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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002/ 10 Adar, 5762

Larry Elder

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Skate-Gate: Politically correct, feel-good outcome

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- SKATEGATE international scandal! Frankly, some of us expected a few eyebrows to raise, when, during a retrospective piece on the 1972 Munich Olympics, NBC referred to the terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes as "commandos." But we digress.

Try and follow the logic of the "resolution" of Skategate.

In a controversial 5-4 decision, the pairs figure-skating judges in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics awarded the gold medal to the Russians, even though the overwhelming majority of viewers and experts felt the Canadians deserved the gold. Outraged viewers and screaming headlines put pressure on the International Olympic Committee to right the wrong. Amid allegations of corruption, the IOC awarded a second gold medal to the Canadian pair. But why? In this case, the French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who voted in favor of the Russian pair, reportedly spoke of "pressure" placed upon her to vote for the Russians. In an interview, the head of the French Ice Sports Federation, Didier Gailhaguet, called the French judge a "fragile person" and "somewhat manipulated."

The next day, however, Gailhaguet "clarified" his remarks, calling his comments "completely misinterpreted." Nevertheless, the International Skating Union suspended the judge following an apparent finding of "misconduct." The suspension, unfortunately for the French federation, also released Le Gougne from the rules that prohibit judges from commenting on decisions. So what did she say in her post-suspension remarks? She admitted pressure, but denied that it influenced her vote. Judge Le Gougne said, "I judged in my soul and conscience. I considered that the Russians were the best ... I never made a deal with an official or a Russian judge." What? The scapegoating of a female judge? Where are the feminists when you need 'em?

Things get more curious. The ISU never clarified the apparent finding of "misconduct." When asked about the finding of "misconduct," Gailhaguet said that rules require judges to report instances of "pressure." This the French judge failed to do, and it was her failure to report the pressure that constituted the finding of misconduct. Oh.

But there's another problem. According to Los Angeles Times sports writer Randy Harvey, Olympic rules already outline the procedure in an instance of misconduct. Under International Skating Union rules, wrote Harvey, "the French judge's marks would have been eliminated and replaced by the alternate judge's marks. In this case, the marks of the alternate judge, who is from the Czech Republic, favored the Canadians. That would have given the Canadians, instead of the Russians, a 5-4 edge." Thus, under the Olympics' own guidelines, the Canadian pair should have won the gold outright, with the Russian pair receiving silver.

But, no, in this let's-make-everybody-happy scenario, the International Olympic Committee apparently trashed its own rules. This looks, more and more, like a reversal of a bad outcome. But what about other bad outcomes?

In the 1988 Seoul, Korea, Olympics, boxer Roy Jones Jr. beat his South Korean opponent like a drum. According to calculations, Jones hit his opponent 86 times to his opponent's 32. In the second round, Jones so battered his opponent that the referee gave the Korean fighter a standing eight-count. Yet, in a stunning 3-2 decision, Jones lost. It was later discovered that the judges were receiving payments from South Korea's boxing federation. Even the IOC eventually called the circumstances suspicious, and, to this day, the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee seeks a gold medal for Jones.

Former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, too, lost his shot at a gold medal in the 1984 games in Los Angeles. During a clinch in that Olympic match, the referee yelled "break," just as Holyfield unleashed a punch, a swing too late to pull back. The blow, delivered a nanosecond after the referee's "break" call, knocked down Holyfield's opponent. The ref disqualified Holyfield, bouncing him from gold to bronze. Most ringside observers questioned the ref's decision. The decision stood.

Where was the outcry?

There's more, plenty more. "In 1932," writes the Los Angeles Times' Harvey, "in Los Angeles, Ralph Metcalfe was forced to run three or four feet farther than his competitors in the 200 meters and finished third. He probably would have won if everyone else hadn't had a head start."

Where was the outcry?

"It's a disgraceful fuss," said Russia's deputy prime minister of the IOC's "solution" to the Canadian-Russian controversy. The deputy prime minister added, "The International Olympic Committee should get to the root of it and not allow American mass media and amateurs give marks to our skaters."

The Russians are right. With this new Olympic precedent - overturning bad decisions - expect challenges to previous outcomes as well as challenges in future contests. This politically correct feel-good outcome, at least initially, brought mostly smiles. But expect the smiles to turn sour as athletes and countries challenge more and more "unjust" decisions.


JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate