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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Skating Officials Deny Wrongdoing

Russian skating officials, coaches and judges vehemently denied any wrongdoing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and accused a U.S. judge of pressuring the other judges in the disputed pairs competition.

"We rarely open up our house to outsiders, but now we are forced to do so," Russian Skating Federation head Valentin Piseyev said at a news conference titled "The incessant campaign of unfounded attacks on Russian skaters launched in North America."

Piseyev denied that he and other Russian skating officials in Salt Lake City had ever seen or talked to Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, the reputed Russian mobster who was arrested in Italy at the request of U.S. prosecutors last week. Prosecutors say he persuaded a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team, and a Russian to vote in turn for the French ice-dancing team.

"These attempts to tarnish our athletes' reputations are due to growing competition in the world of figure skating, where big money is at play," said Tamara Moskvina, the coach of Russia's pairs champions Anton Sikharulidze and Yelena Berezhnaya. "Some people use dirty tricks, but we behave in a noble manner and suffer for it."

Russian judges Maria Sanaya and Alla Shekhovtsova, who judged the pairs and ice-dancing competitions, said they were not pressured by Tokhtakhounov or any other person who might have wanted the Russians to win.

"They talk about a vote-swapping deal. [French judge Marie-Reine] Le Gougne gave her vote to us in the pairs, and I voted for our skaters in the ice-dancing," said Shekhovtsova. "Where is the actual swap? The allegations about a conspiracy are absurd."

Sanaya heaped criticism on U.S. referee Ronald Pfenning, saying he had shown a bias against the Russians.

She said Pfenning ordered the judges at the start of the short program to award Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze with scores no higher than 5.8 in order to give the others a chance. "You should have seen the faces of the judges at that moment," Sanaya said. "He had no right to say that."

She said Pfenning also told the judges from Russia, China and Canada to exercise caution in voting for their home teams and threatened to punish those who showed partiality.

In addition, she said Pfenning failed to inform the judges that the Canadian pair had skated 13 seconds longer than the permitted time limit of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. She said that the judges would have had to give the Canadians a lower score and that they would have come in no better than fourth place.

The Canadians, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, were awarded duplicate gold medals after Le Gougne said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians.

Sanaya said Pfenning rushed to notify the judges when the Russians skated 1 second over the limit.

Pfenning was unavailable Thursday, and an official in his office declined to comment.

Sanaya said she filed a complaint against Pfenning to the International Skating Union's executive committee in April and is still waiting for a reply. She said the complaint was forwarded to the union's technical committee, of which Pfenning is a member.

Russian coach Yelena Chaikovskaya said at the news conference that she had witnessed a heated exchange between Le Gougne and Sally Stapleford, then-head of the ISU's technical committee, on the night Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze won in a 5-4 vote.

She said Stapleford was screaming at a weeping Le Gougne. The next day, Le Gougne said her vote had been cast under pressure.

Stapleford was a key witness in the pairs scandal. She was the one who first told the ISU that Le Gougne might have struck a deal with the Russians.

While something was amiss at the Games, Tokhtakhounov was never involved, Chaikovskaya said. "The mafia never helped us, and we never needed their help because we are the indisputable leaders in figure skating," she said.

Piseyev pointed out that Soviet and Russian skaters have dominated the ice since 1976.

Vladimir Vasin, the deputy head of the Russian Olympic Committee, said Olympic rules would not allow the results of the Salt Lake Games to be changed, as some top Olympic officials have discussed doing should Tokhtakhounov be found guilty.

"Results are never reconsidered," he said. "Only judges may be punished for their mistakes."