Friday, February 15, 2002
Russian figure skating head criticizes decision
MOSCOW -- The head of Russia's Figure Skating Federation assailed a decision Friday to award a Canadian duo an Olympic gold medal in pairs skating alongside the Russian winners.
"This is an unprecedented decision that turned out to be a result of pressure by the North American press, and turned out in favor of the fanatically loyal (North American) fans," Valentin Piseyev told Russia's NTV television by telephone from Salt Lake City.
"You have seen how the public reacts to any even the tiniest mistakes of our athletes, and how they absolutely don't notice when the Canadians fall or when the Americans fall," he said.
Silver finishers Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada contested the judges' 5-4 vote in favor of the Russian skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. The International Skating Union said Friday it uncovered misconduct by a French judge and awarded the Canadians a second gold. The Russians will be allowed to keep their gold as well.
The government weighed in on the controversy Friday, with Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko deploring the scandal that has taken the luster off Russia's victory.
Matviyenko, the most senior woman in the Russian government, said she was heading for Salt Lake City on Saturday "to support the moral spirit of our team and hang out with the youngsters."
"It's a disgraceful fuss," Matviyenko said before the second gold was announced. "The International Olympic Committee should get to the root of it and not allow American mass media and amateurs give marks to our skaters."
The controversy has received wide attention in the Russian press, whose coverage has been tinged with just a touch of bitterness over what is perceived in Russia as the Canadians' unwillingness to accept defeat gracefully, and over allegations the Russians may somehow have exerted pressure on some of the judges.
Renowned Russian film director Sergei Mikhalkov warned that Friday's decision was a dangerous precedent that discredited the games overall.
"This means they can reconsider any decisions by the judges," he said from Salt Lake City on Russia's ORT television.
Izvestia on Friday criticized Canadian media for allegedly running a smear campaign aimed at discrediting the judges who voted in favor of Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.
The Kommersant daily said Sale and Pelletier's complaint would likely lead to reform of the judging system.
"And that will hardly be favorable to the Russians," the newspaper concluded.
Many people in Russia long have believed that international judges are against them. That feeling has faded somewhat since the end of the Cold War but is still perceptible.
The Trud daily called the scandal a "soap opera in a glass of dirty water," saying that "one has to be able to lose as well. Unfortunately, the Canadian Olympic Association has not learned that" -- a pointed dig at the Canadians.
Piseyev was quoted in Trud as saying: "We have not lost at the Olympic Games in pairs skating since 1964. That irritates many people."
Piseyev denied that the Russians had exerted pressure on any judges.
"You have to be able to honorably accept defeat," Piseyev added. "And if you haven't learned it yet, then learn it."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's only comment on the Olympics on Friday was a congratulatory message to Alexei Yagudin, who won the men's single final in skating Thursday.