Where figure skating goes from herePosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 5:50 PM
There is no historical precedent for an Olympic medals adjustment as a result of manipulation, but on two other occasions the IOC amended medals placing, long after they were decided, for reasons other than doping.
At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Kristen Babb-Sprague of the U.S. was awarded a gold medal in solo synchronized swimming, just ahead of Canadian Sylvie Frechette. Only after the medals were presented was it determined that a Brazilian judge had quite innocently typed in 8.7 as a mark for Frechette when, in fact, the judge meant to award a 9.7. Had the proper score been recorded for Frechette, she would have won the gold medal. Dick Pound, a Canadian IOC member, took up the cause on Frechette's behalf, and a year after the competition Frechette received a co-gold medal. Babb-Sprague was allowed to keep hers.
Back in 1924 Anders Haugen, a U.S. ski jumper, appeared to finish fourth in the large hill event, behind three Norwegian jumpers. It took 50 years for a Norwegian sports historian, Jakov Vaage, to do an independent computation of the scores and determine that, in fact, Haugen should have been placed ahead of Thorleif Haug, the third Norwegian. International officials demoted Haug to fourth place, 40 years after he had passed away.
The bigger questions involve the future rather than the past. What can the IOC and ISU do to prevent scandals like this in the future? Here are three suggestions:
Look for a minute at the international hockey officials who are here from the National Hockey League. NHL referees and linesmen are graded on their performance (A, C and E) after every regular-season and playoff game. Andy Van Hellemond, the league chief of officials, sends to his troops video via e-mail examples of good calls, bad calls, missed calls and non-calls. Then he makes a lot of phone calls.
The point is that there is constant evaluation and the officials need to perform. This is the sort of oversight that should be done entirely within the ISU by tenured or retired judges, people who are respected within the community. Is this a proper layback spin? Is this a two-footed triple Axel? By constantly exposing the interpretation of skating minutiae to their peers, judges will understand that the emphasis is on legitimate skating criteria. If there are backroom extenuations, they will not only be whispered, but exposed repeatedly, discussed often and, one hopes, discouraged.
There have been whispers about specific backroom deals for years. If these whispers surface, investigate. That may seem like an imposition or a slap in the face against the judging community, but, well, it's earned it. Honest judges, as most may well be, should have no problem with the threat of an oversight to ensure fair play.
And, no, individual skaters, coaches and delegations should not call upon this panel every time their cause isn't fulfilled by the results. That oversight body should not have to be, as it was this time, the International Olympic Committee. But in any judged sport, the public perception of fairness can't be compromised any more than it already has.
Keep in mind that that sort of perception will help determine how many parents shield their children from a world they do not trust and how many will tell them to go out and skate.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Brian Cazeneuve is in Utah covering the Olympics for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.