There’s one word that always grabs the world’s attention in sports: scandal.
Figure skating has had its share — anyone recall Tonya and Nancy in 1994? That one has been examined as often as Nathan Chen nails a quadruple jump.
Not so much the 2002 disgrace at the the Salt Lake City Olympics. Until now.
Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist and now an analyst for NBC, partnered with husband Todd Kapostasy on a four-part documentary series on Peacock, NBC’s streaming outlet. It’s called “MEDDLING” and looks deeply into the impact the judging misdeeds had on the two pairs teams involved: Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.
Just after improprieties in the scoring centering on French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne surfaced, Sale and Pelletier, who had finished second to the Russians, were elevated to co-gold medalists. Then they shared the top podium at the medals ceremony.
“It brought a sadness for me as an Olympic champion knowing what that night is like,” Lipinski explains. “You skate your heart out and everything goes right, the rest is all fun and soaking in the crowd and seeing marks. And you win and have your time on the podium listening to the national anthem, and those are one-time lifetime memories.
“I think they would all agree it was the most bizarre and unfortunate night. How uncomfortable and extremely awkward it was sharing the top podium. David said it was `done for the people, not for us.’
“I don’t think any of those skaters will get that night back, their one shot at Olympic glory and to experience what it would be like to win a gold medal.”
FILE - Former figure skater Tara Lipinski smiles while video of her is shown on the large screen during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist and now an analyst for NBC, partnered with husband Todd Kapostasy on a four-part documentary series on Peacock, NBC's streaming outlet. It's called “MEDDLING” and looks deeply into the impact the judging misdeeds had on the two pairs teams involved: Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Instead, they got chaos. As the AP reported:
“So on Sunday night, after the original dance ended, a blue carpet was laid down on the ice and a medals podium put on top of it. Canadian and Russian flags were hung on a scaffold, ready to be pulled to the rafters.
“It had the potential to be awkward — medals ordinarily won by one couple shared between two. But Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze accepted their co-champions gracefully, a gift Sale and Pelletier acknowledged.”
Still, as Lipinski and Kapostasy discovered during interviews with everyone involved — including Le Gougne — it left scars. On the sport, which immediately underwent a revamping of the scoring system, eliminating the perfect 6.0 that wasn’t all that perfect in the end. And on the four skaters, 20 years later.
Lipinski notes that there had not been an in-depth look at the scandal in the past two decades. Even though it was a dominant theme during the Salt Lake City Games, an ongoing drama for days, the perception generally was that the French judge voted for the Russians that night under pressure from others.
“But detailing every facet was needed. It is a deep and responsible look at what happened,” she says of “MEDDLING.” “There are so many different layers of this story that I didn’t realize were happening.”
The docuseries is the first time Le Gougne has spoken to American media, Lipinski says. They did a six-hour interview.
“It affected her life so greatly,” Lipinsiki says. “She moved back in with her mom in France and feels like she was not able to live her life, misses her sport so much. Sadly, she even contemplated suicide.
“Twenty years later, we’re getting to look at where these people are now and how it affected their lives so deeply.”
Lipinski and Kapostasy are hoping to do more projects with their May Fifth Productions. Not necessarily focusing on figure skating, although it is ripe with potential.
“The reason I wanted to do it, I never want to back away from things that have happened in this sport, and that was a huge blemish,” she says. “It is nice to not pretend it didn’t, but why not take a look at it and relive the story and find out more? At the same time, we can appreciate that this sport has evolved and has a new judging system.”
And, in recent years, no scandals.
It's a long list of rejections from cities across Europe. Oslo and Stockholm are the two high-profile cities that pulled out during the bidding process. Krakow, Poland, and Lviv, Ukraine, also withdrew bids.
Two other areas with potentially strong bids — St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Munich — were rejected by the public in voter referendums. The German rejection was a stinging blow to Bach, who is from Germany. It's also notable that the IOC headquarters are in Switzerland.
Oslo and Stockholm, probably regarded as the preferred venues as the IOC attempted to return the Olympics to traditional European winter venues, pulled out because of costs and politics.
Norwegian and IOC officials also traded public barbs in 2014 about their dissatisfaction with each other.
Details of the IOC's demands upon bid cities for its members — including a cocktail reception with the King of Norway, use of exclusive road lanes, and specific requests for fruit and cakes in hotel rooms — were leaked, and described as “pompousness” by one lawmaker.
A senior IOC official retorted the decision to withdraw Oslo was based on “half-truths and factual inaccuracies.”
Bach acknowledged at the time in a 2014 interview that the Winter Olympics were a tough sell.
“The number of candidates for winter is already very limited by geography,” he said. “Also we can’t forget that this is a challenging time with regard to the world economy.”
The choice for the IOC members came down to two authoritarian governments that did not require any public vote, and also had few constraints on spending: Beijing and Almaty.
Beijing spent more than $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Olympics.
In promoting their proposals, organizers in Almaty at the time said 79% supported the bid. Beijing said 94.8% in China were in favor.
Almaty tried to win the vote, reminding that it was a winter sports city surrounded by mountains and natural snow. It was a dig at Beijing, which has no winter sports tradition and little natural snow in the areas picked for skiing.
Beijing and some IOC members countered that skiers actually prefer artificial snow. The IOC also saw Beijing as a huge winter-sports business opportunity.
Beijing won by four votes, which was described as much closer than expected, in a second attempt using paper ballots. A first attempt at electronic voting was scrapped citing technical issues.
IOC members chose what they believed to be the less risky option, which has not turned out that way.
“It really is a safe choice,” IOC President Bach said at the time. “We know China will deliver on its promises.”
The IOC choice was sharply criticized at the time by human rights groups, which noted that the 2008 Olympics had not improved rights' conditions in China.
Getting down to two candidates — neither the top choices — shocked the IOC. It was part of the reason that the IOC no longer goes through a long bid process to pick host cities. Bach said at the time that the bid process produced too many “losers."
Moreover, it was embarrassing for the IOC to explain why voters turned down holding the Olympics — particularly the smaller Winter Games. The bid process was also soiled by scandals surrounding the awarding of the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, in which IOC member were allegedly bribed for their votes.
The bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games was also hit by scandal.
Under the IOC's new process of choosing venues, the approximately 100 IOC members no longer vote. The choice is made by the leadership headed by Bach. The IOC has already chosen venues for the Olympics through 2032.
They are: 2024 Paris; 2026 Milan-Cortina, Italy; 2028 Los Angeles; 2032 Brisbane, Australia. The only open slot is the 2030 Winter Olympics, in which Sapporo, Japan, seems to be the leading candidate. The IOC has not indicated when that choice will be made.
FILE - Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier compete in the pairs free program in the Winter Olympics at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2002. Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist and now an analyst for NBC, partnered with husband Todd Kapostasy on a four-part documentary series on Peacock, NBC's streaming outlet. It's called “MEDDLING” and looks deeply into the impact the judging misdeeds had on the two pairs teams involved: Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)