A top Olympic official is dismissing allegations of a judging scandal in figure skating as nothing more than “gossip with no grounds.”
Speaking to reporters in Sochi on Sunday, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the IOC would not be looking into the alleged judging scandal, and that it is the responsibility of figure skating’s governing body to examine the claims.
He shrugged off a report in French sports magazine L’Equipe, which cited an unnamed source alleging the United States and Russia had struck a pact to award each country’s skaters favourable marks in certain events, in order to secure gold.
“I’ve seen absolutely no evidence apart from what I’ve read in the [L’Equipe] and we’ll treat that as a bit of gossip with no grounds,” Adams said.
“Of course we take it seriously, but having read the report I didn’t see anything other than an unnamed person making an allegation.”
His comments came ahead of the conclusion of the figure skating team event on Sunday, with Russia securing gold with three skates to go. Canada won silver and the U.S. bronze.
According to the report, the pact would have seen the U.S. judge award favourable marks to Russia in the team event, where the U.S. is not a contender for gold, in exchange for the Russian judge boosting scores for Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the main ice dance event next week.
The pact, if true, would essentially lock down gold for each country in those events, while also blocking Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from repeating their gold medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Moir and Virtue are in a race for the gold in Sochi with their American rivals. Though the Canadians won the ice dance in Vancouver, they ceded last year’s world championship to the American duo. It’s about as close a battle as figure skating will see in Sochi.
Though unproven, the scandal has added yet another blemish to a sport that has long faced serious credibility problems over its judging.
So far the International Skating Union has been silent on the matter.
“It needs to get to the [skating] federation, it’s not an IOC matter,” Adams said. “It’s not my job to look into the evidence. It should go to the skating federation and they should look into it.”
The allegations of a judging fix were one of two scandals that have erupted around the team figure skating event, which is the first competition in figure skating at these Olympics.
On Saturday, Canadian team officials wondered aloud if their athletes were being unfairly targeted for random doping tests, since Canada has had seven athletes tested in Sochi, which they said was significantly more than other countries, based on conversations with officials from other nations. Two Canadian skaters were tested at midnight a few days ago, while Kaetlyn Osmond was awoken during her pre-skate nap Saturday afternoon and ordered to submit to a doping test.
Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director, said it is extremely rare for a figure skater to be tested prior to skating on competition day. It is standard for skaters to be tested after their competitions, and skaters know they can be called for random testings at any time, but those usually happen on training days.
“I’ve never seen one on a day of competition,” Mr. Slipchuk said. “Our skaters don’t complain about it...It’s just interesting.”
Canada is chasing the Russians for the gold medal in the team figure skating event. Heading into the final day, the Russians appear poised to take the gold, with 47 points. Canada is second with 41. To make up that gap Canada would have to skate nearly perfect in all three events on Sunday – the long program in mens, women’s and ice dance – and hope the Russians falter badly.
The athletes have been reluctant to talk about the allegations of a judging scandal, with most of them saying they are focused on what happens on the ice.
“That’s sort of out of our control,” Virtue said after her performance in the team short program Saturday. “We have to take care of our job on the ice and focus on the task at hand.”
U.S. ice dance skater Davis called the report “unfortunate” but said it wouldn’t affect her. “We’re so focused on our jobs and we don’t know a lot about anything else,” she said. “We’re confident that what we’re putting out onto the ice kind of speaks for itself and that’s kind of what we stand behind.”
The possibility of another high profile judging scandal involving Canada brings back memories of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics where Canadian pairs team Jamie Salé and David Pelletier lost the gold to Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze amid a series of puzzling scores for presentation and technical merit.
French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne later revealed she had been pressured by French figure skating officials to award the Russians high marks, in exchange for similar treatment for France’s ice dance team.
Salé and Pelletier were eventually awarded the gold medal, along with the Russians, but figure skating was irrevocably tainted in the eyes of fans and sponsors. The sport would also spend several years trying to repair its reputation following the arrest of a Russian mobster who was accused of organizing the scandal, though he was never charged.
Figure skating has attempted to revamp its scoring system to make the judging more objective. Among the changes, marks are now anonymous under a so-called “blind judging” system designed to prevent specific judges from being exposed to pressure. And when final scores are tabulated, the highest and lowest marks are dropped, in order to weed out heavily inflated scores, or unusually low marks.
However, there are questions as to whether the new system has done what was intended. Critics of the new method argue the anonymous judging system actually reduces transparency on figure skating judging, making it impossible to know which judges potentially torque their scores.