Originally created 02/15/02

Move over pairs skaters, here come the ice dancers



SALT LAKE CITY -- When he considers the controversy that has consumed figure skating at the Olympics, American ice dancer Charles Sinek shrugs his shoulders.

Ice dancing, after all, wrote the book on judging controversies.

"The credibility of our sport has been in question ever since it started," Sinek said. "Ice dance has always been totally controversial. We knew that going into the sport, so this is nothing new to us."

So far, the story of the Salt Lake City Olympics is how judging improprieties may have helped the Russian pairs team win a gold medal.

Stay tuned, though. The ice dancers are just warming up.

Competition opens Friday with compulsories, worth one-fifth of the total score. And get this: the Canadians and Russians are in contention.

No wonder some in the ice dancing community feel jittery.

"Everyone is worried now," said Nikolai Morozov, a choreographer who coaches Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz.

He would know.

Bourne and Kraatz won a controversial decision in December at the Grand Prix finals. At the meet in Canada, they beat gold medal favorites Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France as well as world champions Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maruizio Margaglio of Italy.

At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Bourne and Kraatz claimed Russian and French judges conspired to deny them a medal. Anissina, who was born in Russia, and Peizerat won the bronze.

The combination of Russian and Canadian skaters, along with a French judge, has been combustible in Salt Lake City. Bourne already sounds cynical, and who can blame her?

"I'm confident we are going to skate our best the whole competition," she said. "Beyond that, anything is out of our control."

Long before Tonya vs. Nancy made figure skating look like boxing in sequins, there was something goofy about ice dancing.

Pairs and singles skaters are judged on required elements such as jumps, spins and spirals. Dance couples are judged on how close and fast they skate together, as well as their rhythm and footwork.

You won't see throws and jumps in dance, where the emphasis is on music and artistry. Because interpretation goes a long way, ice dancing judges have more wiggle room when they fill out their ballots.

"Judges are spectators in a way, so they also have subjective opinions," U.S. performer Peter Tchernyshev said.

Thank goodness, then, for the monotonous compulsories, worth 20 percent of a couple's total score. Each dance team performs the same steps to the same two pieces of music, which many feel bolsters objectivity.

"I don't think it's a predetermined event," Tchernyshev said. "It's pretty clear that we have different levels of ice dancers, but you still have required elements you have to perform."

Let's hope he's right.

Elsewhere at the Olympics, the U.S. men's hockey team opens play against Finland. It's the first time the Americans skate on home ice in the games since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team won gold in Lake Placid.

Rather than discussing the larger rink used in international play or how they'll match up against NHL teammates from other countries, the U.S. players are still defending their behavior in the Nagano dormitories.

Hours after the Americans failed to qualify for the medal round in Japan, chairs were broken in the team suite at the Olympic Village. Someone threw a fire extinguisher from the fifth floor into a courtyard.

"We are who we are," forward Bill Guerin of the Boston Bruins said. "We've always carried ourselves well. We've always represented our NHL teams well and the country well. I don't think we have to change at all."

Nobody ever admitted guilt or identified the culprits. Assistant coach Lou Vairo defended the Nagano players as "good guys" and said the dorm story isn't news four years later.

"I'll bet half the guys in this room have busted a few chairs when your wife shows you the credit card bill," Vairo said at a news conference, sitting in a $675 chair.

Chris Klug will compete in the snowboard parallel giant slalom, continuing a remarkable comeback from his liver transplant 19 months ago.

"What I've been through has definitely put things in perspective," Klug said after becoming the only American in the men's finals. "But it's my dream to win a gold, and hopefully I'll get that done tomorrow."

Lisa Kosglow races in the women's final.

In doubles luge, Brian Martin and Mark Grimmette are trying to improve on their bronze medal in Nagano. Chris Thorpe and Clay Ives have momentum after placing second at a race last month.

Also on tap is the women's 5-kilometer cross-country pursuit race and the U.S. men's curling team competes against France. The team jumping and 20-kilometer race in Nordic combined were postponed to Saturday and Sunday, respectively.