U.S., Russia colluding against Canadian figure skaters?
Canadian Ice Dance pairs (L-R) Mitchell Islam, Alexandra Paul, Andrew Poje, Kaitlyn Weaver, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue pose for a photo during a press conference on February 6, 2014, in Sochi. (AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)
Figure skating is one of the most popular winter sports for a reason. What other sport features such a unique blend of artistry and athleticism?
On the other side, given the subjective nature of the judging, figure skating can also be infuriating and ripe for ridicule.
Few sports have spawned as many controversies as figure skating, and almost always because of shady judging. The International Skating Union has taken steps over the years to purge cheating from the judges' table, including setting up a points system where skaters get scored on specific elements. Sadly, the ugly side of figure skating has reared it's head again, though nothing illegal or nefarious has yet to be proven or confirmed. Still, a pall was cast over the Iceberg Skating Palace on Saturday with a report that the Russians and the United States have made a secret deal to prop each other up in the Olympic figure skating competition.
The French sports magazine L'Equipe quoted a anonymous "senior Russian coach" who claims the two nations have set up a proposed barter deal to prop each other up in the skating events here in Sochi. The reported deal would see the U.S. help Russia in the new team event while Russia would prop up Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the ice dance event, to the detriment of defending Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Virtue of Canada. The Russians failed to win a gold medal in figure skating at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and vowed to do much better at their home Olympics four years later, so there is tremendous pressure on the Russian skating federation to succeed in Sochi.
When asked for their reaction on the report of a so-called deal, Virtue and Moir were nonchalant and insisted that they weren't worried about being cheated.
"That's sort of out of our control," said Virtue. "It's part of being in a judged sport. There's not much you can do about that.
"Being Canadians, we lived through the Sale and Pelletier (scandal) but the beautiful thing, as an athlete, it's not of our concern," added Moir. "When we sit in the Kiss&Cry and get the marks, the disappointment on our faces is because of our performance and it has nothing to do with the technical panel or the judges.
"We're here for our moment," he added. "And our moment is what Tess and I make on the ice. Our goal is to just to go out there and kind of make a tribute to our career and the training that we've done this year. And make all Canadians and figure skating fans proud."
Virtue and Moir finished second in the team short program to Davis and White on Saturday afternoon but that was due to a number of mistakes in their twizzles not questionable scoring.
Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk was not overly concerned about the judging story either and doesn't believe there is a fix.
"We were made aware of the article from L'Equipe today and we feel it is best not to comment on it," said Slipchuk. "Canada is confident that the results of competition will be determined where they should be, on the ice."
Comments from figure skating officials over an alleged deal were few and far between on Saturday. The International Skating Union prohibits judges from speaking to the media during events.
This latest figure skating controversy smacks of controversies in the past, particularly the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, when French ice dance judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was accused of propping up the Russian duo of Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze ahead of Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Even though the Russians were originally awarded the gold medal, the Canadians were later awarded gold medals of their own after an investigation.
Do you believe the allegations?