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Outside the Lines:
Was the Fix In?
Here's the transcript from Show 98 of weekly Outside The Lines - Was the Fix In?
Announcer - February 10, 2002
Bob Ley, host - He is the golden boy of U.S. Olympic hopes. Apolo Ohno is ticketed for national stardom, but with the games under way, the question persists.
Shelly Smith, ESPN correspondent - Is there any doubt in your mind that this race was fixed?
Christopher Needham, Speed Skater - They, in a way, played God, and said -- they orchestrated it.
Ley - Several skaters at the Olympic trials charged that Ohno conspired with another racer to allow their friend to win this race for a berth on the Olympic team.
Ohno vigorously denies the charge.
Apolo Ohno, Olympic athlete - People can think whatever they think, you know, but for me personally, I know the truth.
Ley - An arbitrator agreed, dismissing the allegation. But were witnesses pressured?
Needham - The people that could have or did change their testimony, they had something to lose.
Ley - Today on Outside The Lines, in a race involving the country's biggest Olympic hope, was the fix in?
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.
Ley - Thirty-six hours ago, at the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City, athletes and judges swore allegiance to the Olympic ideal of honest competition. This at a winter games whose very birth was clouded by a bribery scandal that embarrassed the IOC and led to the filing of criminal charges.
Ideals coexist uneasily with the material realities of sport.
So the question of whether several U.S. short-track speed skaters fixed a race at their Olympic trials involves stakes much larger than just the race in question.
The star-maker machinery had already focused on Apolo Anton Ohno, who could win four gold medals. His sport figures to have its profile raised exponentially in the next two weeks. NBC has ticketed the sport for live exposure in prime-time.
It was no accident that Ohno was the very first athlete interviewed on the Friday night telecast of the opening ceremonies.
Again, Ohno has vigorously denied the allegation. The skater who first brought the charge eventually withdrew it. And an arbitrator did exonerate the skaters in question.
But as Shelly Smith reports, a number of people who know the sport, who were at this race, remain convinced the race was fixed.
Smith - Apolo Ohno may still become the superstar of these Olympic games.
But to this day, several U.S. skaters believe Ohno conspired with teammate Rusty Smith to fix a final Olympic qualifying race to allow their friend Shani Davis to win and secure the last spot on the six-man team.
Needham - They, in a way, played God, and said -- they orchestrated it.
Smith - Chris Needham is a longtime U.S. speed skater who didn't make the Olympic team.
He says Apolo Ohno planned the outcome of the race before it happened.
Needham - Apolo mentioned to me that if Shani was in the lead with a lap or two to go, that he wasn't going to pass him, because if he didn't pass him, that would insure that Shani would make the team.
Smith - Adam Riedy, another speed skater not on the team, tells a similar story.
Adam Riedy, Speed Skater - I heard Apolo and Rusty talking, and I just overheard, if Shani is in the lead with three laps to go, let him go.
Smith - Is there any doubt in your mind that this race was fixed?
Riedy - No.
Smith - It was December 22nd, the final Olympic qualifying race. Four skaters competed - Shani Davis, Apolo Ohno, Ron Biondo and Rusty Smith.
Ohno, who had easily won each of his previous seven qualifying races, later said that he took it easy in that final race to avoid injury.
Needham - Shani worked his way to the front, and Rusty worked his way into second, and Apolo went to third and Ronnie was in fourth. Ronnie tried to pass a couple of times, and each time he passed to move up, Apolo, like that, passed him right back, immediately, with ease.
If he was tired, like he said he was, the smartest strategy for him would have been for him to just stay in the back, which would have been fourth place, and not checking all the time to see, you know, where the person is behind him. You can just stay relaxed, because if you're always checking and what-not, looking back and looking back, that could set you up to fall.
Riedy - His thing was, he wasn't going to try it all, yet he passed Ron four times during that race. That doesn't make sense to me.
Smith - During the race, what were you saying to yourself?
Riedy - Wow.
Smith - Yeah.
Riedy - I couldn't believe what was happening.
