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Outside the Lines:
Judging the Olympics
Here's the transcript from Show 99 of weekly Outside The Lines - Judging the Olympics
Announcer - February 17, 2002.
Unidentified Male - The executive board of the IOC agreed and a gold medal will be awarded to the Canadian pair.
Bob Ley, host - It was ruled an injustice of Olympic judging, the IOC tried to make it right.
Unidentified Female - It was amazing. It was unbelievable. A really big surprise for us.
Ley - The Canadian skaters have their gold, but they are virtually alone in a long history of Olympic controversy.
The U.S.A.'s infamous loss to the Soviets cost them gold.
Roy Jones, Jr. dominated his opponent, but was robbed of his gold.
Linda Fratianne, former Olympian - And when I found out that I had won a silver, I was devastated. I was crying.
Ley - Linda Fratianne's gold medal hopes foundered, many believe on the politics of judging.
Fratianne - In my heart, I thought that I had the gold medal.
Ley - Now, new sports have been added to increase the Olympics appeal, sports bringing with them the age old problems of judging.
Today on Outside The Lines, is there anyway to take the chicanery out of judging the Olympics?
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.
Ley - It was one of the more bizarre photo ops in memory.
Mitt Romney, the president of the Salt Lake organizing committee, riding in an armored car Friday, with a shotgun toting guard, to pick up the gold medals belatedly awarded to Jaime Sale and David Pelletier.
The next day, Pelletier said he's been made to feel like a criminal because of the reaction to the IOC and Skating Union undoing the original judging results.
So, be careful what you wish for, you may just get it. The entire system of Olympic judging, under scrutiny from the world's press. This solution is not proving to be as clean and neat as hoped.
Fastest time wins the downhill. Most goals wins a hockey game. But in figure skating, and even newer Olympic sports, such as mogul skiing and snowboarding, the subjective eye of judges in the nationalistic cauldron that is the Olympics can ignite an international incident.
Lisa Salters has the story of a skater drawn back into her own Olympic nightmare by the judging controversy in Salt Lake.
Fratianne - When their marks came up, and they got second place, and tears started rolling down her face, and tears started rolling down my face. I just couldn't believe it. It was almost like I was reliving the 1980 Olympics.
Lisa Salters, ESPN correspondent - For Linda Fratianne, 22 years ago suddenly seems like just yesterday.
A two-time world champion figure skater, Fratianne was the favorite at the winter games in Lake Placid.
Fratianne - After I skated, the audience jumped on their feet, standing ovation. Very excited. I had really skated the best I had ever skated in all three events. I thought I'd won, and everybody else in the audience thought I had won. But in my heart, I thought that I had the gold medal.
Salters - Fratianne awaited her scores with her coach, Frank Carroll.
Fratianne - We went to the kiss and cry area, and the marks came up, and I looked at Frank and he looked at me, and we both knew. We both knew that those marks were not good enough for a gold.
Salters - And there is a photograph of you, and you have this kind of distant look in your eyes. Can you describe what you were feeling at that moment, when you were at the podium accepting the medal?
Fratianne - Really trying hard to fight back the tears. When I found out that I had won the silver, I was devastated. I was crying. It took a lot for me to get myself together.
Salters - Like this week in Salt Lake City, it was alleged in 1980 that judges voted along political lines rather than for the best performance.
They awarded the gold medal to East Germany's Annette Poetzsch. But unlike Skategate 2002, there was no international uproar, no media scrutiny, and no second gold awarded by the IOC.
Fratianne - We knew that there were politics involved, even way back in 1980. And I'm sure before 1980, all along, in this sport.
It was never talked about between Frank and I, but we both knew that it did exist. And it, you know, the skaters all knew it.
I did the best that I knew how, the best that I was capable of doing, and it was kind of out of my hands.
Salters - How long did it take you to really get over the hurt of 1980?
Fratianne - Probably until about three years ago, when my daughter said, mommy, where's your silver medal. I want to see your silver medal. And I said, oh, gosh, what have I done with that. And I remembered that I had put it underneath my bed.
