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Skaters ask media to leave them alone

David Pelletier and Jamie Sale during a news conference Saturday in Salt Lake.
David Pelletier and Jamie Sale during a news conference Saturday in Salt Lake.  

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier held what they said would be their final news conference Saturday, asking the media to leave them alone a day after Olympic officials awarded them gold medals for their pairs performance.

The Canadians initially were awarded the silver medal in a hotly contested Monday night performance. Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, the Russian duo who won the gold in that freestyle pairs competition, will keep their medals.

"I did feel a little bit of guilt for what happened, but I didn't ask for that," said Pelletier during a news conference. "I am not a criminal, even though when I stepped out of this room yesterday, I felt like one. But all I ask is for my life to be normal again -- but I'm not naive and stupid and think this is going to happen in the next few days."

The original ruling in the figure-skating finals had cast a shadow over the Winter Games since the beginning of the week. Officials disclosed Friday that French figure-skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who was on the panel that scored that competition, will be suspended.

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International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta said Friday that the organization had evidence of misconduct involving Le Gougne. He said the ISU based its decision on a written statement from her, but he declined to elaborate.

"We decided to put the two pairs on an equal footing, and we are not going to start doing the calculations of all the different marks that (were) given," Cinquanta said through an interpreter. "We simply asked the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to give two gold medals."

Controversy and honor

The ISU has not determined the length of Le Gougne's suspension, he said.

The controversy erupted after the Canadians skated a nearly flawless routine Monday that drew cheers from the crowd at the Salt Lake Ice Center. During the Russians' final skate, Sikharulidze bobbled the landing on a double-axel jump. But the Russian pair won the gold in a 5-4 decision that was immediately and loudly booed by the audience.

The controversy intensified after the head of the French Olympic team was quoted as saying Le Gougne was pressured to "act in a certain way."

Le Gougne was suspended because she was approached and pressured and did not report it right away, Olympics authorities said. She can't be a judge in any capacity until the IOC takes further action on her status.

Le Gougne is on a list of ISU judges with the French Federation of Ice Sports. She judged the men's figure-skating event at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and was a judge at the 2000 European Figure Skating Championships in Vienna.

She checked out of her Salt Lake City hotel room Thursday, but it was not known where she went. With her scoring tossed out, the 5-4 decision was changed to 4-4.

"She was submitted to a certain pressure," Cinquanta said, "and we do believe this pressure resulted in putting this judge in a condition not to pronounce, not to vote in an adequate manner."

On Friday, Pelletier and Sale said they were pleased with the IOC decision.

"We're happy that justice was done," Pelletier said. "It doesn't take away anything from (the Russian skaters). It was not something against them. It was something against the system."

Sale said she and Pelletier were "truly honored" to receive the gold medal, but lamented that the controversy has overshadowed other Olympic events.

"That is not what the Olympics are supposed to be about," she said.

The Canadian couple will likely receive their medals in a February 21 ceremony. The award is the first step of an investigation that will continue, Cinquanta said.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who happened to be in Russia on Friday to discuss trade, said: "It's great news."

The skaters "both have shown great class. It was evident to the world they had won the medal they received. I'm very proud of them. It was a great moment for Canadians and a lot of other people. Hallelujah," he said.

West accused of sour grapes

In contrast, many in Russia dislike what they believe is a sour-grapes attitude in the West over the competition.

The Russia media have adopted an indignant tone, resenting the questioning of what is considered a fair victory by the Russian skaters.

Valentin Piseyev, the president of the Federation of Russian Figure Skating, said in Salt Lake City said that the decision had been dictated by serious pressure from the North American media.

He said he regards the Russians as the winners, and that the second gold medal was awarded in a deal that had been done behind closed doors.

The IOC decision comes less than 24 hours after Canadian Olympic officials asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to award the gold medal to Canada's team.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said he did not think the flap would harm the Olympic image or the sport of ice skating, since the resolution came swiftly. He said the decision to award a second medal did not necessarily open the door to reconsider previous controversial decisions.

The International Skating Union had recommended that the IOC award an additional gold medal.

"It's a great day for sport and fair play and equity in the Olympic Games," said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Association. "We frankly climbed a mountain here, and lo and behold we reached the top."

It is the second time the IOC has made such a move in modern Olympic history to correct a judging error. The first, which came after the 1992 summer games, also involved a Canadian athlete: A Brazilian judge mistyped a score as 8.7 when she intended to give Canadian Sylvie Frechette, a synchronized swimmer, a 9.7. The proper score would have allowed the Canadian to win, so a second medal was granted.

That scoring reversal took a year to resolve, and Cinquanta said he believed the public outcry prompted a speedy correction for Monday's decision.

"I must say that public opinion helped a great deal, and I think that is a very positive thing," he said. "There was this push for us to make a quick decision."




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