By Phil Hersh
Tribune Olympic Bureau
6:56 PM EST, February 21, 2014
SOCHI, Russia — Ottavio Cinquanta of Italy, president of figure skating’s international federation, was unaware of a controversy over the results in the Olympic women’s event that ended Thursday with Adelina Sotnikova of Russia beating defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea.
Alexander Lakernik of Russia, head of the three-member technical panel that helped determine those results, knew the decision had become a “big issue” but insisted such questions were to be expected.
That two leading officials of the International Skating Union would react in that way illustrates a gap between perception and reality that the federation makes no attempt to reduce. Its failure to give explanations for even those parts of the judging that are the most objective, such as which mistakes lower a spin’s base level, further undermines the sport’s shaky credibility.
Both spoke exclusively to the Tribune on Friday, Cinquanta by telephone, Lakernik at his hotel in the Sochi Olympic Park.
At a time when dissemination of such explanations to a wide audience never has been easier, Cinquanta clearly did not grasp the need to provide it in a timely manner.
“I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” was his answer to the request for official rationales behind the scores.
Because he had been on the judging panel, Lakernik declined to identify those reasons without Cinquanta’s approval.
“I’m not hiding anything,” Lakernik said.
So thousands of TV viewers around the world are left feeling Sotnikova won because the event took place in Russia. It makes no difference that a TV screen does not provide an accurate impression of the performance as seen by judges at rinkside. Outraged viewers smell rancid home cooking.
“It could be the judging was more favorable for Russian skaters,” said 1984 Olympic pairs champion Oleg Vasiliev, a Russian. “But Adelina skated great, and she deserved it.”
Cinquanta was stunned to be told some are likening what happened in the women’s event to the 2002 judging scandal in Salt Lake City.
“I don’t understand the use of this word,” he said.
The comparison is, for now, quite a stretch. In Salt Lake City, a judge revealed she had been pressured into a vote-trading deal that would help guarantee a Russian victory in pairs for a French win in ice dance. In the wake of that, the International Olympic Committee ordered the ISU to award a second pairs gold medal to the Canadians who had finished second in pairs, in which Lakernik was the assistant referee.
Spokesman Mark Adams said Friday morning the IOC would take no action in this case without a “credible complaint” made to the skating federation. The ISU released a statement just before midnight saying it had not received any official protest.
“Any result in this way would be questionable because there were great performances who could be considered better or worse from a different angle,'' Lakernik said. “Yuna Kim could be first or Carolina Kostner (the Italian who was third) could be first, and it would be the same story. Some people would think another result is correct. But the result is the product of many details.”
The details that raised the most eyebrows involved the component scores, which evaluate five areas under specific criteria but seem as subjective as the artistic impression scores in the old 6.0 system.
In her previous four competitions this season, Sotnikova’s free skate component scores were, in order, 60.31, 64.65, 60.47 and 69.60. The Olympic judges gave her 74.41, just .09 behind Kim, clearly the more aesthetically pleasing skater.
“If you skate well, you are marked well, and (Sotnikova) definitely did the performance of her life,” said Lakernik, whose job in determining the results did not involve the component scores.
The presence of two people on the judging panel, which grades the execution of the elements and components, understandably has fueled criticism.
One judge, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to Valentin Piseev, former president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation and its current general director. Another, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, was suspended for one year for being part of a result-fixing affair in 1998.
One is a clear conflict of interest. The other is akin to having a bank rehire an employee caught for embezzling.
“Would you rather have an idiot acting as a judge than a good one who is a relative of the manager of a federation?” Cinquanta said. “It is far more important to have a good judge than a possible conflict of interest.
“I can’t suspend a person for life for a minor violation. (Balkov) is a matter for the Ukraine federation because they chose to send him.”
That is another issue. Judges have no independence because national federations train them and decide which ones to nominate for big assignments.
None of this is new, but the new judging system — implemented after Salt Lake City — was supposed to make the results less debatable.
To Scott Hamilton, the 1984 singles champion and a TV commentator, the controversy is the best thing that could have happened.
“You’re going to be around the water cooler and everybody is going to have an opinion, and I love it because it will make everyone care about the sport again,” he said, laughing.
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