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Pique n your interest

Canadian figure skaters robbed by judges

The problem with judged events at the Olympics is that deep down everybody wants their own countrymen to win.

It's simple human nature.

Nationalism is at its highest during the Games, even among the most blase patriots.

Canadians who would never normally watch the luge or the bobsled races are glued to their TVs for a short two weeks to see how our athletes perform among the world's best. And the enduring question throughout the Games revolves around our medal standings and how we compare to others.

One week ago at the opening ceremonies, this nationalism was the good kind – the kind that makes international sporting events fun to watch.

It's nationalism that raises the sporting bar a little notch higher as world records get shattered while athletes are wearing their country's colours, proud to represent their nation. It fosters friendly rivalry between nations and makes national heroes out of regular people.

I never thought a curling team or a speed skater could become a country's sporting icons but for a brief moment in time, these people represent the pride and glory of their country.

When our top athletes don red and white Roots wear, even those Canadians whose Olympic dreams are entirely wrapped up in a puck, get a little riled up.

We all felt the disappointment when Canadian speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon fell on his face in the first few steps of the 500-metre event on Tuesday.

Likewise, we were elated when we got our first medal, a bronze, after 22-year-old Cindy Klassen came in third in the 3,000-metre women's speed skate.

And in past Olympic Games, Canada has shared in the shameful embarrassment of drug scandals that blight the country as a whole on the international stage.

But now forget embarrassment; forget disappointment and even forget elation. Canadians have been robbed.

Now that Canadian nationalism has the undertone of a quiet fury.

It's as though we've all been collectively ripped off with a silver medal in the pairs figure skating.

But this time we're not going to keep quiet about it and bumble along deferentially in our usual Canadian way.

The Canadian Olympic Association is demanding an independent inquiry into figure skating judges after gold medal hopefuls Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were awarded the silver medal.

The nationalistic hype surrounding Salé and Pelletier began long before they took to the ice on Monday night. They had the nation's support behind them perhaps more than any other athletes at the games (besides the men's hockey team) because we all knew they had big skates to fill.

For the past 42 years the Russians had won the pairs figure skating at every winter Olympics – 10 gold medals in a row.

It was up to Sale and Pelletier to break this streak and put Canada on the top. And more importantly, defeat the Russians.

Sure, it doesn't rouse the same kind of emotion as the 1972 Summit Series, after all it is figure skating, but the idea is the same.

Canadians who had never heard of the couple until last weekend wanted them to win because, well... simply because they are Canadian.

Instead, they were beaten – but not because the Russians skated a superior routine. In fact, the opposite is true.

The Canadians lost marks in the artistic portion of their Love Story skate, receiving the lowest scores ever for that particular program. This time, however, it was a nearly flawless program.

Everyone knew it was a sham. The collective booing throughout the stadium when the marks flashed up told it all. Even the Russians couldn't beam with the usual pride of gold medal winners. Even they knew that the Canadians were wearing the wrong colour around their necks.

Now rumours are swirling at the Games that Eastern Bloc countries were voting together, in some sort of throw back to the Cold War, and other ideas are circulating about an errant French judge who is expecting favours from the Russians in the upcoming ice dance event.

It is unclear how much weight this investigation into the judges will carry and whether or not it can overthrow the original decision.

Only the Canadian pair themselves seems resigned to the decision and to their silver medals. They know, of course, who the true winners were on Monday.

Of course, being the Olympics, it was really to be expected. It could hardly be the Games without some sort of scandal, particularly a Canadian scandal.

Whatever comes out of the investigation, one thing remains.

Judged events in the Olympics can never be truly impartial. Judges, try as they might, still see competitors as the representatives of their respective nations. It's much the same way that the judges themselves represent their own countries too.

And it's not as though they're sequestered before they get to Salt Lake City. They're well aware of the hype. It's practically tangible in some cases, like when Kelly Clarke won the gold for the American in the snowboarding half-pipe.

How different was Clarke's performance from the silver or the bronze medalists?

Judged events will never truly be objective – Salé and Pelletier learned that the hard way.




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