Official Says Judges Slanted toward Adelina Sotnikova

Feb 21, 2014


Written by Chistine Brennan

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts after placing first in the ladies free skate program during the Sochi 2014 Olympic WInter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace.

(Photo: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

SOCHI -- The reverberations of an Olympic judging decision that will be questioned for some time continued to be felt Friday around the figure skating world.

A high-ranking Olympic figure skating official, who spoke to USA TODAY sports on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, said the geographic makeup of the judging panel "was clearly slanted towards (Olympic gold medalist) Adelina Sotnikova," adding "this is what they can do."

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The nine-person panel for the Olympic women's long program included judges from four former Soviet bloc nations -- Russia, Ukraine, Estonia and Slovakia -- as well as France, which conspired with Russia for the Salt Lake City pairs judging scandal in 2002.

The other countries represented on the panel were Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan. Judges from the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and South Korea judged the short program but not the long.

The Ukrainian judge, Yuri Balkov, was suspended for one year when he was tape-recorded trying to fix the ice dancing competition at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Russian judge, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to the powerful general director of the Russian figure skating federation, Valentin Piseev.

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There's also a technical panel of three that makes all the crucial decisions about the difficulty levels of a skater's spins and whether jumps are under-rotated or downgraded, among other things, all of which lead to points a skater earns or doesn't. That panel was led by Alexander Lakernik, who also happens to be vice president of the Russian skating federation.

"That completes the whole picture," the skating official said.

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Another member of the technical panel, Finland's Olga Baranova, was seen hugging members of Russia's skating delegation beside the ice immediately after the skaters' flower ceremony.

The scores of the individual judges on the nine-member panel will never be known. According to the International Skating Union, the marks are never revealed, and the only oversight of the judges will be to see if any were out of a so-called "corridor," or the range of the other judges on various marks.

But that in itself would prove nothing about possible collusion. Unlike the pairs scandal in Salt Lake City, when the judges and their nations were identified with their marks, thus making it possible to identify the cheating French judge, the judges' scores now are secret and are totaled together to create one score for a skater's elements and another for her program components.

So a cheating judge, or two or three, can hide within this system and never be exposed.

This is why U.S. Figure Skating has submitted a proposal for this summer's ISU Congress to rescind anonymous judging. After she finished seventh in the women's event Thursday night, U.S. team bronze medalist Ashley Wagner reiterated that call.

"People need to be held accountable," she said. "They need to get rid of the anonymous judging."

Said the skating official: "It's just going back to the same old stuff again, which is really too bad."

An Olympic judge who was not on the women's panel, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said Sotnikova, "was not worthy of the marks she got. The Russian audience for sure influenced her marks."

The judge said Italy's Carolina Kostner should have been "1 to 1.5 points" better than Sotnikova on each program component score -- five in all, interpretation, choreography and the like. But the judges actually gave Sotnikova higher component scores.

As for reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim, the judge said: "Kim was so much better than Adelina in all aspects. Both Kostner and Kim were better than Adelina."