The Biggest Scandals in Olympic Figure Skating History

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Norwegian figure-skating legend Sonja Henie, who though she later became a U.S. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! And now no one understands how figure skating is scored. TIMOTHY A. The   grumbling over skating’s scoring system   never abated, with many befuddled athletes, fans and entire   countries more united in their annoyance than ever. “The most important people are my family and my closest friends. NY Daily News via Getty Images
Kerrigan was traumatized but physically OK enough to win a silver medal a month and a half later at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where Harding finished eighth after having a meltdown over a broken skate lace. citizen and made an anti-Nazi film when she turned to acting, was a personal favorite of Adolf Hitler‘s when she was in her skating prime. It may not have been as beautiful as Yuna and Carolina, but under the rules and the way it works, she did all that…I think it was a just strategy that worked on the night.”
Ultimately, there was no official protest filed with the   ISU or International Olympic Committee, so no official investigation was conducted. “I don’t think Sonja Henie was a political person in any way, shape, or form,” Dick Button told   Vanity Fair in 2014. The athlete herself pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution in March 1994, though it was only this year that she admitted she figured out what had happened after   the fact—even before   she was filled   in—but didn’t tell authorities. team, she still would have skated right into a hotbed of national subjectivity and playing favorites. (And speaking of traditional, even U.S. A new analysis from BuzzFeed News found that 16 of the 48 figure-skating judges who will be on the job in Pyeongchang—including two each from Canada and the United States, three from China and all three Russians—have evidenced a pattern of showing preference to skaters from their own countries in international competition. There is no such thing as competition without controversy, and when you add millions of dollars; massive egos; years of blood, sweat and tears; and international tension, sometimes between countries that don’t much like each other even on a good day, you’ve got controversy on steroids. And speaking of scandal,   all 163 Russian athletes at the Olympics   in Pyeongchang, including 15 figure skaters, are competing as “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” due to   the ban slapped on their national team for what the IOC determined was an entrenched, widespread, allegedly government-sanctioned doping program. (He resigned in 2004—and then was reelected in 2007.)
Le Gougne then recanted her confession, saying she’d been under pressure yet again, this time by the International Skating Union, to admit to something she didn’t do. Instead, however, critics of the scoring system and the judges implementing it were irate that Sotnikova skated away with the gold after attempting just enough trickery to win and turning in a tidy, though not   perfect performance. She ultimately supported U.S. champ Dick Button, who won the men’s figure skating at the Olympics in 1948 and 1952, weighed in via Twitter: “Sotnikova was energetic, strong, commendable, but not a complete skater. Getty Images; AP; Melissa Herwitt / E! Illustration