Smith - The two skaters content that in order to protect Shani Davis' lead, Apolo Ohno kept Ron Biondo from moving up in the race and that Rusty Smith, who spent most of the race in second, deliberately stayed behind Davis as well.
Needham - I saw it unfold, that, with a couple of laps to go, Shani was in the lead, and Apolo was not passing him, just like he said in the locker room. And I was absolutely shocked. I was like, wow. Like, I couldn't believe this was happening.
This is the Olympics, which is supposed to represent something. A lot of people thought it was fairly obvious, what had happened, and everyone was just extremely shocked that it happened.
Smith - The results of the race set off a series of events.
In finishing fourth, Ron Biondo missed out on a chance to skate individually at the Olympics. Shani Davis, in winning the race, made the Olympic team, instead of another skater, Tommy O'Hare.
O'Hare filed a complaint with U.S. speed skating, alleging that the race had been fixed.
Apolo Ohno and Rusty Smith vehemently denied O'Hare's allegations.
Tommy O'Hare, Speed Skater - There were a lot of really important people in U.S. speed skating, a lot of important people that I respect outside of speed skating, and they said, now, you need to do something about this.
Smith - The complaint turned U.S. speed skating upside down.
Shani Davis, Olympic Speed Skater - Well, it hurts me more than anything, because I had to win that race. And just to go out there and have my hopes high and to win the race, it was one of the most incredible feelings I ever had in my life, and people try to take my victory away. They try to tarnish my name and tarnish my victory.
Ohno - When anybody questions your character, you know, that in itself kind of brings you down. But me, myself, I'm a strong person, and so I don't let that bring me down.
Needham - They stood to lose a lot. Fixing a race in the state of Utah is illegal. These guys are in major endorsements coming their way, and they stood to lose a lot there as well.
Smith - While the hearings went on behind closed doors at U.S.O.C. headquarters, the team tried to practice. But the tension was too much for Biondo, who believes his teammates cost him a chance at an individual medal.
Ron Biondo, Olympic Speed Skater - It's just a weird -- it's just a situation I've never been in before, so I guess it is a little hard to stay focused, I guess.
Needham - I was at the ice practice, and he was frustrated. I think there was just a period that, like, everyone had to kind of get used to each other, and there was hard feelings there. And he was very frustrated after that first practice.
Smith - Finally, after three full days of testimony, the hearing ended. Immediately afterward, an attorney for U.S. speed skating summed up the decision.
Steve Smith, attorney - Basically, Mr. O'Hare agreed to dismiss the complaint and the arbitrator issued a series of findings of facts, which basically found that Apolo Ohno, Rusty Smith and Shani Davis did not violate any code of conduct or any rules or other regulations.
Ohno - It strictly states that I did nothing wrong whatsoever. Nobody did anything wrong.
Davis - We broke none of the rules, none of the code of conduct rules. That was the main thing that came out of it, and that was what we were there trying to get proven.
Ohno - My true friends and the true people who really know me, they really know me as a person, they know that everything was not true and was all false. So, I'm happy about that.
Smith - Tommy O'Hare's attorney said afterwards that O'Hare was satisfied as well, even though he withdrew his complaint.
John Collins, attorney - As a result of circumstances outside of the hearing and outside of our control, Tommy agreed to withdraw the arbitration demand. And as we've said, he's very happy with the results.
Smith - Sources inside U.S. speed skating say those circumstances were inconsistencies between sworn statements given by witnesses and their actual testimony.
Sources said that some witnesses didn't realize that Smith and Ohno could be dropped from the team, and feared for their own jobs if they were.
Needham - The people that could have or did change their testimony, they had something to lose. They had something that was being held over their head that, had they stuck with what they said, I mean, they possibly would have lost jobs or what-not. I think it was really just job security.
Smith - Do you think they were threatened or is this something they guessed?
Needham - I don't know what happened. I think they might have come to that conclusion themselves. I don't know if someone approached them and said, well, you know, this isn't going to look good, if our top two guys get kicked off the Olympic team, then our odds of winning medals go down the toilet.
