The controversy following the performance of Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics forced changes in the judging system a year later. (Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images)
It was 10 years ago Friday that Canadian pair skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier stepped on to the podium to receive their Olympic Gold medals. In the back hallways of a rink in Peterborough, Ont., earlier this week in preparation for the Rock The Ice show, Sale and Pelletier shared some thoughts with me on their special time.
It was 10 years ago Friday that Canadian pair skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier stepped on to the podium to receive their Olympic Gold medals.
In the back hallways of a rink in Peterborough, Ont., earlier this week in preparation for the Rock The Ice show, Sale and Pelletier shared some thoughts with me on their special time.
When you think about the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, what are the three things you remember most?
Sale: That's easy: I remember first my skate and being on the ice with him at that moment as soon as we finished our program and he kissed the ice. I remember doing the Jay Leno show twice but going to the show in a jet. The first time we did the show was by satellite. I remember being the flag bearers in the closing ceremonies and even though we missed most of the ceremonies it was amazing to walk in with the Canadian flag and hearing the roar of the crowd.
Pelletier: No. 1 and what I will always remember was walking into Canada House that night after the free program and everybody that we loved was there and they started singing O Canada for us.
No 2: We kept running into the two drunk Norwegian bobsledders who had been in the cafeteria in the [Olympic] Village with us and talked to us on the night we skated our free program. I couldn't understand how they were so drunk all of the time because in Salt Lake City you couldn't find any beer that was higher than 3% alcohol!! And you can quote me on that!
No. 3: Meeting Mario Lemieux; the best hockey player that Quebec has ever produced. You have to meet Mario Lemieux to understand his charisma. He makes me freeze. I forgot how to speak French. I stepped on his toes and walked into a wall. I don't think I was able to put three words together.
Is your four-year-old son Jesse aware of your skating career?
Sale: He understands about Battle of the Blades and Stars on Ice and knows that David and I skate. I don't think he really understands about the Olympics or anything else because he is too young. For him we are just mom and dad and I think it will always be that way or at least I hope so because our primary focus is on being good parents.
How do you feel about being the "agents of change" as far as the creation of the new judging system?
Sale: You know what? I don't think about it. I don't feel responsible for it. I had nothing to do with it.
Does skating mean the same to you now as it did when you were still amateurs climbing the ranks?
Sale: No. For me I remember skating freely and feeling like I was an actress or something on the ice. I loved being able to portray a character and I think it's harder to do that now. I think that choreographers have to work so much harder to achieve that because in addition to creating great programs and characters they also have to be able to figure out how to grab as many points as possible."
Scandal forces change in judging
The 2002 Olympic pairs event was the catalyst for the changes in the judging system that has been in use since 2003.
It had been a crazy few days since the pair had skated to a silver medal result. The crowd had erupted in boos as the marks came up after the charismatic Canadians had finished. For those of us seated around the rink working, we turned to each other stunned that the Canadians were in second.
It's not that the brilliant Russian team of Elena Berezhnaia and Anton Sikharulidze, Sale and Pelletier's closest rivals, had not skated well, they had. On that night though, the Canadians had been flawless.
It was subsequently discovered that there had been cheating on the part of the French judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, who had been persuaded by her federation to vote for the Russian pair, no matter what.
This is a story that holds a particular fascination for me having been one of the PA announcers at Olympic figure skating in 2002.
The story of what went on behind the scenes read like a cloak and dagger mystery. Sally Rehorick was Canada's Chef de Mission in 2002 and is, in my mind, one of the main reasons for the allocation of that second gold medal.
Her story was one of the 37 that I collected for a chapter on the 2002 Olympic Games for my book Taking The Ice: Success Stories from Canadian Figure Skating.
In a recent article by Josh Wingrove for the Globe and Mail, Jay Ogden of IMG is quoted as saying:
"When figure skating was really hot in the U.S., it was considered one of the true reality shows," Ogden says. "It was live, in your face, there were big stars, big stories. And now for whatever reason, it's all dropped off."
In conversation with a skating colleague, Joel Geleynse, he articulated what I have been struggling with all along.
"Under the 6.0 system, you knew who the bad guys were and who you were cheering for. As the announcer would say '5.7, 5.7, 5.3, 5.7' - the boos would start at the 5.3 and all eyes would be on the responsible judge. It was fun. Now when the mark comes up as 160.43, nobody knows whether to cheer or boo. Is it good? Is it bad? It may have improved the fairness but it has taken away some of the drama."
Point taken. To be honest, I had never thought of it that way.
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.