Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Time for ISU, Cinquanta to answer for sham in Sochi

by Jack Gallagher

Good news arrived on Friday with the announcement that the Korean Olympic Committee and Korean Skating Union will file a formal complaint about the judging in the women’s free skate at the Sochi Games last month which saw defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim robbed of a second gold medal.

The grievance will be lodged with the International Skating Union’s disciplinary committee. The KOC and KSU said in a joint statement that the judging of Kim was “unreasonable and unfair” on Feb. 20.

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

No doubt the ISU and the IOC thought the controversy over the outrageous decision to give the gold to Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova would die down.

I’m afraid not.

ISU rules allow for complaints to the disciplinary committee within 60 days of the competition in question.

“By making it official that the judging was unfair,” the statement read, “KOC and KSU will do our best to prevent any unfair incidents to Korean athletes in the international skating and sports world.”

Bravo.

Kim’s agency, All That Sports, issued a statement the same day in which the star said, “I respect the decision (to file the complaint) and humbly accept its purpose.”

In a move that displayed both wisdom and tact, the KOC and KSU studied the rules at length with the assistance of legal counsel and noted the presence of judges Alla Shekhovtseva and Yuri Balkov as violations of the IOC’s Code of Ethics.

In addition to citing Shekhovtseva and Balkov by name, the complaint also referred to “suspicions of bias by other judges.”

Shekhovtseva is Russian. She is the wife of Valentin Piseev, the former president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation and its current general director.

Shekhovtseva added insult to injury for Kim by being seen hugging Sotnikova shortly after the announcement of the South Korean’s scores.

So much for the illusion of impartiality.

Balkov is from the Ukraine. He was suspended for one year for being part of an attempt to fix the ice dancing competition at the 1998 Nagano Games. The fact that he was in a position to be judging at the Olympics again is a complete disgrace.

Following the judging scandal in pairs at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, the ISU changed its rules in 2005, but as the result in Sochi illustrated the opportunity for bias is still a clear and present danger.

With four judges from former Eastern bloc countries on the nine-member panel for the free skate, the chance to influence the outcome was obvious. That a Russian was also head of the technical panel — which decides scoring on jumps, spins and step sequences — that evening only compounded matters.

The result was so over the top that it was farcical. Sotnikova, who had never even won a Grand Prix event, much less medaled at a major international competition as a senior, beat Kim by five points in the free skate.

Even more ridiculous is that Sotnikova’s score in the free skate was the second highest in history, behind only Kim’s at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

It was a complete joke.

The New York Times tried to quickly frame the narrative by using the opinion of a single skating coach in a story entitled “How Sotnikova Beat Kim, Move By Move,” but further analysis by experts have shown the piece to be flawed.

Just to put the score Sotnikova received in the free skate (149.95) into context, consider that it was more than 18 points better than her previous career high (131.63) recorded in January.

That is some improvement, isn’t it?

Almost hard to believe.

You got that right.

What I will never forget is the courage that Kim displayed that night in Sochi. She no doubt sensed that the fix was in before she took the ice, but she never even blinked as she went through her routine knowing the majority of the crowd was rooting against her.

It was a display of heart and fortitude by a true champion. A legend in the sport.

More than two million people signed a change.org petition in the following days asking for the result to be overturned and 92 percent of those in an ESPN poll believed Kim was the winner.

There is little likelihood that the result will be reversed and Kim awarded the gold she rightfully deserved, but the greater issue is the future of the sport. If the kind of nonsense we saw in Sochi continues, the damage is going to be irreparable.

This is why the KOC and KSU are to be saluted for pointing out the hypocrisy of what happened to Kim. Like many, they don’t want to see it happen again.

The 75-year-old Ottavio Cinquanta, a former speed skater who has lorded over the ISU for 20 years, has clearly overstayed his welcome. His tenure reminds some of that of late IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch, with transparency lacking and conflict of interests exponential.

So clueless is Cinquanta, that when contacted by the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersh the day after the women’s free skate in Sochi, the Italian claimed to be unaware that there was a controversy.

When Hersh asked for a legitimate explanation of how the scores could have come out the way they did, Cinquanta’s answer was priceless.

“I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” he told Hersh.

Good grief.

When Hersh called to Cinquanta’s attention the presence of Balkov on the judging panel, the ISU boss had a handy excuse. He blamed the Ukrainian Skating Federation.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cinquanta referred to Balkov’s fix attempt in Nagano “a minor violation.”

And you wonder why some people have trouble taking figure skating seriously.

It has been more than 40 years now since a former figure skater was in charge of the ISU, but it is high time that it happened.

Cinquanta announced last October that he would step down in 2016, but it is quite clear that the organization desperately needs new leadership now.

It seems to me that the worlds would be as good a place as any for Cinquanta to take responsibility for what happened in Sochi and stand down with immediate effect.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

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