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Thorny Issue
E.M. Swift
February 25, 2002
Canadian pair David Pelletier and Jamie Sal� got belated gold even as a judging scandal so shook the sport that it brought talk of long-overdue reform
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February 25, 2002

Thorny Issue

Canadian pair David Pelletier and Jamie Sal� got belated gold even as a judging scandal so shook the sport that it brought talk of long-overdue reform

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France and Russia may seem like strange bedfellows, but it comes down to money and influence. Three years ago the French figure skating federation was in such financial difficulty that it couldn't pay its bills, and the management of its finances had to be overseen by the French government. Every year the skating federation must negotiate a contract with the Ministry of Sport. "The money given to figure skating by the state is based on many things," says J�r�me Rouillaux, France's deputy chief of mission in Salt Lake City. "Popularity and results are two factors. But the Olympic Games is the most important objective."

Russia's influence over the judges from countries of the former Soviet Union remains considerable. Many of the international judges from the former Soviet republics live in Moscow or St. Petersburg and were trained in Russia. Many of their skaters are Russians who have dual citizenship and are coached by Russian coaches. Simply put, Russia is a good ally for France—or any other figure skating country—to keep.

"All federations are involved [in vote swapping], not only the Russians," says Alexander Zhulin, a 1994 silver medalist in ice dancing for Russia. He coaches the top U.S. dance team of Peter Tchernyshev and Naomi Lang, who finished 11th on Monday night. "Some judges are strong. Some are weak and just follow what their federation tells them. It's corruption. It's dirty."

The U.S. isn't above suspicion, either. Franklin Nelson, a former president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, was approached by a top American coach in the 1970s while he was an international judge. The coach, with whom Nelson remains friends, asked him to approach a judge to see if he could arrange a vote swap. Nelson respectfully declined.

Such shenanigans may soon disappear if Cinquanta's proposal to revolutionize the way figure skating is judged is enacted when the full ISU Congress meets in June. In a week of hasty meetings and press conferences, Cinquanta floated his idea before the ISU executive board on Monday, and it was unanimously endorsed. The plan, which Cinquanta said he has been working on for some time, calls for the elimination of the 0 to 6.0 scale of marks, which, ultimately, asks each judge to place skaters in order from first to last. Instead, a panel of 14 would score the skater's individual elements (jumps, spins, footwork, etc.) according to a preassigned degree of difficulty, in much the same way diving competitions are scored. The elements would then be totaled, and a computer would randomly select seven of the marks to be used to tabulate each skater's score. Highest score—not most first-place votes—wins.

It may not be perfect, but if adopted—and the atmosphere is right for such a revolutionary change—Cinquanta's plan will surely be an improvement over the current judging system. The backroom deal may soon be a thing of the past.

On Monday night, by the way, the French ice dancers narrowly won the gold medal, by a 5-4 count. The decision was generally hailed as the correct one. Peizerat and Anissina, it appeared, didn't need extra help after all. The Russian judge, Shekjovtseva, placed the French couple second, behind the silver-medal-winning Russian team of Ilia Averbukh and Irina Lobacheva. It just must have seemed like the right thing to do.

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