Sports

ICE UPROAR

One of the nine judges who picked Russia's Adelina Sotnikova for the Winter Olympics gold medal is the wife of the former president and current general director of the Russian figure skating federation.

Another was suspended for a year for trying to fix an event at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

As Sotnikova celebrated becoming Russia's first women's Olympic figure skating champion yesterday, claims swirled that the Games' hosts and not the skater had been awarded the gold medal.

The 17-year-old surged to her first major title ahead of South Korean defending champion Kim Yu Na and Italy's Carolina Kostner at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Thursday. While the Russian media hailed the teenager as a "super-sensation" who had saved the country's pride after the disastrous performance of the men's ice hockey team, questions were raised as to whether she merited the win. The 5.48-point gap between Sotnikova and Kim, bidding to become just the third woman to win back-to-back titles after Norway's Sonja Henie and Germany's Katarina Witt, raised eyebrows.

Witt, winner in 1984 and 1988, told German TV in the immediate aftermath of the result: "I don't understand it - I am little bit stunned."

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning was also baffled.

"I don't know," said the Canadian, now a broadcaster, who was at rink-side. "I'm trying to figure it out... I thought Yu Na outskated her, but it's not just a skating system. It's math."

One of the nine judges was Ukrainian Yuri Balkov, who was suspended for a year for alleged involvement in a fixing scandal at the 1998 Nagano ice dancing competition.

Another judge, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to Russian federation general director, Valentin Piseyev.

Sotnikova's performance was technically more difficult than both Kim's or Kostner's.

Both Sotnikova and Kostner did seven triple jumps, while Kim did six.

But how Sotnikova's presentation merited more than the beauty, fluidity and elegance of expression of both Kim, 23, and Kostner, 27, had many experts baffled.

A new figure skating judging system was brought in after a scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games but the difference now is that the judges' scores are anonymous and not by country.

American skater Ashley Wagner, who finished seventh, said: "They need to get rid of the anonymous judging. People need to be held accountable."

Over in South Korea, there was heartbreak and anger over the result.

Within hours, the website of the popular online campaigning forum, Change.org, crashed after more than 700,000 people logged on to sign a petition calling for a review of the judges' scores. 
Asked whether there would be an investigation over the matter, the International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said: "We need a bit of a reality check here. At this stage we are discussing purely hypothetical things. I would congratulate Adelina Sotnikova on what was a fantastic performance, as did Kim Yu Na.

"The first step would be (for the national Olympic committee) to make a protest.

"And I think that has not happened yet."

- Wire Services.