February 8, 2006
Is the fix in?The judging scandal that rocked figure skating in Salt Lake could happen again and this time we'd never know
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
TURIN, Italy -- Can it happen again?
Can the fix be in at another Olympics in figure skating? And if it is, will anybody be able to tell this time?
And will fixing Olympic figure skating four years ago have the same sort of effect at Torino 2006 as, oh, that Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan's knee-whacking had on TV numbers in Lillehammer a dozen years ago? Will it help more than hurt TV ratings?
NBC, despite the shame of the Games in Salt Lake, is back making figure skating the focus of their coverage, which cost them $57 billion to obtain from 2000 to 2012.
They've even hired recently married Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the Edmonton Royal Glenora skaters who ended up in the centre of the storm in Salt Lake 2002, as a pair of lightning rods for their coverage.
And one skater in the pairs event which begins Saturday went on the record here yesterday as saying he thinks what happened four years ago is going to draw viewers to the tube like bugs to bright lights.
"I don't think what happened four years ago is going to lessen this event at these Olympics, I think it will have exactly the opposite effect," said John Baldwin.
"I was there in Salt Lake. I sat in the first row. I watched it happen. And I don't think there will be lower ratings than before. I think there will be more media interest because of it and that is a good thing," added the American.
After the Salt Lake 2002 scandal involving the French judge scoring the Russians higher than Sale and Pelletier in pairs in a trade for a Russian judge ensuring the French dance duo would win, figure skating will be under the magnifying glass again here.
NBC is still going to promote the sport for all it's worth. And the IOC still has figure skating as the centre ring of the five-ring circus with hockey, downhill skiing and the others still second-class citizens. Figure skating was awarded the big permanent arena while hockey has two smaller totally temporary arenas which will disappear from the face of the earth two weeks after the Olympics.
While figure skating has had a new judging system in place for two years and has witnessed a dramatic drop in interest since Salt Lake in both Canada and the United States, NBC believes they'll all be back for the Olympics.
Most of the fans who will watch don't know that the whistle-blowers who exposed the fix are nowhere to be found in the sport anymore and that almost all of those involved in the fix are still on the scene.
They also don't know that the radical reform of the sport's judging system includes judging anonymity.
Four years ago, when it happened, I was able to pound the following paragraph minutes after the event, completely confident that I had it right:
"The Canadians were hosed. They were screwed, blued and tattooed and if you want to point the finger at the fixer it was Miss Marie Reine Le Gougne of France."
I slugged the column "pairs fix."
If it happened here again, I couldn't write that. No way. I couldn't finger the fixer. Wouldn't have a clue. The new system fixes the fixing from being exposed. Individual judges and their marks are no longer revealed.
And while most of the skaters claim to prefer the new system, which eliminated the 6.0 scale of markings for a much more complicated system involving scores for separate jumps, the once-every-four-year fan isn't going to relate to the numbers.
The aforementioned Baldwin and his partner Rena Inoue come here as the flavour of the month, if nowhere near the favourites, as a result of becoming the first pair in history to execute a throw triple Axel. This is apparently worth 7.2 points as opposed to 3.3 for a throw double Axel under the new judging system.
"Fans will figure it out," said Baldwin.
I don't know. I still haven't.
If another fix is going to be in here this year, don't look to the pairs. The Russians won this event 10 straight times from 1964 to 1998 before Sale and Pelletier won the gold. And people in Russia will tell you they've won it 11 straight times. You forgot that they never did take the golds away from Yelena Berezhanaya and Anton Sikhaurulidze, they just came up with golds to give to Sale and Pelletier, too.
Russians are favoured to be back to owning this podium again without having to rig it to put their pair on top of it.