Debate continues over judging in pairs figure skating


Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The winner of pairs figure skating seemed obvious to almost everyone. Except the judges.

By awarding the gold medal to Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada, judges sparked the first big scoring controversy of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Debate continued Tuesday from Monday night's decision.

``It was like somebody punched me in the stomach,'' Pelletier told NBC's ``Today'' show. ``But at the same time, we can sit here and talk about it for weeks but it's not going to change the results.''

Earlier Monday, U.S. snowboarders continued thrusting themselves and their radical sport to the forefront of these games as Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas took gold, silver and bronze in the halfpipe.

In the first event Tuesday, a trio of Russian women's cross-country skiers almost pulled off another sweep, only to have their triple-victory party crashed by Bente Skari of Norway.

A strong finish pulled Skari, who won a silver and a bronze at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, from fourth more than midway through the 10-kilometer classical race to first.

Olga Danilova took silver and reigning world cup champion Julija Tchepalova got the bronze. Their teammate, Larissa Lazutina, was fourth.

Picabo Street's bid to become the first American woman to win three Olympic skiing medals, which was delayed from Monday because of high winds, was expected to begin two hours late on Tuesday due to more high winds.

The sweep in the halfpipe marked the first time Americans took all three medals in an event since men's figure skating in 1956.

Their haul doubled the U.S. medal count to six, with two golds _ the other in women's halfpipe. Germany and Austria are tied with the United States for overall medals.

The power of their sweep was best illustrated at the medals ceremony late Monday, when three U.S. flags were raised side-by-side.

``It was pretty cool,'' said Kass, the 19-year-old poster boy for this X-Games crossover sport. ``Everybody was psyched.''

The trio left the medals podium to chants of ``USA!'' then stirred up the crowd by tossing out their baseball caps.

And what about their bouquets of yellow roses?

``I saved them for my mom,'' said Powers, smiling.

Other events Tuesday included the women's 10K and men's 15K classical cross-country events, men's moguls and men's 500 meter speedskating.

Later in the day, the U.S. women will face Germany in their first hockey game and athletes will compete in the 120-kilometer ski jump, women's luge and men's short program figure skating.

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_ FIGURE SKATING: Before the controversy came the collision. Sikharulidze and Sale smacked into each other in warmups, but neither seemed affected by it.

Sale and Pelletier were so good that fans serenaded them with chants of ``Six! Six!'' when they finished _ begging the judges to give them a perfect score. Pelletier even kissed the ice before leaving to celebrate.

Instead, they got four 5.9s for artistry. Russia got seven, with the 5.9 from the Chinese judge making the difference, giving the country its 11th straight title in the event.

China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won the bronze medal. Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman finished fifth but called their performance ``the greatest thing we've ever done.''

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_ LUGE: If Germany's Georg Hackl was disappointed about his demotion to silver after three straight Olympic golds, he sure didn't show it.

Hackl and bronze medalist Markus Prock of Austria hoisted Zoeggeler on their shoulders, then smiled for pictures. The trio looked as happy as the American snowboarders.

``I'm getting a silver, and that's great,'' said Hackl, who missed becoming the first winter athlete to win the same event four times but still won a medal in a record-setting fifth games. ``Now, two silver medals will frame three gold medals.''

Adam Heidt was fourth, just missing the chance to win America's first luge medal in 38 years. It was still the best singles finish in U.S. team history.

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_ SPEEDSKATING: Four steps into Jeremy Wotherspoon's 500-meter qualifying race, the Canadian's medal hopes were over.

Casey FitzRandolph seized the opening with an Olympic record run, putting him in position to become the first American since Eric Heiden to win the men's 500 meters.

Teammate Kip Carpenter was a surprising third, while U.S. record holder Joey Cheek was seventh at 34.78.

Defending gold medalist Hiroyasu Shimizu of Japan had the second fastest time.

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_ MEN'S HOCKEY: Latvia and Germany will face off in a showdown Tuesday night for a chance to join Belarus in taking on the six giants of international hockey.

Belarus (2-0-0) beat France 3-1 Monday night in the men's preliminary round, clinching its second straight trip to the medal round. Ukraine (1-1-0) beat Switzerland 5-2 Monday, but was eliminated because of its 1-0 loss to Belarus on Saturday.

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_ WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Kazakstan goalie Natalya Trunova made 59 saves against Canada, the defending silver medalist _ yet it still wasn't enough. The Canadians won 7-0.

Russia lost 3-2 to Sweden, which means the Russians must beat or tie the Canadians on Wednesday to advance to the medal round.

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_ BIATHLON: Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden already was considered the most successful female biathlete. Now she has an Olympic medal to bolster her status.

Forsberg took bronze in the 15-kilometer event, finishing third to Andrea Henkel of Germany and Liv Grete Poiree of Norway.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway won the men's 20-kilometer, followed by Frank Luck of Germany and Victor Maigourov of Russia.

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_ CURLING: The U.S. men's curling team got off a strong start by upsetting defending world champion Sweden 10-5 in the opener, only to follow it with a loss to 2000 world champion Canada.

In other first-round play in the 10-team tournament, Finland defeated Denmark 9-3, Germany beat France 9-5 and Canada edged Britain 6-4. Switzerland rebounded with a 5-4 victory over Norway in its second game.

In the women's curling, play opened with four games: Canada beat Sweden 5-4; Britain topped Norway 10-6; Germany defeated Russia 8-5; and Switzerland beat Denmark 9-8.