Show us a sport and we’ll show you a scandal. “That is really the only way you can describe it. And though it’s beautiful to look at and the inevitable stories of triumphing over adversity are heartwarming, figure skating has had its share of issues. National Championships (all roads lead to the Olympics in this sport) and Ashley Wagner,   who was a member of the group that won bronze in the inaugural team competition   in Sochi but missed out on making the team that went to Pyeongchang. Fast-forward to this year at the U.S. “I do care. Aside from her Sochi teammate Gracie Gold, who took herself out of the running for a 2018 Olympics spot last fall   to focus on her physical and mental health, Wagner   is the United States’   most well-known star on the ice—so call a country confused that the judges poked so many holes in her performance. Also Read:  Sam Gellaitry’s “Long Distance” Making Waves Again After Huge Super Bowl Ad
“Of course, the drama of a perfect mark has been taken away, but things had to evolve,” Canadian figure skater David   Pelletier told CBC Sports   last month. However, the   Chicago Tribune   pointed out that one of the judges on the panel was married to the general director of the Russian Figure Skating Association, and another judge, from Ukraine, had actually been banned from judging for a year after getting caught   in a result-fixing plot in 1998. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Sochi, in 2016 the International Skating Union ended judging anonymity, which had been implemented in response to the uproar in 2002—a welcome change for those clamoring for more transparency in the sport, not less. “I’m furious, I am absolutely furious,” Wagner told reporters afterward. In Berlin before the Olympics, Hitler and his entourage came to watch her skate and she greeted him with the Nazi salute and a “heil Hitler,” prompting headlines speculating that she was some sort of Nazi or Nazi sympathizer. “I considered that the Russians were the best. “All that will be recalled is a band of thugs from Portland, Ore., tried to rig the national figure skating association championships and the Olympics by stealth and violence.”
As   I, Tonya intended, it’s impossible to watch the film and not come away with the sinking feeling that Harding was competing against the odds all her life and was more of an innocent bystander in her own rather tragic story than the villain   the tabloids made her out to be 24 years ago. Gone was the old way where skaters were judged out of 6 on technical merit and artistry, and in came different   possible high scores for each skater based on the difficulty of the tricks they planned to execute and how well they did so, plus overall presentation. I fear I will never be allowed back in Russia again.”)
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“Adelina collected more points,” said 1984 Olympic gold medalist turned TV commentator Scott Hamilton, who was watching   from   the NBC booth. war efforts, but it didn’t escape notice that she didn’t donate to the Norwegian   resistance until after Pearl Harbor. So my motto is, ‘Take care of me, so I can take care of my family.’” She recalled, “The media had me convicted of doing something wrong before I had even done anything at all, before I had talked to anyone, before I get out of bed. After the 1936 Olympics, Henie retired from skating and set her sights on Hollywood, marrying an American and becoming a naturalized citizen in 1940. “You are a prime example of how ruthless ambition and raw greed can disrupt, degrade and disfigure a sport of grace even to the height of the Olympics,” Circuit Judge Donald Londer told Gillooly at sentencing. NBC News noted, as well, that 33 of the 164 judges considered eligible to judge the skating this year hold or once held leadership positions with their national skating federations—and 11 of the aforementioned 48 fit that bill, including a Korean judge who told a newspaper that she would make sure skaters from her country were “not disadvantaged” this year. “I know when I go and I lay it down and I absolutely left one jump on the table, but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so.”
In an attempt to avoid a deduction for poor sportsmanship in the court of public opinion, she tweeted later, “As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad. (Most of the online angst came from people in Korea.)
“I am stunned by this result, I don’t understand the scoring,” Katarina Witt, who won   back to back individual golds (in 1984 and 1988, for East Germany), reportedly said on German TV. Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now! Amid the uproar, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne   tearfully admitted to throwing her vote to the Russians   in exchange for a Russian judge’s vote for a   French ice-dancing pair, after being pressured from the president of the French Ice Sports Federation,   Didier Gailhaguet, to do so. We know the first one that comes to mind, in no small part due to the Oscar-nominated   I, Tonya   currently in theaters, so we’ll start with that:   Nancy Kerrigan getting whacked on the knee   in an otherwise hapless attack arranged by Tonya Harding‘s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly 24 years ago. “I judged in my soul and conscience,” she said. After being suspended indefinitely, she told the French paper L’Equipe that   she really did think the Russians should have won in the first place and she voted accordingly. And a single judge inclined to give a boost to his or her country’s team could influence the medal standings if the scores are close enough. If you look at Yuna of the past, this was not a program as difficult as she has done, and she left the opportunity for someone to collect points on that side of the scoring. Hers is definitely more of a traditional perspective, one shared by many but which doesn’t serve any athlete, coach or analyst to harp on these days. Gailhaguet thoroughly denied exerting any pressure on LeGougne. It was the first women’s figure-skating gold for Russia and Sotnikova’s best finish in non-junior international competition. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

When the medals were handed out in Sochi in 2014, more than 2 million people signed a petition demanding an investigation into the judging of the women’s figure skating after Russian Adelina Sotnikova   won the gold over South Korea’s Yuna Kim, who won gold in Vancouver 2010 and retired after the Sochi Games. Attorney and ISU championship judge Jon Jackson told a reporter at the time, “When accusations get that ridiculous, it’s an indication that people are running scared.”


