Virtue and Moir shrug off reports of vote swapping skating scandal

Watch the above video:  A French magazine is reporting a secret deal between Russian and American  judges to keep Canadian figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir out of the medal standings. Alan Carter reports.

SOCHI, Russia – Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir insist they won’t let the rumblings of a skating scandal — in a sport that has been rife with them — ruin their final Olympic appearance.

Twelve years after the judging scandal that rocked the Salt Lake Olympics, Canada’s Olympic ice dance champions found themselves in the midst of one at the Sochi Games on Saturday.

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“I guess that’s part of being in a judged sport, there’s nothing you can do about that,” said a visibly upset Virtue.

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French newspaper L’Equipe has reported that Russian judges would help keep Virtue and Moir off the top of the podium, in favour of Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

In exchange, the American judges would help Russia win gold in the new team event, according to L’Equipe.

It brought back memories of the judging scandal in Salt Lake City, when Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were temporarily denied gold due to backroom dealing between judges.

Virtue and Moir were taken aback when they arrived in the mixed zone after their short dance program Saturday night, part of the inaugural team event, and the first question asked was about the brewing scandal.

“(Judging) is not at the top of our minds,” Moir said. “Being Canadians we lived through Sale and Pelletier. . . figure skating has a storied past with all that stuff. But the beautiful thing about being an athlete guys is that’s none of our concern.

Watch the above video: Canadians comment on alleged figure skating scandal

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“When we sit in the kiss and cry and get the marks, the disappointment on our faces is because of our performance today, it has nothing to do with the technical panel or the judges.”

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L’Equipe’s story, under the headline “Petits arrangements entre amis” — or “Small arrangements between friends” — cited an unnamed Russian coach as saying there was a “proposed barter” between the two countries.

The 24-year-old Virtue, and Moir, 26, were beaten by Davis and White in the short dance Saturday night, but there could be no arguing the scoring. The Americans scored 75.98 to the Canadians’ 72.98, but Virtue lost her balance slightly on their twizzles — side-by-side travelling spins — that left the two out of sync.

Virtue and Moir are expected to retire after Sochi, and what will be their 17th season together, and Moir said he wasn’t about to let any rumblings of a scandal shake him.

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“We’re here for our moment, and our moment is what Tessa and I make on the ice,” Moir said. “Our goal is to go out there and make a tribute to our career and the training that we’ve done this year, and make all Canadians figure skating fans proud.”

Virtue said if she looked upset, it was because she was caught off guard by the judging line of questioning.

“We’re so in our bubble, that’s the great thing about the village,” said the London, Ont., native. “I have five contacts in my phone and I’m not reading anything online and we’re sort of disconnected from the world, and it’s the first we’re hearing about it,” she said. “Nothing really can impede on our little bubble, so no I don’t think I’m particularly emotional about that.”

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The rival teams — who train together in Canton, Mich., and share the same coach in Russian Marina Zoueva — have been neck-and-neck since Vancouver, but the balance in results has tilted more toward the Americans over the past year and a half. Davis and White won both the world championships last spring and the Grand Prix Final in December.

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U.S. Figure Skating said the comments the L’Equipe story were “categorically false.”

“There is no ‘help’ between countries,” the association said in a statement. “We have no further response to rumours, anonymous sources or conjecture.”

Skate Canada’s high performance director Mike Slipchuk said he was staying clear of the judging scuttlebutt, and insisted he’s confident the marks will be fair.

“I stay clear of that stuff,” Slipchuk said. “I have full confidence that the skaters go out and do their job, they will do their job on the ice, the judges will judge it as they see it.

“Our focus going into here is performance on the ice and we’re fully confident the performances will be judged as how they are on the ice,” Slipchuk added. “We can’t get involved in stuff like that, that’s peoples’ opinion and we’re just staying out of it.”

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Another judging scandal, however, is the last thing the sport needs after the entire scoring system was overhauled on the heels of Salt Lake.

Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were awarded gold in 2002 over Sale and Pelletier after the French Skating Federation made a deal with the Russians. Sale and Pelletier were later awarded a joint gold with the Russians.

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The old 6.0 scoring system was then replaced in 2004 to make the scoring more objective.

The new system has set technical marks for each required element. There are also component marks — which range from 0 to 10 and replace the old artistic marks — for skating skills, footwork, performance, composition and choreography that still leave room for interpretation.

Under the new system, the highest and lowest scores are dropped.

Davis said Saturday night was the first she’d heard of the L’Equipe article as well.

“It’s unfortunate there is an article,” she said. “We are confident what we are putting out on the ice speaks for itself.”

Slipchuk shrugged off the results of the Grand Prix Final in December, the only other meeting between the rivals this season, and said Virtue and Moir are peaking at the right time.

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“Every event and every performance forward was just another building block,” he said. “We’ll see how they all do here, and leave it on the table here. Like any sport, you’re going to do perfect performances to win Olympic gold, so that would obviously will dictate what happens here.”

This is also the 20th anniversary of perhaps figure skating’s biggest scandal, the “Whack Heard Round the World.” On the eve of the 1994 U.S. championships, about a month before the Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee by a police baton. The assault was planned by rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and co-conspirator Shawn Eckardt.

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