Four judges expelled from rhythmic gymnastics championships after favoring their teams

Monday, July 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Four judges were expelled from the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships after favoring teams from their own countries, a scandal that comes five months after the Winter Olympics were tarnished by a similar judging controversy.

The judges made ``big mistakes'' on Friday and Saturday, the first two days of competition, the International Gymnastics Federation said.

``They pushed their own country up in order to make a big disadvantage,'' International Gymnastics Federation spokesman Philippe Silacci said Sunday.

Sanctions were handed out after routine reviews of tapes from Friday and Saturday competitions, the first two days of events. Since there were fewer events during Sunday's final, replacement judges weren't needed.

The top eight finishers among the 20 countries competing Friday and Saturday qualified for the event finals on Sunday. No standings were changed as a result of the removal.

Rhythmic gymnastics is an Olympic event in which competitors are judged on their ability to use hoops, balls, rope, clubs or ribbons during gymnastic presentations. This year's championship included the two events 5 Ribbons and 3 Ropes/2 Balls.

One of the expelled judges, Efi Pantazidou, was from Greece, which nonetheless won the title for the 3 Ropes/2 Balls event.

Ukraine captured the 5 Ribbons event and Russia won the all-around championship.

Also expelled were Larissa Lukianenko of Belarus, Marcie Lourenco of Brazil, and Shin-Ja Choi of South Korea.

The federation also gave yellow cards to Zaizhen Diao of China, and Damida Velcheva of Bulgaria. The yellow card is a serious warning and a second one means expulsion. All of the disciplined judges may appeal.

The United States, the host of the world championships for the first time, did not qualify for the final in either event and placed 13th overall.

The expulsions came five months after a French figure skating judge admitted she'd been pressured to ``vote a certain way'' at the Salt Lake City Olympics when she put a Russian pair first over Canadian skaters.

The gymnastics federation has had a heightened awareness of fairness in judging since the scores at the 1999 European Championships led to the dismissal of several judges, said Andrea Schmid-Shapiro, the championships' technical director.

``We hope this will send a message for the future,'' Schmid-Shapiro said.