Pelletier and Salé were ultimately awarded gold medals (at a ceremony that the Russian pair, who got to keep their medals as well, gracefully attended) and Le Gougne wrote a tell-all book, Glissades à Salt Lake City. You’d think the underdog, out-of-nowhere angle would’ve worked for people. I mean, I care, but I don’t care,” Harding told ABC News   in December. She finished fourth at nationals and   champion   Bradie Tennell, silver medalist   Mirai Nagasu   and bronze medalist Karen Chen are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Meanwhile, despite all the talk of favoritism, there is such a thing as the exact opposite of support from one’s home country in skating—but that appears to be reserved for those who really upset their compatriots. Everybody else’s opinions don’t matter. Sometimes literally. She was banned for life from the United States Figure Skating Association and stripped of the national title she won two days after Kerrigan was attacked. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Eight years later in Salt Lake City, the pairs figure-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics was allegedly   fixed—you know, no big deal—and the debacle prompted an overhaul of the age-old scoring system. (Which she presumably remembers from 2014, having had one of the more meme-able reactions   when she saw her short-program scores in Sochi, where she finished seventh overall in the individual competition.)

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Which is apparently just the way it is. “I think the only thing that I question is my scores compared to my scores in the past,” she continued. AP Photo/Lennox McLendon
“I knew that this would be with me for the rest of my life,” Harding told the   New York Times recently—and she wasn’t talking about the fact that she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. “I scored lower in the second mark in my short program than I did in a competition that I was injured at and those are the things that I’m confused about, but you know, the technical side, I think was totally fair and I ended up where I ended up, but, I mean, that moment I created for myself—a standing ovation at Nationals, that’s something that for me, I’ll forever be proud of.”  
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And if she had made the U.S. Gillooly spent six months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering for his role in what proved to be a career-killing PR debacle for Harding. She wasn’t even the favorite from her own team to win gold, those hopes having been placed on   15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia. As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. Which in turn, according to critics, made the scoring even more incomprehensible. Henie won back-to-back-to-back individual figure-skating gold medals at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympics (the last of which was held in Berlin but is not to be confused with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which is most remembered for U.S. “People watch figure skating for the athleticism and emotion that it can bring more than for the marks the athletes can receive.”

It was Pelletier and   partner   Jamie Salé   (the couple married in 2005 and have a son together) who were at the center of the controversy in 2002 after they were awarded the silver medal behind Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze—which didn’t appear right to anyone who had just watched Pelletier and Salé skate. “She was an opportunist… I don’t think she could have cared less who Hitler was, except for whatever power he had and what it would do for her career.”
The 1940 and 1944 Winter Olympics—to be hosted by Japan and Italy, respectively—were canceled due to World War II. I never made a deal with an official or a Russian judge.”  
Le Gougne then accused ISU technical committee chairwoman Sally Stapleford, who was British but also had a Canadian passport because her father was Canadian, of masterminding a plot to put Canada on top by drumming   up a French conspiracy. Tune in to NBC to watch the Winter Olympics. track star   Jesse Owens‘ four-gold-medal performance   under Hitler’s   maniacal gaze), but not before   causing widespread outrage back in Norway. That’s right, in a sport where the national bias is now just assumed, Wagner didn’t even benefit from her own home-soil advantage. Lastly Twitter,   before you eat me alive, don’t forget there is a real person on the other end of your tweets.”
The 26-year-old, whose competitive Olympic career is effectively finished, said on Today a few days later that she didn’t regret reacting strongly in the moment. Meanwhile, does anyone else think the current   athletic-proficiency-over-artistry approach might have served someone named Tonya Harding back in the day? I’m always the bad person.”
While that   act of violence in the name of competition turned out to be an isolated event in figure skating, a different kind of controversy emerged in its wake. She also admitted that the public perception of her (wild remembrances of the incident have ranged from people thinking she personally arranged the attack to thinking she clubbed Kerrigan herself) still gets to her sometimes. (The general consensus, however weak, was that she was just going with the flow and was not a political person.) She did not repeat the gesture during the Olympics,   but Hitler presented her with an autographed photo along with her gold medal, after which she and her parents are said to have accepted an invitation to lunch with him.