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Canadian Skating Pair Awarded Gold

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Canadian figure skating pair was awarded a gold medal Friday after the sport's top officials uncovered misconduct in the biggest judging scandal in Winter Olympics history.

The International Skating Union indefinitely suspended Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the French judge who says she was pressured by her own federation to give the Russian pair the gold.

``She acted in a way that was not adequate to guarantee both pairs equal condition,'' ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta said. ``We have declared misconduct.

``The investigation is not concluded, but we have got enough evidence to take the first decision.''

The highly unusual move allows Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze to keep their gold medal, which they narrowly won during Monday night's free skate program.

The French judge told the ISU she had been ``submitted to a certain pressure'' from her federation and she has signed a statement about how she reached her vote, Cinquanta said. There was no evidence of Russian involvement, he added.

``This pressure resulted in putting this judge in a condition not to give the gold medal'' to the Canadians, Cinquanta said, refusing to give further details about her motivation for voting for the Russians.

Cinquanta said he hoped to present Jamie Sale and David Pelletier with the gold medal on Thursday before the start of the women's long program.

``Justice was made,'' Pelletier said. ``It's a good feeling.''

Sale said she hopes the investigation goes even further.

``For the future of our sport this has to be fixed,'' Sale said. ``The truth still has to come out.''

The International Olympic Committee's executive board voted 7-1 on Friday morning, with one abstention, to accept the gold-medal recommendation from the skating union.

``We took a position that is one of justice and fairness for the athletes,'' IOC president Jacques Rogge said.

Russian member Vitaly Smirnov abstained from the vote, while He Zhenliang of China voted against the recommendation, according to an Olympic source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The head of the Russian Figure Skating Federation criticized the IOC's move.

``This is an unprecedented decision that turned out to be a result of pressure by the North American press, and turned out in favor of the fanatically loyal'' fans, Valentin Piseyev told Russia's NTV television.

``You have seen how the public reacts to even the tiniest mistakes of our athletes, and how they absolutely don't notice when the Canadians fall or when the Americans fall.''

The controversy began when Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were awarded a 5-4 decision over the Canadians at the free skate, surprising many observers. Sale and Pelletier skated flawlessly while the Russians made a few technical errors.

The victory allowed the Russians to extend their streak of winning gold in the pairs in every Olympics since 1964.

It is the fourth time the IOC has awarded a second gold medal.

``We hope it doesn't happen again,'' Rogge said.

The move came just hours before the case was to be heard by an international arbitration panel for sport. That hearing was canceled.

Since Monday, there have been reports that Le Gougne was pressured to cast her vote for the Russians. On Wednesday night, Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French Olympic team, told The Associated Press that Le Gougne had been ``under pressure, which pushed her to act in a certain way'' when she voted.

But he maintained the pressure did not come from his federation.

The ISU had planned to review the scoring at a meeting next week, but the deal Friday allowed the matter to be settled in the swift manner the IOC had urged.

Canadian officials said all along they didn't want the Russians stripped of the gold medal, but they believed Sale and Pelletier also should be rewarded if evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered.

In 1993, the IOC awarded a second gold medal in synchronized swimming from the Barcelona Games to Canada's Sylvie Frechette. The IOC's executive board agreed that Frechette was placed second because of a judging error and should be awarded a gold.

The decision came after the Canadian swimming federation protested because a Brazilian judge was not allowed to correct the 8.7 score she mistyped into her computer. The intended 9.7 would have given Frechette the gold. The IOC's decision did not affect Kristen Babb-Sprague of the United States, who was originally awarded the gold and kept her medal.

02/15/02 16:28

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