French Judge Denies Making a Deal in Skating Flap

The figure skating scandal that has become one of the biggest soap operas in Winter Olympics history isn't going away.

In a newspaper interview Monday, the French judge at the center of the dispute denied that any deals were made and said she falsely implicated skating officials from her own country out of fear.

The judge is Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who allegedly favored a Russian couple in last week's pairs skate to ensure a gold medal for the French in the current ice dancing competition.

The dispute was settled by giving the silver medalists, Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, their own gold medals Sunday night. Figuring out whether there were back-room deals to swap votes hasn't been as easy.

According to colleagues, Le Gougne wept the morning after the event as she accused French figure skating federation president Didier Gailhaguet of pressuring her to back the Russians.

But Gailhaguet denied the allegation. And in the newspaper interview, so did Le Gougne, who had not spoken publicly since the Feb. 4 event.

"I judged in my soul and conscience," Le Gougne told the French sports daily L'Equipe. "I considered that the Russians were the best .... I never made a deal with an official or a Russian judge."

Immediately after the event, Le Gougne said, she was verbally attacked and felt physically threatened because of the way she had voted. She said she would name names "when the time comes."

"I felt threatened physically," she said, without specifying whether she had been threatened. "And that continued inside the shuttle and when I reached the hotel."

There, Le Gougne claimed, ISU official Sally Stapleford "assailed me, scolding me for having voted for the Russians. That's when I broke down."

American attorney John Jackson, an ISU championship judge, witnessed Le Gougne's outburst, along with Stapleford and ISU technical committee members Walburga Grimm of Germany and Britta Lindgren of Sweden. He said Le Gougne has it all wrong.

"The French judge's characterization of what happened is inaccurate," Jackson said. "Her admission was unsolicited, unequivocal and clear. There's no question about it. It was witnessed by at least four parties."

Jackson also laughed off Le Gougne's assertion that Stapleford -- who was born and raised in Britain but also holds a Canadian passport -- came up with the idea that the French judge may have been pressured to vote as she did by Gailhaguet.

"When accusations get that ridiculous, it's an indication that people are running scared," Jackson said.

Stapleford denied the allegation Monday, saying she saw Le Gougne in the hotel and she "ran off in a very emotional state."

"Obviously, the lady is a very emotional woman," Stapleford said. "I can't say exactly what she said because it's confidential, but it was in the letter I wrote with two others. There were numerous witnesses."

Stapleford said Grimm and Lindgren also signed the letter that was submitted to the referee as required by ISU rules. Jackson said he wrote another letter to ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta and gave a copy to the referee last Wednesday.

Whatever happened will surely be discussed Monday during a meeting of the International Skating Union's 11-member executive council. Le Gougne has asked for a chance to explain herself, a move supported by Gailhaguet.

He said he wants her to tell the ISU about the "extremely negative influence" she was under during the days leading up to the pairs competition.

Gailhaguet at first refused to consider the issue a scandal. Lately, however, he has insisted it is starting to affect French athletes.

"Stop systematically bothering the French figure skating federation, systematically bothering the athletes," he said Sunday. "Enough already."

When skier Christel Pascal-Saioni was asked whether the scandal affected her preparations for Wednesday's slalom, she said she was "happy not be involved in a sport with judges."