And I went and it was the first time I had seen it since I had gotten off the podium, and...
Salters - That would have been 19 years.
Fratianne - Yeah. Yeah.
Salters - Why was it underneath your bed? Were you hiding it?
Fratianne - I guess a lot had to do with my daughter. That I didn't want her to feel like she had to live up to my expectations of being in the Olympics.
Salters - But how much of it had to do with you not really wanting to see it?
Fratianne - There was a lot of pain that was associated with the silver medal, and I felt like I had let my family down, who had sacrificed so much for me. And I felt like I had let my country down, especially being in Lake Placid, my own backyard.
I was devastated, and I felt, you know, not good enough.
Check. You've got to really check this hard, and then the (Unintelligible) comes through close, and snap it in.
Salters - Fratianne hasn't spent the last 22 years brooding about the gold that wasn't. She spent 10 years touring with Disney on ice and is now coaching young skaters in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Unidentified Female - It's going to leave a mark.
Fratianne - Yeah, I bet it is.
Salters - Still, what happened this week in Salt Lake City was an unpleasant reminder of what could have, or in her mind, what should have been.
Fratianne - I still have mixed emotions about it. It brings up some pain. But it's OK. The politics in skating have been going on for years.
Salters - Do you worry about this kind of thing happening again?
Fratianne - Absolutely. You know, as I said, it's been going on for a long time in this sport, and until they find some kind of a system that is fair, politics not in the background -- you know, I just don't know how they will do it.
Ley - Joining us to consider that issue, Peter Carruthers.
Eighteen years ago, he teamed with his sister Kitty to win the Olympic silver medal in pair skating at the winter games in Sarajevo. He is an analyst for ABC sports figure skating telecasts, and Peter joins us this morning from Thousand Oaks, California.
Roger Glenn has judged figure skating on the international level for 19 years. He also judged at the 1998 Olympic games in Nagano. He is in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Christine Brennan, columnist for "USA Today," broke the story of the French judge alleging pressure to vote the Russian's first, and Christine is in Salt Lake City.
Good morning to you all.
Peter, let me begin with you. You own the Olympic medal among the four of us here. Is this system in drastic need of overhaul, or was this an aberration?
Peter Carruthers, former Olympian - Well, I think in this particular circumstance, what we had was collusion. There was wrong-doing. And in my opinion, there is a very simple solution to this.
If there is a bad situation of judges conspiring before an event, and then committing an act like this, you're banned from the sport as far as the judging is concerned.
Ley - But how often does it happen?
Carruthers - You know, honestly, I think Roger can certainly answer this question better than I can. I don't think we want to throw the baby out with the bath water here. There are a lot of outstanding judges in the world of figure skating, really worldwide.
So I don't want to say this is an incident that goes on all the time in the world of figure skating. I've never been made aware of it. But something that I think can be done is, one, the judges should be made accountable for the marks that they give, by speaking to the people in the media to explain why they did what they did after an event.
Ley - Now, you won't say there is widespread corruption, but Alexander Zhulin, who is a native Russian and now coaches here in the United States, will say it. He said it in "The Washington Post" on February 15th.
"The Canadians are involved," he said. "The French are involved. The Italians are involved. I think all judges feel the pressure from the people in high posts. It's like in life, some people are strong and some people are weak. And the weak judges just follow what the federation says. That's corruption. It's so dirty." End quote.
Roger, is he right?
Roger Glenn, Figure Skating Judge - No, I don't think so. People have asked me, is the system broke. And I guess I would answer that for your viewers by saying, if a United States senator was pressured to vote for a bill in the Senate, would we change our whole congressional system? Would we pick senators other than two from a state, by some other method?
I don't think so. The system on which this event was run has a rule. Rule 125, sub 3, says that if any judge gets improperly pressured, they're to immediately report it to the referee and the ISU president.
Although I'm not speaking as an ISU official here, and I am watching this develop from Appleton, Wisconsin, I will tell you that my understanding is the French judge has been suspended immediately for violating rule 125, sub 3.
