Berezhnaya, Sikharulidze take gold in pairsPosted: Monday February 11, 2002 11:18 PM
Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2002 4:26 PM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- With a disgusted wave of his hand, David Pelletier seemed to sum up what many were thinking: Figure skating will never outgrow judging controversies.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze extended Russia's dominance of Olympic pairs Monday night by the slimmest of margins over Canada's Pelletier and Jamie Sale. One judge, from China, favored the Russians in a tiebreaker.
"Without a doubt, I am ashamed for my sport," said the Canadian world champions' choreographer, Lori Nichol, who admittedly is not unbiased.
Pelletier said: "When the marks came up, I am a human being, I was sad to come second."
It was clear who the crowd thought had won as it chanted "Six, Six" after the Canadians finished their routine and Pelletier fell to his knees to kiss the ice.
And many fans booed when the scoreboard showed Russia had won Olympic gold for the 11th consecutive Winter Games.
"When you skate your best and come in second, it is difficult," said Sale, who recovered from a collision with Sikharulidze during warmups. "It shook me up. ... It was kind of a nightmare. I just said, 'This is my ice, my time.' I went out and fought to the very end."
When Sikharulidze and Sale collided, it sent her sprawling to the ice on her hands and knees. But each team shook off the mishap to skate superbly.
"I hope everything is good with Jamie," Sikharulidze said. "It was just a small accident."
The Russians saw little reason to wonder about the results.
"Controversy about what decision?" said Tamara Moskvina, their coach. "The results are already written, publicized and announced. The public stadium applauded for the silver medalists, the gold medalists and the bronze medalists.
"For two years, we considered that Elena and Anton won, but it went to the other couple. We didn't accuse the North American block, we just accepted it. So now it is our time."
China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won the bronze.
American champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman finished fifth, but he called the performance "the greatest thing we've ever done." The other Americans, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, finished 13th.
The Russians collected seven 5.9s for artistry, with the 5.9 from the Chinese judge making the difference -- and ensuring a Russian or Soviet pair has won every gold medal since 1964.
But even the NBC broadcasters thought the Canadians had won.
"How did that happen?" asked 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton.
"That will be debated forever."
The winners made one error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axel. But their skill for skating in unison and the passion of their program, to "Meditation," won over enough judges -- if not the crowd.
The Canadians, who had won their last nine competitions, then responded with a spectacular, mistake-free performance to "Love Story" that included two huge throw jumps.
They didn't, however, get the 6.0s the fans sought, and only four 5.9s for artistry, leaving them sore and in second.
"What we can't control, we can't control," said Pelletier, who was near tears. "That's the way it is. If I didn't want this to happen to me, I would have gone downhill on skis."
The gold capped a long, sometimes distressing climb for Berezhnaya-Sikharulidze, who finished second at the 1998 Games and then won two world titles.
In 2000, Berezhnaya failed a drug test, which she said was caused by over-the-counter cold medicine. They withdrew from the world championships, then were suspended for three months by the International Skating Union and stripped of their European crown.
The Russians also skipped last month's European championships because she hurt her leg.
Far worse was a head cut in 1996, when her former partner, Oleg Shliakov, sliced her with his skate while they practiced a spin. Berezhnaya barely escaped injuries to her brain.
But now, she and Sikharulidze, who train in Hackensack, N.J., are Olympic champions, giving Moskvina four Olympic pairs gold medalists.
"You know, all competitions are decided by fate," Sikharulidze said, "and every time by different skating from each pairs."
Moskvina also coaches Ina and Zimmerman, the three-time U.S. champions who had a magical night, even though they didn't win a medal.
Ina, who was ninth in the 1994 Games and fourth in '98 partnered with Jason Dungjen, leaped like a schoolgirl with straight A's on her report card when she saw the couple's marks. She and Zimmerman, who became her partner in 1998, flashed smiles with 30 seconds left in their routine.
And Ina pumped her fist in the air as they entered their final spin.
The highlight of their performance was their candle lift, in which Zimmerman carried Ina around more than one-third of the rink while she is upside-down, her head resting on his shoulder.
"It was so much fun, in one way I wish it could last another four minutes," Ina said. "But I'm glad it ended where it did, because I don't think I could've contained my excitement anymore."