Smith - Ron Biondo, who will only compete in relays as a result of the race, at first refused to train with his U.S. teammates after the finding.
Instead, he worked out with the Australian team, returning to the U.S. camp before the Olympics. This week, he downplayed the controversy.
Biondo - We all had the same goal in mind, and that's to win a gold medal in the relay, and everyone wants Rusty and Apolo to win their gold medals also in the individual events. So, I mean, we're all supporting each other, doing the best we can for the best results possible.
Ohno - It hasn't really thrown me off too much as, you know, I was pretty confident what was going to happen -- the outcome. So, definitely, you know, it was just kind of a couple of days rest for me, which I didn't really need.
For me, you know, I know that now I'm back on track, 100 percent, and that's all I'm really worried about, you know, is my performances. You know, I can't control what somebody else does. So, as long as I go their prepared as much as I can, then I'll be happy.
Smith - But Tommy O'Hare, who was bumped from the team as a result of the race, still believes it was fixed.
O'Hare - I just believe that I saw something happen on the ice, and I didn't think it was right, and I investigated and I took it as far as I possibly could. And, you know, I have to leave it at that, and I have closure on this situation. And I'm looking forward to the rest of my life.
Smith - But your opinion hasn't changed?
O'Hare - I would say it's fair to say my opinion hasn't changed.
Ley - In dismissing the case, the arbitrator, who has no background in skating, found no irregularities when he viewed a videotape of the race. He also noted that the veteran referee in charge could have restarted the race, but he chose not to do so. Three assistant referees stated that they believed the race was fair.
Joining us to discuss this issue, Fred Benjamin, the president of U.S. speed skating. He is in Salt Lake City this morning. John Collins is an attorney who represents skater Tommy O'Hare. He joins us from Chicago. And Vahe Gregorian is the Olympics reporter for "The St. Louis Post Dispatch," and he is in sunny Salt Lake City.
Good morning, all, gentlemen.
Fred, let me begin with you. We have just heard Tommy O'Hare say, once again, after all of this is played out, he still believes the race was fixed. Adam Riedy, a skater, says the same thing after the fact. Chris Needham says the same thing. What gives?
Fred Benjamin, President, U.S. Speed Skating - Well, you know, I can only point to the order of the arbitrator, who said that some of these statements were, at best, inaccurate, after they were subject to cross-examination by some of the attorneys for Rusty Smith and Shani Davis and Apolo Ohno. So...
Ley - Are these people whose statements, now, were Adam's and Chris' and Tommy's statements turned to mush, as you said, in the media?
Benjamin - Those three people did testify, and some of the words in their statements were held to be inaccurate by the arbitrator.
Ley - John, I think the question everyone would like answered is why Tommy O'Hare feels satisfied by this decision, and why he withdrew his complaint.
John Collins, attorney - Well, there are a number of factors. I think the reason a lot of people have trouble understanding how he can be satisfied with the verdict, or his withdrawal and it was amicably resolved amongst the parties, is they believe that his sole and only goal is to get on the Olympic team.
And while that was certainly a goal of the process, there were many other factors about it, making sure that he could investigate it, find out the truth. Makes sure that things like this don't happen again in the future...
Ley - Well, what happened? Things like what? What happened in this race? Something apparently happened in this race? What happened, John?
Collins - You've seen the race and you've heard the people testify about it...
Ley - I've seen the race, but it's very subtle. Now, I don't have a skating background and I'll bring Vahe in on this in just a second -- but we've looked at the race dozens of times, and talking to the skaters, there are such subtleties that they talk about that, how would you expect an arbitrator to see what happened in the race?
Collins - Well, it's very difficult for someone who is not in the sport to see it, and that's one of the hurdles that athletes often face when they're doing an Article IX arbitration, such as these, that often happen before the Olympics. And it's a difficult hurdle in so that, you know -- we don't have a better system for it...
Ley - So it sounds like you didn't have a lot of confidence in the arbitrator's ability to discern what happened with his own eyes on the track. Is that a fair statement?
