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Scott D. Pierce: 2002 skating scandal has new life

Published: Friday, April 18 2008 12:33 a.m. MDT

It's been six years since the Salt Lake Winter Olympics ended, but the scandal will be back at center stage on ESPN this weekend.

No, not that scandal. The scandal involving the figure-skating judging will be the subject of a report on "Outside the Lines," which airs Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN and at 10 a.m. on ESPNews.

For those of you who might have forgotten, there was a major controversy when the Canadian figure-skating pair of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finished second behind Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Nearly every observer thought the Canadians should have taken the gold. Suspicion fell on the judges, and, eventually, Sale and Pelletier were awarded a co-gold medal.

In July 2002, Russian organized-crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov — thought to be the mastermind behind the fix — was arrested by Italian authorities. But attempts to extradite him to the U.S. have failed.

It's Tokhtakhounov who's interviewed on "Outside the Lines" by John Barr. ESPN is calling it his first interview with non-Russian TV. And, not surprisingly, Tokhtakhounov says he's an innocent man.

"I would like the American audience to know the truth about me," he says. "That all that's being written about me is completely untrue.... (I'm a) successful businessman, a patron of the arts, a community worker. That's what I call myself today."

On the other hand, Dennis Bolles, head of the FBI Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, isn't buying it.

"Well, John Gotti said that," Bolles says. "Paul Castellano said that. Members of the Gambino crime family said that."

Also interviewed on the program are Sale and Pelletier.

If nothing else, Skate-gate made people forget about that other scandal surrounding the Salt Lake Olympics. Whatever that was ...

STOP ME IF you've heard this one before. These days, it's OK to be a bigot against some people and not OK to be a bigot against others.

Case in point: ESPN radio commentator Ric Bucher, who brought religion into a discussion of why the EnergySolutions Arena is a tough place to play.

"Let's be honest. They're Mormon. And they're in Salt Lake. And there's nothing else there," he said. "You've got to smile and be happy all the time. This might be one opportunity for fans to get vicious."

Let's leave aside the lame comment about how there's nothing to do in Utah. That's been done so many times it's neither original nor amusing — let alone accurate. If Bucher had left it at that, nobody would have noticed his comments.

And let's leave aside how dumb it is to assume that everyone in Utah, let alone everyone in the EnergySolutions Arena, is a member of the LDS Church.

But let's be honest. If Bucher had been talking about the Knicks and said, "They're Jews and they're in New York City"; if Bucher had said, "They're African-Americans and they're in Memphis," he would have been suspended if not fired by now.

Because some forms of bigotry are less acceptable than others.

Bucher has somewhat of a history of weird comments about members of the LDS Church. Years ago, he wrote of Shawn Bradley in ESPN: The Magazine, "I'm not advocating that a Shawn vs. Shaq showdown favors the spindly Mormon."

Why even use a religious reference at all? Does it have anything to do with basketball?

Would Bucher have written "spindly Jew"? "Spindly Catholic"?

Probably not.

This sort of thing puts Bucher on the same intellectual level as Dennis Rodman. The ex-Chicago Bull, of course, received what was the largest fine in NBA history at the time when he said, "It's difficult to get in sync because of all the (expletive deleted) Mormons out here."

If Bucher is comfortable being as smart as Rodman, well, who are we to argue?


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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