Cracked Ice Excerpt

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CHAPTER 34 The Other Victims, 2002

Ottavio Cinquanta claims that he is determined to "clean house" within the ISU. What is not clear is: of whom? Reviewing the facts that occurred at the 2002 ISU Congress in Kyoto and in the following months, it would seem that those of whom the house had to be cleared were the cleaners!

It may be a coincidence, but all those who were somehow involved with the disclosure of the exchange of favors between the French and the Russians in Salt Lake City lost their positions in the ISU.

Sally-Anne Stapleford of Great Britain, chairperson of the Figure Skating Technical Committee for 10 years, lost re-election by two votes. She was replaced by Alexander Lakernik of Russia.

As is well known, after the pair event in Salt Lake City, Marie Reine Le Gougne confessed, in tears, to Sally in the lobby of the official hotel, that she had been pressured to place the Russian pair first by Didier Gailhaguet, the president of her federation. Witnesses of this confession were Britta Lindgren and Walburga Grimm, both members of the Technical Committee, and the American judge, Jon Jackson.

Sally was the first person to submit an official report to the ISU president on what she had been told by Marie Reine Le Gougne after the Olympic pair event.

By doing so, she disclosed the scandal and opened the door to the hurricane that followed. Surely, it was not what the ISU president was looking for in Salt Lake City!

Katsuichiro Hisanaga of Japan, who was the ISU vice president for Figure Skating, was not re-elected either. After the scandal blew up, Hisanaga, as the vice president, had expressed the opinion that the ISU should take immediate action and alleged, as Stapleford, Lindgren, and the event referee, Ron Pfenning, had done, the involvement of the Russians in the exchange of favors between pair skating and ice dancing.

Hisanaga was replaced by David Dore of Canada. From what was reported by some newspapers and confirmed by Joyce Hisey of Canada, an incumbent member of the Council, David Dore was elected thanks to careful manoeuvring tactics with the Russians.

Ron Pfenning of the U.S., a member of the Figure Skating Technical Committee and referee of the pair event at the Olympics, included the "confession" he had received from Marie Reine Le Gougne during the judges’ review meeting in his referee’s report.

In July, one month after the Congress, in July, Pfenning received a letter of warning from the ISU. The way he had conducted the judges' review meeting had been considered not appropriate by the assistant referee of the pairs’ event, Alexander Lakernik.

Amazingly enough, the first action of the newly elected chairman of the Figure Skating Technical Committee, the same Alexander Lakernik, during his first meeting with the Council immediately after the Congress, was to propose a sanction against a member of his own committee.

Even more amazing, though, is that the Council agreed to punish Pfenning for such an irrelevant reason, especially when Le Gougne and Gailhaguet had indeed been proven guilty.

Was this to please the Russian federation and send a clear message to Pfenning?

Britta Lindgren of Sweden, a member of the Figure Skating Technical Committee for 15 years and a candidate for the Council, lost her position as well. She was one of the witnesses in Lausanne against Le Gougne and Gailhaguet.

The list goes on of all those who have been punished for having come forward to report the wrongdoing in Salt Lake City, who spoke out against Le Gougne and Gailhaguet, and those who alleged the involvement of the Russians.

Alain Miguel of France, Benoit Lavoie of Canada, Jon Jackson of the U.S., and Christine Blanc of Switzerland all received strong letters of reprimand. They were all ISU championship judges who had the courage to put their career at risk to help the ISU to find sufficient evidence to suspend Le Gougne and Gailhaguet. The ISU, instead of expressing gratitude for having contributed to solve such a difficult and delicate case, punished them. It was a clear message to all the judges: "shut up"!

Special mention should be made of Alain Miguel of France. Alain Miguel passed away on February 4, 2004 at the age of 36 due to brain cancer. He was an ISU Championship judge for whom integrity, honesty, and competence were the three most important values. He loved skating and especially the art that is in it. He was a bright young man and used to give seminars on the artistic impression mark for the ISU. His career as a judge was not an easy one. Too often he had to judge under the strong pressure of the French federation president, Didier Gailhaguet, who tried to influence his decisions while judging international events. He loved skating and judging and what he wanted most was to be able to continue judging in an honest and fair way. He was also aware that if he refused to obey Gailhaguet or reported Gailhaguet's pressuring behavior, he would lose any opportunity to judge due to the fact that judges for international competitions are appointed by their own federations.

