Complaints about judging in Olympic ice dancing? How unoriginal!
In a sport where subjectivity is accepted, even approved, the judges are in the forefront as much as the coaches or choreographers. Perhaps even as much as the skaters.Four years ago, an uproar over Pasha Grishuk and Yevgeny Platov's victory at Lillehammer forced the International Skating Union to call a special news conference to explain the result.
Now that the Olympics are back, so are Grishuk and Platov, and so is the grumbling.
"The Olympic Games are very political," Anjelika Krylova said Friday night after she and partner Oleg Ovsyannikov finished second in compulsories to their compatriots, who tripped slightly during the waltz. "I think only about my performance, not about my place."
Five-time U.S. champions Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow were seventh in the waltz and tango. Asked about the predictability of the marks, Swallow shrugged and said:
"This sport has been like this since its inception. You learn to deal with it, because it's always been there. But it's very frustrating at times. Skaters who say it is not are not being honest."
And the judges? Are they being honest?
That's impossible to tell because in ice dancing there are no jumps or spins on which to base marks. Flow, unison and theatrics are everything.
Grishuk and Platov's 21-event winning streak nearly ended at the European championships when Platov fell after crossing skates with his partner in the original dance. Krylova and Ovsyannikov won that portion, but the favorites came back to win the free dance, amid complaints that they were not marked down enough in the original dance.
More eyebrows were raised Friday when French couple Marina Anissina - who was born in Moscow - and Gwendal Peizerat placed third, ahead of Canada's Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, the world bronze medalists the past two years.
The top three duos were asked about an alleged judging conspiracy to keep the Canadians, who were tied for fourth, off the podium. Russia and France both have judges on the panel, while Canada does not.
Natalia Dubova, a renowned Russian coach who works with Bourne and Kraatz, made that charge after the compulsories, worth 20 percent of the total score.
"They had a lot of time at Europeans to discuss what to do here," she claimed. "They came up with a plan."
But Peizerat said he had no knowledge of any plan.
"I am sorry, but all teams travel with judges and political staff," Peizerat said. "It is not from our side; our job is to skate well and do our best because the competition is at a great level. I think we are really out of this political problem."
And Platov said: "I didn't know about anything of this Russian and French community. We are here to skate."
They will skate again Sunday in the original dance, worth 30 percent, and Monday in the free dance, worth 50 percent.
Punsalan and Swallow, who are married and live in Pontiac, Mich., are happy to steer clear of the judging controversies. Their last Olympics was marked by tragedy when her father was murdered by her brother. It happened just days before the couple left for Norway, where they wound up 15th.
This time, in their next-to-last Olympic competition, the Americans are enjoying the experience.