Ley - Let's not get into the details, but just say she allegedly, though, was pressured by the head of the French federation, who is on the executive council of the International Skating Union, which, Christine, would seem to suggest that this is bigger than just one judge.
Christine Brennan, "USA Today" - Oh, it's absolutely bigger than one judge.
Roger Glenn is one of the great judges, and there are a lot of terrific judges, but there are also a lot of corrupt judges, and I think what we see is that because of the last amateurs in the sport Bob, the last people to get fame -- Michelle Kwan is making millions. Jaime and David will make millions, guaranteed.
But these judges are basically getting a stipend, some of them that are here are losing money during this three weeks of the Olympics, because they're not doing their jobs. And I think that it inspires in many ways just a pure love of the sport.
But if you're from another country, say Russia, other places where you want to curry favor, where you want your federation to send you to the next Olympics -- that doesn't happen as much in the United States and Canada for various reasons, but in some of those other countries, these judges are obviously trying to impress their federation.
So it would be akin to having an umpire be associated with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Yankees bringing their own umpires to the World Series. You're part of the team, you're also supposed to be independent. That is a very difficult mix.
Ley - So what's the answer, professional judges? Is that feasible?
Brennan - Well I think it is. I would pay them. I would get them out of the ISU system per se.
Right now, the people running the ISU are also former judges, or current judges. So I would make it a completely autonomous unit, Bob. That's my thought. I don't know what Roger thinks about that.
Ley - Well, Peter, will it work?
Carruthers - Well, I don't know that it will work 100 percent, because I think people will always have their agenda.
You know, collusion is one thing. This is being addressed. They were expeditious with the whole thing, and now they're moving forward.
I think this is a breath of fresh air that the IOC acted so quickly, and the fact that the ISU and the IOC awarded the gold medal also to Sale and Pelletier.
But listen, there is bad officiating in all of the sports. Think about it. What about the strike zone in baseball. What about in football -- a lot of people are still arguing the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders game. Was that a pump fake or was that an incomplete pass. I've heard a lot of debate about that.
Ley - But, Peter, going back to the...
Ley - ... nationalism involved here. I mean, you can go back two generations to the Cold War and people would say, well, you know, it's a running gag. An American comedy, the East German judge. This goes back to the 60's. It's not just isolated bad judgement calls. There is a feeling that there is an ongoing theatre of corruption.
Carruthers - Yes, I understand that they -- this is the accusation at this point, but I feel that Christine is correct in saying that if there is a weakness with an individual who doesn't feel as though his or her competency level is where it should be to judge an event, then they can be swayed.
However, with punitive measures in place to ban a judge from national bias, that is a very important thing. We can't have these judges coming back into the sport and judging once they've been punished or collusioned.
Ley - Roger, how can you, and can you take the nationalism out of judging at this level?
Glenn - I think you can't take the human being out of any subjective sport. The ISU system has a substitute judge sitting right there, and a referee, under rule 411, could have replaced the French judge with the substitute judge on a second's notice if only we had personal responsibility by the French judge.
Ley - But we didn't.
Glenn - We didn't.
Ley - And apparently...
Glenn - And that's a human being, personal integrity issue, not a system issue.
Ley - How much of this is a narrow North American self-interest? We hear a lot of that from Europe right now, that this issue -- if you had flipped the finish of this event, if the Canadians had gotten the gold in an untoward manner, this would not be an issue as it is today, five days after the fact.
Glenn - Could I speak to that?
If you watched the event, it was to me clear, although I knew people disagree with me, that based upon the way it was skated, the Canadians did a harder program. They did a harder program because of the lifts, because the Russians missed a jump.
All nine of the judges on this panel gave the Canadians first or tied for first on the first mark. The second mark is where they differed, and that is a cultural issue. We couldn't have an event with two more different styles, one a very balletic, long-lined, very classical look, and one, the Canadians, who were absolutely phenomenal.
Ley - But, Christine, the role of media pressure here in forcing this issue. You broke the story.
Brennan - Right. I think if this had been an Asian pair, Bob, or a European pair, to your point, I don't think it would have had the same media firestorm.
And also because we're in the United States, and because of what the commentators on NBC said right afterwards.
