OLYMPICS: THE PIVOTAL MEETING; French Judge's Early Tears Indicated Controversy to Come
By SELENA ROBERTS
Published: February 17, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 16— About 10 yards past a security checkpoint along the path of a cinder-block hall inside the Salt Lake Ice Center, a panel of nine judges filtered into a room for a standard postcompetition meeting last Tuesday morning.
Twelve hours removed from the controversial moment when gold medallions were draped over Russia's Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, instead of Canada's Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, the judges assembled for a review of the decision under Ron Pfenning, the head referee.
At first, it was business as usual as the judges sat around a table, poring over marks for several skaters, according to two high-ranking figure skating officials who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity. The judges debated the scores for various pairs, including those of the Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman. Watching a video of their long program, judges argued over why Ina and Zimmerman finished fifth and not fourth. It was all normal give-and-take, according to the officials.
Then the meeting took a bizarre turn. Pfenning, known as a gentle and meticulous caretaker of skating, handed each judge a piece of paper with a passage about honesty and integrity, officials said.
As each person passed back the pieces of paper, the judge Marie Reine Le Gougne began to sob, officials said.
''It was a rambling avalanche of words,'' Pfenning said when reached by telephone. ''I hadn't asked her a question. She had been teary-eyed through a lot of the meeting. It was an outburst: 'You don't understand. You don't understand. We're under an awful lot of pressure. My federations, my president Didier, I had to put the Russians first.' ''
Didier Gailhaguet is the president of the French Figure Skating Federation. Pfenning said that when Le Gougne called out Gailhaguet's name, he knew he had to report the incident to the International Skating Union. ''I never gave it a second thought,'' Pfenning said.
For several minutes, the wail from Le Gougne grew so loud that one official said a person in the room stripped tape over the crack in the door in an apparent soundproofing effort.
The two high-ranking skating officials said no one embraced Le Gougne, the stylish 40-year-old Frenchwoman, as she cried out. Many of the judges, officials said, saw her as a pathetic figure. Some had seen her crying in the same way while standing in the hotel lobby after the competition. They already knew why Le Gougne was distraught, they said: her conscience had caught up to her.