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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Scandal Tarnishes Olympic Gold

Author: Drew Pugsley

I deeply regret to inform the Middlebury College community that my dear friend Estye Ross '04.5 and I will not be writing again this semester because Estye has sold her soul to the Theater Department. However, Thas been gracious enough to keep me on as Olympic figure skating analyst.

The recent events that have occurred at the Olympics concerning the pairs figure skating competition has virtually the entire world up in arms. With a nearly flawless performance and fairy tale comeback the Canadian pair of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier captivated Salt Lake City as well as the entire world. And they came in second??? Let me start out by saying that there is no doubt in my expert opinion that the Canadian pair did indeed deserve the gold medal. That being said I would also like to remind everyone that the Olympic games were first played with the spirit of competition in mind and the best man always won. Many Olympic events, however, have become competitions between the West and the former Soviet bloc and figure skating is no exception. When Salé and Pelletier received their duplicate gold medals they became the first non-Soviet or Russian pair to do so since 1960. The Canadians and the Russians are co-gold medalists and everyone is happy, right? Of course not.

The principles of fair play, competition and sportsmanship upon which the Olympics were originally founded would best have been served if the Russian pair had simply acknowledged defeat from the beginning and accepted the silver medals initially awarded to the Canadian pair. All of them should just be proud and honored to have been able to participate. However, the first Olympic Games took place many thousands of years ago and believe it or not, the Russians accepted the gold medals without batting an eye (not that I would have done any different) and are now outraged at having to share the most revered prize in their field. Their victory, however, will never be as sweet as the Russian pair who won at Nagano four years ago or the Canadian pair who won in 1960 because of all of the controversy surrounding it.

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, however, was pressured and this controversy did happen. The International Skating Union (ISU) and Olympic officials have set an incredible precedent by allowing the two pairs to share first place. Salé and Pelletier claim that they entered a complaint because of problems with the system and I would love to believe them. Hopefully the ISU investigation will delve deeper into finding a real, effective solution to this problem.

Lately Le Gougne has been alleging that she was pressured not by her own federation, as she originally indicated, but by the Canadians. In a recent interview she uncovered tactics used by Canada as well as other countries to get votes. She specifically cited a party to which she was invited thrown by the Canadians in order to win the vote of a Polish judge; she also claimed that as soon as she had been announced as a judge for the competition "people were so kind, so attentive." As I am sure that vote trading has occurred before in the sport and in the Olympics, it leaves us two plausible solutions: either the judging process must be completely overhauled or the participants in the figure skating event have to accept it as the way things are. Is it possible that figure skating, of all sports, is just corrupted and that the system cannot be recovered?

Though the true spirit of the very first Olympics may not be salvageable in this particular disaster, at least the final results were fair. I mean, all four of these competitors achieved their dream: winning the Olympic gold. Right? I am sure that my familiar sarcastic tone is pretty obvious; this new precedent is obviously not so simple and not enough. It seems to me that one of the two should have been declared the champions.

Though the early Olympians competed simply for the love of competition, in the 21st century a tie would open the door for too much future controversy and reopen some closed doors from the past. Many of these skaters earn their livelihood through endorsements and other financial benefits of skating and if they are unfairly judged by anyone, changes should be attempted. While Salé and Pelletier have most definitely gotten their 15 minutes, awarding duplicate gold medals so as not to punish one group and in order to be fair to another is absolutely not the answer. Most importantly, this controversy should teach the athletes to remember the true Olympic spirit and be happy to have the honor of competing and representing their respective countries.