Everything played into it.
Having said that, is it a good thing that we're doing this? Yes. So, whatever the reason was, whatever was behind the push for us -- for me, it was just getting to the truth, obviously.
But whatever the reason, the fact that we're looking into this and the fact that potentially the IOC -- here's one thought for you, to throw it out, that the IOC would look and say, hey, let's get rid of the ISU. This thing is so corrupt, and I believe it is, from the top down, from (Unintelligible) down, have a new federation.
Ley - Do you think they're going to get rid of the ISU? Do you think that's a possibility?
Brennan - No, I do not think they're going to. But I'm just going to say that Jacque Rogge, in his new role as the IOC president, a breath of fresh air. That's the breath of fresh air, that's the kind of thing they need to do. Whether they would or not is another matter.
Ley - Go ahead -- Roger.
Glenn - Bob, I have to disagree a little bit with Christine there.
Under the leadership of Octavia and Sally Stapleford, who is the technical committee, they're in the middle of a two-year project to try to objectify the quality of judges, and then assign judges based upon quality. They have been working on this.
Although I sit here defending the system, and I believe it isn't a system error, I believe it's a personal integrity error, I am telling you that the ISU has changed. The scoring system is very fair. It takes five judges to fix an event, and I'm not saying it was fixed, but it takes five, not two judges. It's a system developed and tinkered with over the years.
They have been tinkering with it. They are continuing to tinker with it. And I think this is good, and I think we'll continue to look at it, but I don't think this is a wholesale corruption issue.
Ley - OK, I want to step aside for just a second, and as we continue we'll take a look at the question of newer Olympic sports that are relying on the subjective eye of judges in the Olympic games.
Filip Bondy, "New York Daily News" - There is a growing percentage of these sports that are now being determined by judges rather than times and rather than points or goals. So, yeah, I think they're digging themselves a little bit of a hole here.
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Ley - If judging controversies are nothing new in those sports that have been part of the Olympics for decades, isn't it just a matter of time before they erupt in the new Olympic sports?
As Jeremy Schapp reports from Salt Lake City, the IOC's desire to increase the appeal and the profit of their games may be inviting new disputes, such as the one still clouding the headlines out of Utah.
Jeremy Schaap, ESPN - Skater, snowboarders and skiers, medalists separated by milliseconds, their times registered by computers latched to stop watches.
Skaters, snowboarders and skiers, medalists separated by the opinions of judges, their scores based on taste, whim and sometimes politics.
Unidentified Male Announcer - How did that happen? They won that gold.
Schaap - Mechanical precision versus human fallibility. And the humans are gaining ground at the Olympics.
Bondy - I think there is a growing problem. There is a growing percentage of these sports that are now being determined by judges rather than times and rather than points or goals. So, yeah, I think they're digging themselves a little bit of a hole here.
Schaap - In just the last decade, the Winter Olympics have adopted half-pipe snowboarding and two freestyle skiing disciplines, aerials and moguls. Three events ruled by the judges.
Why are they adopting these sports as full medal sports?
Bondy - That's for the -- because of you. Because of ESPN. You guys are the ones that know why they're doing it. You've put out those X-Games and they have to keep up with you. They have to keep your ratings down and they have to keep their demographics up.
Schaap - Regardless of its motivations, the IOC says events that are judged aren't going away.
Jacques Rogge, President, IOC - We have to have the best possible judgement, but we have also to protect the athletes who compete in these sports, and to throw the baby with the bathwater and say we will not allow judgement sports anymore would be detrimental for the athletes.
Schaap - You have no concern regarding those sports?
Rogge - Certainly not, nor the country.
Schaap - There is at least one significant difference between those who judge figure skating and those who judge the so-called extreme sports. While most of the figure skating judges are decades removed from their last triple lutz, most of the snowboarding and freestyle judges were until recently competitors themselves.
The vast majority are still in their 20's, barely older than the athletes they evaluate.
In Salt Lake City, Jeremy Schapp, ESPN.
Ley - And we are back with Peter Carruthers, Roger Glenn and Christine Brennan.