Collins - I think, if he were to look at it and study it, he could understand it, but if you watch it just once, as you saw yourself, not being a skater, it's a tricky matter.
Benjamin - But, John, he also not only saw the tape, but he also took testimony over two days from many witnesses.
You know and I know that any trier of fact, a judge, a jury, in any case, a medical malpractice case or products liability case, scientific evidence comes in and they're not familiar with it until they hear it for the first time. And I think, really, this man, who is qualified, a very good lawyer and an arbitrator, I don't think it really was relevant whether he knew skating or not, do you?
Collins - Well, I'm not saying that he couldn't have come to a fair decision. I'm just saying it may have taken him some time to see it. And I'm not saying he wouldn't have given that time. But -- I'm not saying he was unfair in any way.
Ley - All right, Vahe, let me bring you in, if I could.
Here you have several skaters. The chief referee saying that something went down, and he stands by his statement after the fact. Did something happen in this race?
Vahe Gregorian, "The St. Louis Dispatch" - To me, Bob, this seems like a case of the emperor wearing no clothes.
I mean, we can dress it up and call it what we want, but one thing that's fortunate is that in the newspaper business, we're not limited by procedures and technicalities. We can just talk about the essence of the whole matter and the facts.
First, as you look at it, when we talk about testimony that has come out, that has come out from several different places, the things that we're being told were changed are things like assistant coach Tony Goskowitz having said in sworn testimony that after the race, Apolo Ohno skated over to him and said, "Tommy O'Hare finally got what was coming to him."
Now, upon cross-examination, what was changed about that? The word finally was taken out. In some ways, you can say that changes the whole context. In other ways, you still have to wonder, why would Apolo Ohno say that if there weren't some other meaning behind it.
There are so many things that point to this having happened.
Benjamin - Vahe, don't you agree that the meaning could have been, simply, that Tommy didn't make it out of the semi-final, he didn't make it into the final, and that's why the statement was made?
Gregorian - I believe that could be a context. But let me throw this out there.
There are about 15 or 20 things pertaining to this case that can be explained away one at a time, if you wish.
Benjamin - Yes.
Gregorian - But when you add them all up, it's very difficult to see that there's not a pattern there, a pattern created by at least five people testifying that they overheard this discussion. A dozen or more people urging Tommy O'Hare to come forward and speak about this. The coach of U.S. speed skating, Susan Ellis, crying afterwards, never really discussing that, but crying afterwards.
Apolo Ohno yelling don't pass during the race. Apolo Ohno looking over his shoulder from third place during the race. Apolo Ohno passing three or four times in the final few laps when he was trying not to race hard.
Ley - Fred, are all those things accurate? Are all those things that Vahe has just represented, are those accurate matters of testimony?
Benjamin - Well, all those facts that he just testified to -- I shouldn't say testified to -- I forget I'm not in a courtroom -- that he just mentioned, were all from one side here.
He doesn't have any of the statements...
Gregorian - That's not true, Fred. That's not from one side. That's from multiple interviews.
Benjamin - Multiple interviews toward one side of the case.
Gregorian - No.
Benjamin - Let me finish. I haven't heard you say anything about any of the testimony or affidavits that you saw from the other side.
As far as Apolo looking over his shoulder, I've watched Apolo skate for 15 years, or 12 years, and he often looks over his shoulder. It's a habit of his. He often does that. So you take each one of these things...
Gregorian - In third place, though?
Benjamin - Yes, when there's still people behind him...
Ley - Gentlemen, we're going to take a break right there. We're going to continue this discussion on the questions surrounding one of the lead hopefuls for many gold medals at the U.S. Olympic games.
You're watching Outside The Lines.
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Unidentified Male - I don't want to say that I wanted him off the team, because those two are, you know, the best. They're very, very good skaters. But I think what they did was wrong.
Unidentified Male - I'm sure, you know, after trials there's lots of disappointments, you know. Some people go about it different ways. I think it's unfortunate, you know, but I think it's different how everybody handles things. You know, I'm not criticizing anybody. That's just how some people do things, I've just got to overcome.
