Controversy the name of the game at Olympics

  • 2002-02-28
  • Tassos Coulaloglou
VILNIUS - What some in the media have dubbed "Skategate" continues to evolve, with new allegations of corruption in the Winter Olympic skating events springing up every day, even now that the Games are over. Lithuanian skaters are among the most vocal of the protesters.

The formal complaint the Lithuanian ice dancing pair of Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas lodged at the International Skating Union on Feb. 18 that the judging had been biased and predetermined was rejected on Feb. 20.

The union's response amounted to little more than one sentence: "The judging was fair."

In the event, where the top eight skaters remained in the same position throughout the entire ice dancing competition, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France won the gold. Russia's Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh took the silver, and Italy's Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio got the bronze. Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz were fourth, followed by the Lithuanians.

When the third and fourth place pairs from Italy and Canada fell in the free dance competition - the third and final program of the event worth 50 percent of the total score - the Lithuanian Olympic Committee argued that vote-rigging seemed obvious. Drobiazko and Vanagas, who finished fifth, were virtually flawless.

"The powerful federations can be 100 percent confident that their athletes will always be on top and not have to fight those coming from behind," Vanagas protested afterwards. Vanagas and Drobiazko said they didn't want Olympic medals achieved as a result of their protest. Their goal, they said, was to reveal something of the obvious corruption in ice dancing.

Nevertheless, John Domanskis, a member of the Lithuanian Olympic team, said the falls of the Italian and Canadians "required deductions, as decried by the International Skating Federation. They were not applied as they should have been, which deprived Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas of the chance to win an Olympic medal."

The International Skating Union's response to the Lithuanians' complaint came one day after its president, Ottavio Cinquanta, proposed changing the judging process by using a different point-scoring system and taking judges' marks at random.

"Maybe we made our point in some way," Domanskis said in response to the rejection. "I don't think we'll pursue it any further. Hopefully, we've made a difference for future athletes."

After the Canadian pair of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier was awarded duplicate gold medals after finishing second to the Russian pair of Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in the figure skating pairs competition, millions of viewers around the world became privy to what some say has been going on for years.

It was alleged that the French judge was "pressured" to vote for the Russians in return for Russian judges voting for the French pair in the ice dancing.