I'm proud of having competed in two Olympics. Coming away with two medals made it that much more exciting. But when I think back to those Olympic competitions, I don't focus on the medals. Instead it is the fact that I did my best, that I was part of a team representing our country, that I was involved in an event that represents the pinnacle of athletic achievement and that I was able to share dreams with hundreds of athletes from around the world.
Last week's debate in Salt Lake City once again stirs all of these feelings. I know Yelena [Berezhnaya] and Anton [Sikharulidze]--we've toured together--and they are great skaters. I feel sad for them as well as for Jamie [Sale] and David [Pelletier], sad that their big moment was lost amid yet another judging dispute. But the few technical mistakes Yelena and Anton made in their program--however slight--were unfortunately still mistakes. So, watching it on television, I was both surprised and not surprised when Jamie and David were given the silver. I thought: "Here we go again. That's figure skating."
But I hope last week's drama will help bring some order to our sport. And while I think this has, for the moment, ended equitably for all, the International Skating Union ruling may have opened a can of worms for the sport--and sport is a word I choose carefully. In the Olympics, figure skating is sport, not entertainment. As a result, international officials should change at least two things. First, currently, when two skaters or pairs tie on overall scores, judges use the artistic-merit score to break the tie. But if skating is truly a sport, how can a championship rest on the more loosely defined artistic merit? The technical score, which is much less open to interpretation, should be the ultimate criterion.
Second, the governing body should restrict the judges' access to skaters. The judges know who the top athletes are; they know who won last year's world championships and other key events. So why is it necessary to let judges see practices before the competition? Their votes should be based on each effort, not on preset notions they form during practice sessions.
Wouldn't it be exciting to see someone come from out of the blue to win a major championship? While they are at it, the I.S.U. might professionalize judging; now the judges are unpaid volunteers who don't have the accountability that is the hallmark of professionalism. Judges today needn't explain why they liked or didn't like a particular program. They should.
The public is tired of controversy. I applaud the quick solution by the I.S.U. and International Olympic Committee last week, showing the world that the athletes should come first. I also salute the Canadian Olympic Committee for standing up for its athletes. But now let's get back to the real reason for the Games.
At Lillehammer in 1994 I was in the spotlight, and I know how uncomfortable it is to have cameras following your every move. Jamie and David have handled themselves with the greatest of dignity in a tough situation, and I commend them for that. But just as in 1994, what has happened in Salt Lake City is not fair to the other athletes, whose accomplishments have taken a backseat. That's a loss for everyone. These Games began as a celebration of humanity and our ability to unite the world. Let's get back to the Games and share in the pride of these great athletes.