New flap brewing about ice dance judges

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The most scorned of the four Olympic figure skating disciplines, ice dancing has one edge over the pairs competition: It has been embroiled in more judging scandals.

While the International Skating Union continues an internal investigation into allegations a French judge was pressured to vote for the Russians over a Canadian couple Monday in the pairs long program, a new controversy was already brewing in ice dancing, which begins tonight with the compulsory dances at the Salt Lake Ice Center.

The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, cited unnamed sources this week in reporting ice dance judges had predetermined the outcome of their event by penciling in couples from Italy, Russia, France, Lithuania and Canada—in that order—for the first five spots.

ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta declined to address the report, but cautioned that there was no evidence that the outcome of the pairs judging will have a bearing on subsequent events at these Games.

"We cannot jump from one situation to the other on the basis x of allegations without any proof so far," he said.

Concern about the sport's credibility led Dick Pound, an influential IOC member from Canada, to recently suggest that ice dancing could be dropped as an Olympic event if its embarrassing judging scandals continued.

"The competitions are won on the ice and not in clandestine meetings before the event takes place," he said.

Although allegations of improprieties in the voting that gave Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia the pairs gold medal over Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada were of recent vintage, ice dancing has long been muddied by accusations of misconduct by judges.

The standings rarely change from the compulsory dances, worth 20% of the final score, to the original dance, worth 30%, to the final phase, the free dance, worth 50% of the overall score.

It's difficult for spectators to see what's being evaluated, since there are no lifts or throws, as there are in pair skating, and the often outlandish costumes and melodramatic music overshadow the skaters' performances, critics say.

Among the accusations ice dancing has faced are that judges determined the results before the competition, voted in blocks, exchanged favors, or illegally communicated with each other during competitions via hand signals.

At the 1992 Albertville Games, irregularities in the judging were said to have sealed a victory by Russia's Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko over siblings Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France. A judge who bemoaned his exclusion from the dance panel was quoted as saying: "That's the easy one. Those judges mailed in their marks last May."

Judges have been suspended by the ISU for improper actions. However, so was whistleblower Jean Senft, a Canadian who suspected collusion among judges before the 1998 Nagano Games.

Senft taped a phone call from Ukrainian judge Yuri Balkov in which Balkov listed the placements he planned to give each couple in the free dance at Nagano. Senft played the tape as evidence at an ISU hearing. Balkov was banned for one year as a result. But Senft accuses skating officials of retaliating against her by suspending him for six months for allegedly favoring a Canadian duo at the Grand Prix and Olympics.

Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, who finished fourth at Nagano, claimed they were victims of a conspiracy by judges from France and Russia to keep them out of the medals. The bronze medalists, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, are from France; Anissina, however, is a native of Russia.

Reforms were instituted after Nagano to stipulate requirements and deductions for each portion of the competition. However, those reforms appear to have accomplished little, critics said.

Debate over the effects of politicking by coaches and judges was rekindled at the world championships last March at Vancouver, Canada, when Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio of Italy defeated Anissina and Peizerat, who had skated a more animated and appealing free dance.

The ice dance judging here is sure to receive special scrutiny while the pairs mess still simmers.

The draw for the Olympic ice dance panel was held in early November. The chosen country's skating federation then nominated a total of nine judges and one alternate. The 10 countries were Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Israel, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Lithuania.

The referee will be Alexander Gorshkov of Russia, a former ice dancer who is chairman of the ISU's dance technical committee.

Peter Tchernyshev, who teamed with Naomi Lang to win their fourth consecutive U.S. pairs title last month, said he believes the panel will be impartial.

"In my opinion, the controversy will not compromise the ice dance event," he said. "We believe the ice dance judges will remember the oaths they have taken at the opening ceremony and we believe ice dance will be judged fairly."

The red-haired Anissina and lion-maned Peizerat are slight favorites, based on their victories over Fusar-Poli and Margaglio at the European championships. They lost to Bourne and Kraatz at the Grand Prix Final after having defeated the Canadians at the Trophee Lalique competition.

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