Adding even more shame and disgrace to Russia’s already horrific debacle at this year’s winter olympiad, USA Today reports on the wretched antics of Russian male figure skater Evgeny Plushenko, who was denied a repeat figure skating gold medal by American Evan Lyacek after humiliating himself and his country by taunting his rival in a typical neo-Soviet manner and then claiming he was “not a champion” afterwards. Way to make Russia look like a nation of juvinile deliquents, Evgeny! Don’t let the door hit you on your way into obscurity. [For more on the photo detailing yet another Russian disaster on ice, click here.]
The Winter Olympics have never seen a men’s figure skating competition quite like the one that starts today. The field is deep and decorated. About eight men realistically could win the gold. And the event comes with its very own, already raging judging controversy, which began a full week before the first official triple jump was even attempted.
If there’s a skating controversy brewing, you can bet that a Russian is nearby, and this time, it’s 2006 Olympic gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, who has staged an impressive if controversial comeback at 27 and is considered the favorite to win, especially if the judges continue to send him their late Valentine’s hugs and kisses in the form of the incredibly generous artistic scores he has been receiving all season.
It’s one thing to launch scores into the stratosphere for Plushenko’s jumps, which are among the best the sport has ever seen. But when he postures and preens in front of the judges while his competitors work up a sweat with intricate footwork and innovative choreography between their jumps, his artistic program component scores should take a nose dive.
Whether they will probably will determine if Plushenko wins the men’s competition. There’s certainly been a backlash against Plushenko of late, as reported in the news media.
Pointed criticism about his artistry during his 2006 Olympic long program was included in a series of judges’ educational DVDs last summer, USA TODAY reported last week. So intent was the Russian skating federation on Plushenko’s winning the gold that it demanded the International Skating Union remove Plushenko from the videos, and the ISU caved in and did just that.
If it sounds like we’re picking on poor old Russia, consider the nation’s history with figure skating judging problems. The Russians were one of the two parties involved (with the French) in the biggest Olympic figure skating judging fiasco of all time, the 2002 pairs scandal in Salt Lake City. And back in 1978, the ISU kicked every Soviet judge out of the sport for a year. Talk about a lifetime achievement award.
The Cold War clearly is alive and well and thriving in this sport. Earlier this month, respected international and Olympic judge Joe Inman of the USA, who is not at these Games, sent out a private e-mail to colleagues, friends and some reporters with a quote from Plushenko from AbsoluteSkating.com in which the skater criticized his own artistry:
“If the judges want someone to place high, they can arrange it. Like (at the European championships) in Tallinn, (France’s) Brian Joubert got more points for his transitions than me, although we did exactly the same transitions on the ice. In fact, we don’t have any transitions because we focus on our jumps.”
It’s an eye-popping quote, to hear a top international skater admit he doesn’t fulfill one of the five components on the artistic side of his sport. It just so happens this also was exactly the point made on the judges’ educational videos that the Russians protested against so strongly.
In his e-mail, which somehow found its way onto the Internet, Inman wrote, “I find this an interesting observation of his own skating and the judges’ marking of his transitions. When he says, ‘We don’t have any transitions,’ what does that translate into a mark?”
That’s the exact question everyone in this sport should be asking on the eve of the men’s event. But instead of the skating world following Inman’s lead, as it should have, it stood idly by as longtime Russian ally Didier Gailhaguet, president of the French skating federation, jumped into the fray, seeking to turn this simple question in an e-mail into a potential advantage for Plushenko, or a disadvantage for some of his top competitors from North America.
“It just proves that the North American lobby is on its way,” Gailhaguet told French sports magazine L’Equipe.
You might remember this man. Gailhaguet was the mastermind of the infamous 2002 cheating scandal, instructing French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne to vote for the Russians over the Canadians in Salt Lake City.
For his efforts, Gailhaguet was kicked out of the sport for three years, and though he will forever be reviled as one of figure skating’s most notorious scoundrels, he’s back now, clearly not chastened, and open for business at these Olympic Games.