With colorful characters, beautiful clothes, juicy rivalries and whispers of behind-the-scenes shadiness, figure skating was the original reality show, commanding attention well after the Olympic flame was extinguished, and turning skaters into millionaires.
Then came the French judge, swathed in fur and instructed to vote “in a certain way.”
Ten years after the pairs judging scandal rocked the Salt Lake City Olympics, some say figure skating has yet to recover. Interest in skating in the United States has faded, and critics say a judging system adopted to prevent cheating has not only failed but has stripped the beauty from the sport.
“I really don’t think it was that worth it, all the hubbub after Salt Lake City,” Johnny Weir said.
Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze initially won the pairs gold over Canada’s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier by the slightest of margins, despite Sikharulidze stepping out of a double axel. But judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne tearfully told her fellow judges afterward that she had been pressured by French federation president Didier Gailhaguet to put the Russians first.
“It’s surreal that it happened to us. I never thought anything like that – big stories happen to others, I’ve never been involved in such a thing,” Pelletier said.
Le Gougne later recanted, but the damage was done. As the scandal threatened to overshadow the rest of the games, new IOC president Jacques Rogge told the International Skating Union something had to be done.
On Feb. 15, four days after the pairs final, the Canadians were awarded duplicate gold medals. Three days after that, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta unveiled a proposal to replace the century-old 6.0 mark with a system that would assign a point value to every technical element.