In 1999 during the European Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Alain had confidentially shared his dilemma with Sally Stapleford, who was then the chairperson of the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee. However, he insisted that this conversation remain confidential as he was in great fear of Didier finding out that he had opened his heart to her. Alain told Sally that the Figure Skating Technical Committee was correct in giving him sanctions in previous years for bias as he was indeed biased in his judging, but he could not live with himself any longer as it went against all the principles of fairness in judging that he held dear. He loved judging; it was so much of his life, but he knew he would not be sent to judge again for France if he did not follow Didier's orders. He was at a loss at what to do.

Sally told him that he only had to answer to himself and be able to look at himself in the mirror and know that he had done an honest job in judging, and for the sake of the sport, not allow Didier to make him cheat.

After this long, emotional talk, Alain decided to stop judging. He could no longer accept being forced to deny his own principles. However, his love for skating was stronger than ever and one year later he decided to try again.

When the Salt Lake City scandal exploded and Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were directly involved, he felt he had to come forward and testify against his own president. He was perfectly aware that this would jeopardize his future career as a judge. Alain wanted to become a referee for international competitions and when Didier heard Alain may testify against him, he tried to manipulate Alain by delaying mailing the nomination forms to the ISU, thereby letting him know, very clearly, that if he wanted to become a referee he had better not testify and, instead, write a letter to the ISU defending Didier before the nomination deadline of April 15. Alain did not respond to this threat; on the contrary, he wrote a letter to the ISU confirming the pressure received from the French federation president. Before the hearing in Lausanne, Alain also received some threatening phone calls and had concerns about his safety. Not even this, though, discouraged him from testifying.

The ISU president and the general secretary were fully informed of what was going on by Sally Stapleford, who wanted to discuss with them the matter of how to protect the honest French judges who wanted to come forward and tell the truth.

A few months later, Alain was diagnosed with brain cancer and it is difficult not to think that the pressure he had to face had some impact on his health. It was a tragedy within a tragedy.

After his testimony Alain received a strong warning from the ISU, and due to his actions he was banned by his federation because he was seen as a "traitor". He disappeared from the skating world. His name was deleted from all judging lists, both national and international. He was not even allowed to judge children in his own club. Due to the fear of Gailhaguet, the skating world in France became empty around him.

During the last 18 months of his brief life he had to fight against his illness with the tremendous burden in his heart of having been punished so severely just for telling the truth and trying to help to repair the immense damage on the sport he loved and on the credibility of all the judges. A few months before he died he wrote a very touching letter to Sally Stapleford. It was like a "goodbye" letter and it was very emotional. He thanked her for supporting him through difficult times and most importantly for helping him to have the courage to speak out and to be an honest human being who could look at himself in the mirror and know that he had acted correctly. It was quite a long letter and Sally was in tears while reading it.

Alain had to live his own private drama within the larger drama and it is just awful to think that all this could happen, and that nobody in France or in the ISU stood up to help him. He had the respect of so many people. They all looked up to him. He was a role model for honesty and integrity and will be greatly missed by all his friends and the skating world. Goodbye, Alain. May your honesty, your integrity, and your courage shine bright and let it be an example for all the honest figure skating judges for many years to come.

When, at the end of July 2002, a Russian mobster, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, was arrested in Italy and charged with bankrolling the Olympic vote swap, Sally Stapleford, the key witness in the scandal, declared in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper that she hoped nobody was going to turn a blind eye or bend to fear and that she felt completely vindicated by what had come out. All what was alleged all along, that there was a deal with the Russians, appeared more substantiated.

For these declarations she received two intimidating letters from Fredi Schmid, the ISU general secretary, her assignment to run a judges’ seminar in October 2002 was cancelled without giving her any reason, and she was not given any assignment that season to serve as referee. For the same kind of declarations, Jon Jackson, who was at that time the chairman of the USFSA International Committee, was sent an intimidating letter with a request for an explanation.

Meanwhile, the Russian judge Sviatoslav Babenko, suspended for cheating in 1999, was appointed by Cinquanta as a referee to a Grand Prix event in 2002.

What other explanation can we give to all the above-mentioned facts other than that we are living in a regime? Christine Brennan, the well-known sports reporter with USA Today, is right to call Cinquanta "Il Duce."

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Copyright 2004 by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato