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Skating Scandal Overshadows Olympics

February 17, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Picabo Street competed in her last Olympic race, Americans went 1-2-3 in a winter event for the first time in 46 years and a snowboarder who had a liver transplant won a bronze medal.

Who knew, right?

While the world was absorbed with a skating dispute that will forever stain these games, 2,500 other athletes went on with the show _ their Olympic moments overshadowed by scandal.

Now that Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finally have their gold, athletes and fans have but one plea as the games enter their final week: Move on!

``It’s getting a little old,″ said Nancy Kemp of Foothill Ranch, Calif., in town to watch speedskating, snowboarding and, what else, figure skating.

``They got their medals,″ she said. ``They’re done.″

Even Sale and Pelletier seemed to agree.

``The Olympics are about everyone doing their personal best, and this is what everyone is talking about,″ Sale complained at a news conference after the International Olympic Committee awarded the pair a gold medal because a judge acted improperly.

``Let’s go watch the hockey games,″ Pelletier added. ``Let’s go watch some skiing. Let’s get down to some other things.″

The controversy consumed the first half of the Olympics, beginning with Monday night’s pairs competition when the Russians narrowly won the gold medal over the Canadians.

After a week of dueling news conferences, behind-the-scenes investigations and, finally, charges that a French judge was pressured to vote for the Russians, the IOC on Friday awarded the Canadians a second gold medal.

As one of the worst scandals in Olympic history unraveled, other athletes made some history of their own.

Street, the brash skier who rebounded from a broken leg to make the 2002 Olympic downhill team, flew down the slopes and into retirement, finishing 16th in her last competitive race.

Snowboarders Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas finished 1-2-3 in the halfpipe to give the United States its first medal sweep at the Winter Olympics since 1956.

Another American snowboarder, Chris Klug, came back a year and a half after a liver transplant, patched up a last-minute broken boot buckle and won a bronze medal in the parallel giant slalom.

Even athletes who didn’t medal found another way into the record books. At 48, U.S. Virgin Islands luger Anne Abernathy became the oldest woman to compete in the Winter Games. Teammate Dinah Browne was the first black woman in the sport’s Olympic history.

Mark Jackson, a short-track speedskater from New Zealand, said athletes are used to being overshadowed by the sport of the day. In his country, it’s rugby.

``There’s always a bigger and better sport out there,″ he said. ``You don’t let it affect you too much.″

The athletes, he said, were probably less in tune with the skating mess than the public because they’re trained to stay focused on their own sport. Nevertheless, Jackson added, ``Whenever we did turn over to American news it was always on, and it was always on the radio stations.″

Craig Cox of Chicago couldn’t change the channel fast enough when news of the scandal came on.

``I ignore it,″ he said as he took in some short-track speedskating with his family this weekend. ``There are enough other good things going on.″

American speedskater Mary Griglak was annoyed by the attention figure skating received at the expense of other events.

``We’ve really had some outstanding athletes, and the coverage is not there. It would be nice to see the coverage equally spread,″ she said. ``Controversies aren’t what you want to focus on. You want to focus on the medals and the teams.″

She might have gotten her wish.

Another close finish in skating was the biggest story Saturday _ but this one had nothing to do with double axels and corrupt judging, only thrilling competition.

Just 10 yards from the finish line and Olympic gold, American short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno went tumbling to the ice in a crash that took out all but one racer in 1,000-meter final.

Ohno, his leg gashed open by a skate, tripped and crawled his way across the line to win the silver. Just seconds earlier, an Australian surfer who had been in last place glided past Ohno to win his nation’s first gold medal in any Winter Olympics.

Now that’s a story.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Pauline Arrillaga is the AP’s Southwest regional writer, based in Phoenix.

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