Friday, February 15, 2002
Russian pair caught in controversy's crossfire
SALT LAKE CITY -- Anton Sikharulidze didn't do anything wrong.
So why, the gold medalist wonders, is he made out to be the bad guy? Why does he feel so uncomfortable, so victimized? Why does a 25-year-old, four days removed from Olympic greatness, ponder retirement?
"I can't really enjoy this," Sikharulidze said Friday. "I understand that I have a gold medal and it's finished already, but I'm only talking about a bad situation and about judges who made bad things happen. I can't even talk to my parents about this."
This is the flip side of the IOC decision to award a gold medal to the Canadian couple whose Monday night silver medal prompted such an enormous outcry.
What happens to the winners, whose only crime was skating their best?
Sikharulidze's bitterness is not directed at Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who received a second gold medal for the pairs figure skating event that ended in controversy.
Sikharulidze and partner Elena Berezhnaya won the free skate 5-4 to take the gold. But when a French judge admitted she was pressured to vote for the Russians, Olympic and skating officials decided to declare co-champions.
"They ask people in Canada who won, but if they ask in Moscow, I will give you 2 million people who say the Russians," Sikharulidze said. They have made my life very difficult."
Sikharulidze, a two-time world champion and a silver medalist at the Nagano Games with Berezhnaya, said he has lost about 10 pounds across four sleepless nights since the scandal broke.
He is most upset with the television coverage, which he ripped as one-sided and geared to making the Russians look like villains.
"The media say I stole an Olympic medal," he said. "I feel we skated good enough to be Olympic champions and it is the judges who think we skated the best. It's not right, TV should show both sides.
"It's too much talk and the media is making us like bad guys. We are not bad guys. We never talked to judges. I don't have enough money to buy nine judges."
Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze made it clear they have nothing against Sale and Pelletier -- "great skaters," the Russians said. Nor would they comment on the threat dishonest judging presents for their sport.