Russian charged with Olympic figure skating fix

When the figure skating pairs judging scandal erupted at the Salt Lake Olympics what surprised a lot of observers was that it wasn't yet another ice-dancing scandal.

It has taken the better part of six months to surface, but an Olympic ice-dancing scandal seems about to materialize in full, as an alleged Russian organized crime boss, Alimzan Tokhtakhounov, was arrested in Italy on Wednesday, charged with attempting to fix the ice-dancing event at Salt Lake.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday the Justice Department is also looking into other events at the Salt Lake Games to see if the judges were improperly influenced.

The charges allege that Tokhtakhounov tried to sway judges toward giving the gold medal to Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.

Anissina and Peizerat did end up winning the Olympic gold by a 5-4 margin. The Russian duo of Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh got the silver medal, followed by world champions Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio of Italy.

Peizerat and Anissina, the 2000 world champions and 1998 bronze medal winners at the Nagano Games, gave France its first figure skating gold medal since 1932.

The pair later announced their retirement from amateur competition.

Investigators said they have a recording of phone calls between Tokhtakhounov and a French ice dancer, in which the Russian boasts of his ability to influence judges, according to the officials.

A Globe and Mail article published during the Games also alleged that the ice-dancing competition results were pre-determined.

The newspaper said judges had conspired to place Canadian duo Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz in fourth and Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas and fifth.

Interestingly, the ranking of the top eight teams during the ice dancing competition remained unchanged throughout the event.

The judges representing Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Poland opted for the French couple in the final phase of the competition. Judges from Russia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy supported the Russians.

The allegations of result fixing in ice dance are just the latest scandal to rock the figure skating world.

Last May, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation, were slapped with three-year bans after the International Skating Union ruled they manipulated the outcome of the Olympic pairs competition.

After a two-day hearing last April, the ISU ruled there was sufficient evidence to lead it to believe that Gailhaguet pressured Le Gougne to vote for the victorious Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze instead of Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze won by a 5-4 count from the judges and the Russians received the gold medal. However, the Canadian pair was eventually awarded gold as well by the International Olympic Committee after a public outcry.

At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Bourne and Kraatz finished fourth after placing third at the previous two World Championships. Afterward, the pairs' coach, Natalia Dubova, accused the Ukraine, Czech Republic, Russia, Italy and France of bloc voting to ensure that Anissina and Peizerat finished third.

After the Nagano Games, Jean Senft, a former international judge from Canada, tried to report what she felt was corruption among judges.

Months after the charges, the ISU suspended Senft for international bias.

The following year, at the 1999 world championships in Helsinki, a cameraman caught judges from Russia and the Ukraine exchanging what appeared to be foot signals during the pairs final.