Roger, you are a figure skating judge. What about that dynamic that Jeremy mentioned in his report? In these newer, so-called extreme sports, judges are virtually the same age as the competitors. What is that dynamic? What could that lead to?
Glenn - In figure skating, at least I can speak from the United States' perspectives of, it takes a long time to work your way up and learn how to judge, and I find that every event I judge, I learn something new, and learn how to be a better judge. And so it takes a long time.
Ley - It takes a long time, but Peter, these are Olympic sports, and they've only been sports per se for less than a generation. What standards are in place?
Carruthers - Absolutely. Well, I think there are growing pains to new sports like this. But for me, the bottom-line as an athlete, when you enter into a sport that is subjective, the ground rules may be a little bit different than crossing a finish line. So I think when you come up through that culture, it's just something that you get used to.
Once again, corruption, collusion, wrong. Got to get rid of it. But subjective sports, I think they have a place.
Ley - Well, we have new subjective sports, though, Christine. Do you see a problem that could erupt with these?
Brennan - I think we love to argue, Bob. Look at college football and the BCS.
And while I've been saying this week that it's hard to defend figure skating, and as you know I've tried over the years to do so, and now it's tougher this week than ever before. Having said that, this is what Americans love. This is what viewers love around the world, to watch this kind of stuff.
I've never spent so much time talking about a subject as I have this week about the pairs controversy. The ratings, I'm sure, are terrific for NBC, and I don't want to sound cynical here, but the reality is, that it's enticing to people at home, watching on their couches in the living room, to watch these things and be able to argue and throw pillows at the TV set. And that's what the Olympics is giving us, more and more.
Ley - Yeah, it's...
Glenn - Bob, the system of judging skating is misunderstood. We are totally different than a lot of the other subjective sports.
In the other subjective sports, they have, like, throw out the high, throw out the low, and everybody else is in the average.
Our system, you throw out the four worst judges for every competitor, makes it much harder to collude or to fix an event.
Ley - Well let me go around once quickly, here, and begin with Peter. What are the chances we'll see anything as overt as what we've just seen this past week, in the future?
Carruthers - Well, I think that the punitive measures have to go right into place immediately, and I'm talking in very simple language, the judge that was caught, as they say, the tap dancing judge with the ice dancing a few years ago -- ban the French judge. Banned. If they absolutely have proof that this took place, and they do.
Ley - Roger?
Glenn - I want to quote a piece I put in our "Appleton Post Crescent," if I could, you know, finish lines and stopwatches make sports interesting. The subjectivity of this kind of judging makes these sports fascinating.
Ley - Christine, last story of its type for a while, or not?
Brennan - No. I think we're going to see more of this, unless the IOC gets involved. Absolutely. Figure skating has a lot of trouble, and we've seen that this week.
Ley - All right, thank you all -- Peter Carruthers, Roger Glenn and Christine Brennan. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Next, a not unrelated story. Your feedback on last week's look at the fix allegations involving Apolo Anton Ohno.
Ley - Last night, short-track speed skating in the 1000 meters, Apolo Anton Ohno on the lead on the final turn, when suddenly a collision. Just about everyone went down. Ohno struggled to get a skate across the finish line for the silver. He sustained a superficial cut to his thigh, requiring six stitches.
He will be evaluated today. He hopes to go Wednesday in the 1500 meters.
Last week, our program evaluated and looked at the allegations that Ohno and his teammates had fixed a race to enable a friend to make the Olympic team, and among our e-mails, this from Indianapolis, "I have to say, I think you've sunk to a new low. This show smacks of a non-controversy created by some jealous skaters who did not make the Olympic team, perpetuated by your determination to attack the reputation of Apolo Ohno."
And this note - "I myself will watch Apolo, but I will not ever be a fan of his or his sport. I am torn to tell my nine-year-old kid how I feel. I don't think he would ever understand what a fix is, but he will know what a cheater is."
To watch last Sunday's program, any of our Outside The Lines program, on-line the keyword is OTLWEEKLY and your e-mail is welcome at OTLWEEKLY@ESPN.COM.
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