ADLER, Russia -- Two of the judges on the panel for Adelina Sotnikova of Russia's controversial upset of South Korea's Kim Yuna in the Olympic Games women's figure skating competition have been linked to two of the biggest judge fixing scandals in Olympic history.
Alla Shekhovtseva, the wife of the executive director of the Russian figure skating federation and herself implicated in the 2002 Salt Lake City judge-fixing scandal, and Yury Balkov, a Ukrainian judge previously suspended for trying to fix results at the 1998 Olympics, were among four judges added to the nine-judge panel for Thursday's women's long program.
Among the judges Shekhovtseva and Balkov replaced were an American, a South Korean and Diana Stevens of Great Britain. Last June, Stevens was the key witness in a case that led to the suspension of another Ukrainian judge, Natalia Kruglova, for trying to fix the judging in an international event in 2012, according to International Skating Union documents.
"This sport needs to be held more accountable with its (judging) system if they want people to believe in it," said two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, who finished seventh Thursday.
And it was clear in the aftermath of Sotnikova's controversial victory that even some of skating's all-time greats no longer do.
"This is why people laugh at it. :1/2 #figureskating #mysport #corrupt," tweeted former World champion pairs skater Tai Babilonia, who trained with Randy Gardner under Orange County's John Nicks.
Even Sotnikova seemed taken aback by her score, a look of disbelief coming across the 17-year-old's face when her scores were posted on the Iceberg Skating Palace scoreboard.
"When I saw my scores," Sotnikova said, "I really didn't believe my eyes, frankly speaking."
She wasn't alone.
"Sotnikova was energetic, strong, commendable, but not a complete skater. I fear I will never be allowed back in Russia," tweeted two-time Olympic champion Dick Button, a longtime television commentator.
Sotnikova's margin of victory and overall score, in particular, raised eyebrows. Her total score from the two programs was 224.59, more than five points ahead of Kim's 219.11 overall mark and within four points of Kim's world record performance in winning the 2010 Olympic title, generally considered as the greatest skating display in history.
"I'm not the right person to comment on it and there's nothing that I could change with my words," Kim said when asked about her score.
Sotnikova's free skate score of 149.95 was also more than seven points higher than Japan's Mao Asada (142.71), who was overwhelmingly considered by former Olympic medalists and longtime coaches and officials as having the night's top long program.
Italy's Carolina Kostner finished with the bronze medal (216.73) rebounding from disastrous performances in two previous Olympics that led her to consider retiring in 2010. Gracie Gold, 18, the U.S. champion, was fourth at 205.53.
"Carolina and Yuna, (had) great skating skill, they're skating great tonight," said Gwendal Peizerat, a 2002 Olympic ice dancing champion. "Good jumps, nice presence on the ice, maturity, expression. How could they be six points behind somebody who has tremendous skill, but is coming out of juniors? Compared to Carolina, compared to Yuna, it's like something has happened.
"There's something that happened that makes people look at Adelina in a different way tonight and looked at Mao a different way tonight because she messed up yesterday. And so from nowhere, her skating skill and the marks in her jumps are dropping while Adelina's are just really high, with one of the highest scores we've ever seen and she just popped up out of junior? Wow."
Wagner, the only American to turn in two clean programs in the women's event, was also disappointed in her own mark of 193.20, which like her free skate mark (127.99), was substantially lower than Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, whose error-filled routine included an ugly fall, but still received a 135.34 free skate mark for an overall score of 200.57, good enough for fifth place.
"People don't want to watch sport when you watch people fall down and somehow score above some who goes clean," Wagner said.
"Yeah, I feel gypped. I do but when you say that, it always has such a bitter connotation and I'm not bitter. No one can take away what I accomplished here. The scoring doesn't reflect how I think I did. But it's a judgmental sport. It's what they see and who might have changed their opinion."
And it was who was sitting on Thursday's judging panel that cast the shadow of another judging scandal across Sotnikova's victory and the sport's credibility.
In the wake of the Salt Lake City judging scandal, the ISU, the sport's worldwide governing body, dropped the 6.0 scoring system replacing, it with a system that rewards points based on specific elements and execution. The new system was supposed to give judging credibility and avoid the geographical favoritism and backroom deals that had plagued the sport for decades.
But the presence of judges such as Balkov and Shekhovtseva at major events like the Olympics and World championships continues to raise questions about conflict of interest within skating and the ISU's commitment to reforming the sport, according to current and former Olympic skaters and coaches.
During each Olympic skating competition, judges are randomly drawn by ISU officials before the short program and free skate from a pool of judges accredited by the ISU. Great Britain's Stevens, Robert Rosenbluth of the United States, South Korea's Koh Sung-Hee, and Katarina Henriksson of Sweden were the four judges who were on the short program panel but not drawn for the free skate.
They were replaced by Balkov, Shekhovtseva, Zanna Kulik of Estonia and France's Helene Cucuphat.
Balkov tried to enlist Canadian judge Jean Senft in a scheme in which Senft favored Ukrainian skaters at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano in return for Balkov's support of a Canadian ice dancing team. Senft recorded the conversation and turned the tape over to the ISU, which suspended Balkov for a year.
Shekhovtseva came under scrutiny in the wake of the Salt Lake City scandal when a Russian mobster was caught on wiretaps detailing his plans to fix Olympic skating results with the help of a Russian ice dancing judge.
The mobster, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, according to the wiretaps, had arranged for a Russian judge to favor the French dancing team of Peizerat and Marina Anissina in return for a French judge aiding Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in the Olympic pairs competition, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
But in the wake the Russians' controversial pairs win over Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, a French pairs judge revealed the scheme and the Canadians were later awarded a gold medal by the IOC.
With the scheme exposed, Shekhovtseva, the Russian ice dancing judge, scored a Russian team ahead of the French. Shekhovtseva and the Russian federation have denied any wrongdoing.
Ukrainian judge Natalia Kruglova approached Stevens during the 2012 Coupe de Nice about inflating scores for a Ukraine pairs team, according to ISU documents. Stevens notified the ISU of Kruglova's plan and later testified before an ISU panel. Kruglova was suspended by the governing body for two years last June.
Unlike the old 6.0 system, the marks for each judge in the post-Salt Lake system are anonymous.
"People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of the anonymous judging," Wagner said.
"It was so much better to be able to say oh, this bad judge, the Russian judge was better for Russia," Peizerat said. "It was easy to see and I think it's still happening this way, but people don't understand, the numbers ... it was easier to see. Back then, the judges had to carry their responsibility up front and facing the people.
"(Today) nothing is visible."
Peizerat was sitting with five-time World champion Michelle Kwan at the free skate.
"We were like, shocked," Peizerat said of the victory. "And (Sotnikova) also said it on the press conference. She was surprised. The skater herself said she was really surprised."
Peizerat and other skaters said more than Sotnikova's win it was the margin of the victory that raises red flags. The Russian had seven triples to Kim's six, but with Sotnikova skating four skaters in front of Kim in the final group, Peizerat said it appeared the judges inflated the Russian's score so much to ensure plenty of cushion should Kim have added a last minute triple or other high-level elements.
"Something was working in the background," Peizerat said.
"I'm struck by the difference in the points," he continued. "How much room (they left Adelina with six points)? Yeah, how much room and why it happened like this. Would the room be so big if Adelina had skated last. That's a good question."
Wagner just one of many demanding answers.
"To be completely honest, this sport needs fans," she said. "This sport needs people who want to watch it. People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one that wins. People need to be held accountable.
"There are many changes that need to come to this sport if they want a fan base because you can't depend on this sport to always be there when you need it."
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