Taking an Ice Bath


June 06, 2007
The President’s New Clothes

By Philip Hersh

Remember the judging scandal in pairs figure skating at the Salt Lake Olympics? The ones that had our neighbors in the Great White North screaming they wuz robbed? The one the Cryin’ Canadians might have headed off had one of their own spoken up three months earlier as he was obligated to by the sport’s rules?

Dereliction of duty apparently is a qualification for holding high office in the Canadian figure skating association, formally known as Skate Canada. Otherwise, how do you explain the recent election of Benoit Lavoie to a full four-year term as the Skate Canada president?

M’sieu Lavoie had become something of an interim president last year when his predecessor resigned before being forced out. Now he is the man in full at a skating federation that looked at everyone’s behavior but its own when it cried bloody murder at Salt Lake City.

Lavoie was in the thick of the stuff in Utah. Some of it still is on his shoes.

He was among the judges on the notorious panel that made Russians Elena Bereznaia and Anton Sikharulidze the gold medalists over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier by a 5-4 vote. One of the five pro-Russian judges, France’s Marie-Reine Le Gougne, allegedly dealt her vote to ensure that a French couple would win the ice dance.

One of those who reported Le Gougne’s presumed misconduct to the International Skating Union was Lavoie, who had (surprise, surprise) placed Sale and Pelletier first in the decisive free skate.

Lavoie not only mentioned what Le Gougne allegedly said about being pressured to vote for the Russians in a Salt Lake hotel lobby after the Feb. 11, 2002 pairs final but also recounted what he had heard at Skate Canada in November 2001. (Le Gougne later claimed the Canadian federation was trying to pressure her to help its pair).

“At Skate Canada 2001,” Lavoie wrote in a Feb. 12, 2002 letter that I have seen, “Marie-Reine Le Gougne who was a referee of an event at that time mentioned to me during a social evening that she was asked by a very good friend of hers, Russian judge Marina Sanaia, to favor the Russian team Bereznaia/Sikharulidze to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games 2002. . . . I told her that I was hoping that in her heart she will judge what she will see.”

Lavoie’s failure to report that incident for three months violated Section 125 (3) of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations, which says, “Any official or judge at an . . . international competition who learns of improper or irregular conduct or proposals concerning judges or judging of an event must immediately report the details to the referee of that event and to the president of the ISU. Such report must be submitted in writing before the end of the competition.”

The ISU, in its hurry to be done with the controversy and attempt to reform the sport, sanctioned Le Gougne and former French federation president Didier Gailhaguet but never called Lavoie on the carpet to explain why he remained silent until it was convenient to bring up the past.

Some folks, as the late Chicago alderman Paddy Bauler once said, “ain’t ready for reform.”

Not in 2002, nor five years later, when Skate Canada rolled out the red carpet for Lavoie, sweeping the past under it.