The Triple Axels of Evil
Jamie Salé and David Pelletier's silver-medal finish in the Olympic pairs figure-skating competition has united the Canadian press in outrage. The controversy dominated Wednesday's papers with headlines like "Skategate" (the Toronto Sun), "Outrage!" (the Edmonton Sun), "Scandal on Ice" (the Winnipeg Free Press), and "Ice Storm" (the Calgary Sun). "We wuz robbed!" screamed the Edmonton Sun's editorial. Even French Canada chimed in (Salé, from Alberta, and Pelletier, from Quebec, span Canada's twin solitudes), with Montreal's papers invoking the P-word: La Presse led with "Salé and Pelletier Victims of a Plot" and Le Journal de Montréal with "Salé-Pelletier, Some Judges Plotted Before the Competition." Several papers floated a conspiracy theory: According to "sources" quoted in Toronto's Globe and Mail, the outcome of Monday's pairs skating competition was "predetermined" as part of a deal tied to the results of the ice-dancing competition, which begins Friday. Thursday's papers reported that the French judge now admits she was pressured to "act in a certain way."
Is the problem with the judges or with the whole notion of judging? The National Post's editorial declared, "The five men and women who deemed their performance second best to an elegant but identifiably flawed Russian pair … proved that many of the judges who evaluate Olympic figure skating events are—true to rumor and stereotype—either incompetent, biased, corrupt or, very possibly, all three." A Globe and Mail columnist wondered why skating is more prone to allegations of corruption than other judged sports such a gymnastics, diving, or freestyle skiing: "Figure skating and ice dancing are the only judged sports that use ordinals (placements) to determine winners; the athlete who takes the majority of first placements wins. Some observers suggest this has led to bloc voting."
Or is it anti-Canadian bias? The National Post tracked down Erich Segal, whose book Love Story inspired the Canadian long program. He told the Post, "I think they were robbed. I think China and Russia are in a cabal." The Edmonton Sun concluded, "[T]he ugly nationalist political game that has plagued the Olympics over the years came into play once again, and a flawless, technically perfect and beautifully executed routine from Salé and Pelletier was inexplicably relegated to second place, behind an imperfect, if heartfelt, performance from the Russians." The Vancouver Sun agreed, "[T]he Russians won on reputation, the Eastern European preference for very traditional choreography and a community of judges that favours its own." If so, "this time they picked on the wrong people," according to the National Post's Cam Cole:
[B]y victimizing a North American pair, on North American soil, while reinforcing the belief that Russian political scheming trumps talent every time, skating has now raised the ire of the one continent where figure skating is big box office. North America fills world skating's bank account. North America imports poor Russian coaches and gives them skating rinks for toys. And in exchange, it gets a frozen boot in the ribs? Not for much longer.
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.