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Guilty

French skating judge, official banned for three years

Posted: Tuesday April 30, 2002 7:39 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 30, 2002 9:02 PM
  Marie-Reine Le Gougne Marie-Reine Le Gougne will be banned from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. AP

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- Red-faced and shaking with rage, the French judge at the center of the Olympic figure skating scandal insisted her three-year ban from the sport does little to end the case.

Indeed, Marie-Reine Le Gougne is more defiant than ever.

The International Skating Union sought closure Tuesday by suspending her and French federation chief Didier Gailhaguet until 2005 and barring them from the next Winter Olympics.

But Le Gougne, Gailhaguet and their lawyers said they would fight the case in appeals as long as it takes, and they denounced the ISU ruling as a "farce" and "masquerade."

Le Gougne vowed to clear her name and threatened to reveal corruption in the sport.

"I hoped that tonight would be the end of a nightmare that has lasted 2 1/2 months," said Le Gougne, clearly furious over the ISU decision. "Unfortunately, that's not the case. But I am more determined than ever. So it's no longer a nightmare. Now it's a real battle. I want my dignity and honor restored."

The International Skating Union council held a two-day hearing into accusations Le Gougne was pressured by Gailhaguet into voting for the Russians over the Canadians in the pairs competition at the Salt Lake City Games. The Canadians were awarded duplicate gold medals four days later.

The ISU ruled Le Gougne voted for the Russians "although in her own opinion the pair ... from Canada presented a better performance."

The suspensions go into effect immediately and last until April 30, 2005. They cover the annual world championships, European championships, Grand Prix events and exhibitions. In addition, Le Gougne and Gailhaguet are banned from the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in 2006.

Some thought Le Gougne deserved a lifetime ban.

"An Olympic gold medal is a very valuable object," said Jon Jackson, a U.S. attorney and skating judge who testified against Le Gougne. "A three-year sentence is a very light sentence. ... She fixed an Olympic Games."

Ron Pfenning agreed. He's the U.S. referee for the pairs event who testified that Le Gougne admitted to him she voted under pressure for the Russians -- which she denies.

"For such a serious violation, I would have hoped for a penalty that is more severe," he said.

The ISU council deliberated for five hours before announcing the rulings.

"We went through the papers, we went through the evidence and then we decided," ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta said. "We are more than confident we took the right decision.

"It was not an easy case. It's a sad moment."

The council cited Le Gougne on two counts: voting for the Russian pair on Gailhaguet's orders, and not reporting Gailhaguet to the ISU for his pressure tactics.

Gailhaguet was sanctioned on a charge of instructing Le Gougne to give first place to Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

Le Gougne and Gailhaguet contended the ISU stacked the case against them and denied them a fair trial to justify the decision to give additional golds to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

In Canada, Sale and Pelletier announced Tuesday they are turning pro and giving up their Olympic eligibility. They said the decision had nothing to do with the judging scandal and had no comment on the ISU suspensions.

Skate Canada praised the ISU's decisions, calling it "a great day for international figure skating and for skaters."

The U.S. Figure Skating Association said "serious and permanent international judging reforms [should] be instituted immediately to ensure that this situation does not happen in the future."

Le Gougne and Gailhaguet now will go through the ISU's internal appeals process. If they lose that appeal, they plan to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"It was a masquerade," Le Gougne said. "It is scandalous, unacceptable. The ISU has no shame. My most basic rights of defense were denied. They have decapitated me from the start. I have been a scapegoat from the beginning and it was demonstrated for me during these hearings."

Gailhaguet said: "There is not a shadow of proof. It is an attempt at political assassination. This affair is far from over."

The ISU heard testimony from 13 witnesses, almost all of whom had made allegations against Le Gougne or Gailhaguet.

The French pair and their lawyers complained the ISU did not call the other four judges who voted for the Russian pair as witnesses. The only two event judges who testified were Canada's Bernard Lavoie and Germany's Sissy Krik, both of whom voted for the Canadians.

"The only intention of the ISU is to justify at all costs the awarding of the second gold medal," Le Gougne said.

"It was a farce," said Max Miller, one of Le Gougne's American lawyers.

Gailhaguet's lawyer, Alexander Brabant, called the proceedings a "kangaroo court."

Le Gougne threatened to make revelations about the ISU.

"I will explain how things work," she said. "It's a system that is extremely biased, dictatorial and even corrupt. ... They won't stop me now. I have nothing more to lose. I will fight this to the end."

Le Gougne described the verdicts as a "totally political decision" aimed at undermining French influence in the sport. She and Gailhaguet were due to run for top positions at ISU elections in Japan next month. Now they are ineligible.

Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely by the ISU in Salt Lake City after declaring she voted for the Russian pair under pressure from Gailhaguet. Le Gougne later recanted.

Le Gougne has denied ever saying that, insisting she voted for the Russians in good conscience.

She watched replays of the Russians and Canadians 10 days ago for the first time.

"It was clear that I had judged correctly," she said. "Today, if I had to do it again, I would do the same thing. I would put the Russians first for sure."

 
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