By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/15/2006 5:45:02 PM ET 2006-02-15T22:45:02

TORINO, Italy — A great many people watching the ice skating pairs finals in Salt Lake City in 2002 thought Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier had been robbed of the gold. And it turned out they probably were.

"How did that happen?" asked broadcaster Scott Hamilton during NBC's coverage four years ago. "That will be debated forever!"

French Judge Marie Reine Le Gougne admitted she'd traded her first-place vote for a Russian pair for the promise of a later vote for a French ice dancing team. Amid the odor of scandal, the Canadians were awarded a gold medal too, and the judging for figure skating was forced to reform.

"Salt Lake City provided us an opportunity to say, 'How do we measure our sport?'" says Ted Bartonof the International Skating Union. "Well, in fact, we didn't measure it. We simply voted for who we liked."

And that's the benign view. The separate scores judges gave for technical merit and artistic impression were so subjective that skating lore is laced with suspicions about bloc judging, vote trading and influence peddling.

Some top skaters like U.S. champion Johnny Weir aren't wild about the new system.

"Because everyone's trying to do the easiest things to get the most points," he says.

Weir accepts that the aim is to keep subjective scoring — and potential bias — to a minimum. Medals will be awarded on technical moves, each with a specific value, with points added or subtracted depending on execution, all backed up by video tape review.   

But Weir says there's real pressure now to cut out trademark flourishes or the riskiest jumps — too much of a penalty for failure, when spins and footwork pile up the points.

"It's teaching us that we don't have to go for all these hard things," says Weir. "It's also making everyone look a bit similar." 

The judging changes — including only counting seven of 12 anonymous judges' scores so no one corrupt judge can guarantee a result — are all intended to prevent further scandal.

Figure skating basicsBut Jamie Sale and David Pelletier — pro skaters now, and working for NBC Sports in Torino — both wonder if enoughhas changed.

"There will, to my opinion, always be a little bit of corruption," says Pelletier. "In this system, you will not know about it. You cannot believe everything you hear. You cannot believe everything you see. 

Even Marie Reine Le Gouge, banned for three years, has now recanted her admission of cheating and has been reinstated. She will, perhaps, judge a future Olympics.

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