Originally created 02/24/02

Figure skating provides surprises and controversy, as usual



SALT LAKE CITY - Figure skating again became the Winter Olympics' most tempestuous sport, bookended by stunners.

When Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier nailed an almost flawless long program to apparently end a 40-year Soviet domination, the biggest scandal in figure skating history resulted when Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were awarded first place. It was a decision that almost every at the Salt Lake Ice Palace questioned.

Then, it was revealed the French judge was pressured into a possible vote-trading deal involving pairs and ice dancing and the resulting scandal clouded the first week of the Games. The IOC's decision to award the Canadians a dual gold medal set the stage for a series of appeals and protests over decisions in other sports over the course of the Games.

It also led to the International Skating Union recommending major revisions in how judging is conducted.

"It's over for us, but not for our sport," Pelletier said.

Alexi Yagudin returned a bit of normalcy by winning the men's gold medal with American Timothy Goebel a suprising third. French pairs Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won the gold in ice dancing as expected.

Then, Sarah Hughes, 16, the third-ranked American woman, closed the skating with one of the biggest upsets in history, landing seven triple combinations and vaulting from fourth to first after the free skate. In the process, she outskated favorites Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya for gold.

"I never thought I had a chance for a medal, much less gold," Hughes said. "But I said to myself, 'this is the Olympics and I'm No. 3 on my team, so I'm going to let everything go.'"