Ley - We're back with Fred Benjamin, president of U.S. speed skating, John Collins, the attorney for skater Tommy O'Hare, and Vahe Gregorian of "The St. Louis Post Dispatch."
Fred, let me get back to you. We heard several people tell us, and several others told us off camera, that they felt that there was pressure -- that people felt pressure, maybe it wasn't put on them, but there was overt pressure of some sort from people in the speed skating community to make sure these guys stayed on the team.
Benjamin - I heard that statement in your opening piece...
Ley - And it's from multiple people.
Benjamin - Yeah, well, I think I heard, you know, Tommy had said it -- I think it was his voice that I heard. And I can tell you as a matter of fact that I have not ever spoken to one of these witnesses about their testimony...
Ley - I'm not suggesting that at all. But is an atmosphere existing that might have created...
Benjamin - Well, you know, I can't help what people think, but from what I know, U.S. speed skating has had a neutral pose on this thing all the way from the beginning. Whatever team the arbitrator gave us, all the athletes are our athletes. Whether it was Tommy, whether it was Shani, Rusty, Apolo, whatever our team was, that's who we support. We're pretty neutral in the arbitration, and we just wanted to see that this thing gets behind us.
I don't know if you're aware or not that as of yesterday, U.S. speed skating has 55 of the 160 medals ever won by the United States. That's one-third of all the medals. We're a pretty proud bunch here...
Ley - And a great showing by Derrick Power, certainly...
Benjamin - That's what I was going to say.
Ley - But let me ask you this, though; you've got Apolo Ohno on the cover of "Sports Illustrated," on the cover of "Parade" magazine, featured as a hero in waiting by NBC, represented by IMG with a big Nike contract. There's a vested interest, is there not, perceived or otherwise, in making sure that this fellow produces here?
Benjamin - Well, I don't know that there's really pressure on him to produce. We hope that he produces. He's a very talented athlete. I've seen him skate in person many times. He's a wonderful athlete, and we're very hopeful, as I am sure he is, that he will get some medals.
Ley - Vahe, what's the upside for speed skating if Apolo comes through as advertised here?
Gregorian - Well, speed skating, especially the short-track, is about to really blossom in the states. It's only been an Olympic sport since '92, a demonstration sport since '88. Apolo is obviously a marvelous talent and there's plenty to be gained for a lot of different forces if he prospers here.
I would contend there is a lot more to be gained by Apolo prospering here than there would have been by making a scrupulous and determined evaluation of whether this happened. I honestly feel like U.S. speed skating wanted this to go away more than it wanted to explore it fully.
Ley - John, do you agree with that?
Collins - I agree that speed skating has a lot to benefit if Apolo wins gold medals.
Ley - Did they want this to go away?
Collins - I think any sport would like an issue like this to go away.
Ley - At the expense of the truth?
Collins - I can't comment on that.
Benjamin - You know, Bob, all we can go with is the arbitrators ruling here, that held that both Apolo -- all three, Apolo, Rusty and Shani Davis, did not violate any U.S.O.C., International Skating Union, U.S. speed skating codes of conduct, in connection with the race, and/or any violations of the amateur sports act of the U.S.O.C...
Ley - That is the finding.
Very quickly, gentlemen, let me go around the horn once.
Fred, has your sport been damaged by this?
Benjamin - Well, I think quite the contrary. Nobody likes to hear these allegations. On the other hand, we certainly have a lot of people throughout the United States interested to see what short-track speed skating is all about.
Ley - John, damage here?
Collins - Short-term, possibly. Long-term, it's probably a benefit.
Ley - Vahe?
Gregorian - I feel like there is some damage. The person I feel bad for is Shani Davis. All he did was skate his hardest, and now he has to deal with this because of whatever happened behind him.
Ley - Guys, thank you all, very much. Thanks to Fred Benjamin, John Collins, Vahe Gregorian.
Next up, the eternal question - what happens to these footballs, the official Super Bowl game balls, after the game?
Last week, we saw how they were born. Now, how you can find a good home for them.
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
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