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Meryl Davis and Charlie White ice-dance their way to first place and then have to answer about a possible behind-the-scenes deal between judges.
SOCHI, Russia — Meryl Davis and Charlie White twizzled and Finn-stepped their way to first place in the planned program of the ice dancing team event, then walked into a hallway and were immediately told by reporters their score may have been fixed.
“That’s the first time we’re hearing about that,” Davis said, trying to hold her practiced smile. “We’re confident that what we put on the ice speaks for itself.”
Welcome to ice dancing, the most subjective and thereby most corruptible event at the Winter Olympics. You may remember back in 2002, in Salt Lake City, a French judge made a deal with Russia to cheat Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier out of a gold medal. The sport’s ruling body changed the whole scoring system in order to tidy up the process, only to make things messier.
L’Equipe, the French sports magazine that first broke the Lance Armstrong scandal, has quoted an anonymous senior Russian coach as saying the deal went down like this: the Russian judge, in this case Julia Andreeva, would vote for Davis and White over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, while the American judges would make certain Russia won the overall team event over Canada.
This makes some tactical sense, only because the Americans are not in gold medal contention and Russia is in a relatively tight race with Canada overall. But such a deal doesn’t work in many other ways.
The votes from the nine judges are now anonymous, and four scores are thrown out randomly without anyone’s knowledge. Nobody would know if anyone is holding up his or her end of a deal. This makes it more difficult to cheat, but even harder to know if anyone is trying. There is no transparency.
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Meryl Davis: ‘We’re confident that what we put on the ice speaks for itself.’
An alliance between Russian and American coaches is not exactly organic. For years, a Western bloc of judges has battled an Eastern bloc. Could the Cold War have thawed on this occasion, as it did only briefly in Salt Lake City?
This controversy won’t die easily. Davis and White will skate three more programs at the Olympics — their free dance routine in this new team event, then their two programs in the traditional ice dancing event.
Regardless, Davis and White stand alone right now as the best ice dancing team, only marginally challenged by Virtue and Moir. The Canadians seemed to concede that. Even Marina Zueva, the coach of Virtue and Moir, said she thought “the marks were reasonable.”
On Saturday, Davis and White performed brilliantly again, perhaps a shade off on one simultaneous twizzle as they fox-trotted and quick-stepped their way to show tunes from “My Fair Lady.” Virtue and Moir, meanwhile, botched a similar move when Virtue went into the twizzle too slowly.
If nothing else, such a controversy may bring some attention to a sport that has been slowly dying on the vine in America. It’s been a while since we’ve had a figure skating scandal to overshadow the mediocre results of our women competitors.
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A French sports magazine reports the fix may be in to ensure the results of the team competition.
On Saturday, Ashley Wagner was considerably better than mediocre, yet she only fed into the questions about judging. After skating a relatively strong short program, she received an unenthusiastic 63.10 and finished fourth, well behind Russian teen Yulia Lipnitskaya in first.
“I know roughly when I skate a good program where my score would end up,” Wagner said. “To score that low was very disappointing to me.”
Wagner double-footed a landing on the back end of a triple-triple combination and skated at a much slower pace than Lipnitskaya, yet Wagner’s routine represented a considerable comeback. She was named to the Olympic team despite a meltdown and fourth-place finish at nationals four weeks ago. Then she was chosen for this short program ahead of U.S. champ Gracie Gold. Wagner said she felt “terrified” at first before calming herself.
“I needed this for my confidence,” Wagner said. “The entire audience was chanting, ‘Russia,’ as you’re warming up. But I wasn’t a nervous wreck. I’m the strong-headed person my mother has been dealing with for 22 years.”
When the night was done and pairs had skated their long programs, Russia led safely with 47 points, Canada was second at 41, followed by the Americans with 34. Italy is right behind, at 31.
Even if the fix is in, U.S. skating isn’t fully repaired.