, vice president Gerhard Zimmermann of Germany and legal adviser Gerhardt Bubnik of the Czech Republic, were given a mandate by the ISU to focus only on the pairs controversy and not ice dancing. Witnesses have testified that Le Gougne said she was pressured as part of a vote-swapping scheme involving the French and Russians in both events.
"The people conducting the investigation are asking questions about everything. They're going where the testimony leads them," a skating judge who testified said on condition of anonymity.
All testimony is being recorded by a court stenographer, the judge said.
Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, said he was wary of the secrecy of the investigation but is more concerned about whether it will be thorough.
"If we've learned anything from the Salt Lake City bribery scandal it is that things like this don't just go away," said Pound, who chaired the IOC's investigation into the bidding for these games. "People will want to know that nothing is being covered up. It's an ISU issue, but if the public thinks figure skating is fixed, it reflects badly on the whole Olympics. This investigation has to restore credibility to figure skating."
John Lefevre, U.S. Figure Skating Association executive director, also worried that the probe, and how it's being conducted, might lead to a perception of a coverup.
"I would certainly support an independent investigation," Lefevre said. "It should go beyond the pairs judging and include everyone who might be involved."
Gailhaguet, meantime, said his interview "went very well."
"It happened in a very cordial atmosphere. I'm extremely happy that I have been able to talk about this regrettable and scandalous affair," Gailhaguet said.
Key in the scandal is Le Gougne's confession after the pairs competition that Gailhaguet pressured her to vote for the Russian, denying the Canadians gold. The Canadian pair has since been awarded their own gold medal by the IOC.
Gailhaguet has denied pressuring the judge, and Le Gougne has recently retracted her accusations that Gailhaguet influenced her to vote for the Russians.
Russia's Alexandr Gorshkov, chairman of the ISU ice dance committee and referee for the event, said he was unaware who, if anyone, from his country might have been involved in any vote-swapping deal with the French.
The French ice dancing team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won the gold medal Monday night, with a Russian couple taking the silver and an Italian couple the bronze.
Earlier this week, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta proposed sweeping changes in the way figure skating is scored in an attempt to eliminate judging misconduct.