Netflix 'Bad Sport': Did Marie-Reine Le Gougne really cheat at 2002 Winter Olympics?

Netflix 'Bad Sport': Did Marie-Reine Le Gougne really cheat at 2002 Winter Olympics?
Salé and Pelletier receiving their gold medals alongside Sikharulidze and Berezhneya and French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne (Getty Images)

The Olympics is the biggest, most prestigious sporting event in the world. Athletes from more than 200 countries battle it out to clinch medals for their respective countries and become Olympic legends. So, it doesn’t come as a shock that every bit of news coming in from the event become instant headliners. But there have not been too many instances of controversial wins at the Olympics. However, there is one instance that completely shocked the entire world and is still regarded as one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the Games.

In the 2002 Winter Olympics, athletes were set to give the performance of a lifetime and win a medal. The games were taking place at Salt Lake City in Utah and everyone was excited to see the finals of the Figure Skating event. One of the judges during the event was Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the former French figure skater. But at the end of the event, something truly bizarre happened which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.



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It was reported that someone from the judging panel cheated and chose the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton ahead of the Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, even though the Canadians' routine was better than the Russians. The French judge, Le Gougne, drew the most suspicion to herself. So, what did she do? And was she actually guilty of cheating? Let’s dig a little deeper and find the truth.


Who is Marie-Reine Le Gougne?

Le Gougne took up figure skating as a child in France and was considered to be one of the best skaters. She competed at a high level and won the bronze medal at the French National Championships twice. The former athlete decided later to become a skating judge, and progressed rapidly up the ranks. At the age of 36, she judged the figure skating event at the 1998 Winter Olympics. In 2002, she returned to judge the event at the 2002 Winter Olympics as well.

However, her entire life turned upside down after the figure skater finally ended and a scandal emerged.


What happened at the 2002 Olympics figure skating scandal?

The Russian pair of Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were in the top two with the Canadians Sale and Pelletier. During the short program, Salé and Pelletier had tripped and fallen on their closing pose. Because the fall was not on an element, it did not receive a deduction but resulted in the pair being placed second behind Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.

Salé and Pelletier received 5.9s and 5.8s for technical merit, while the Russians received mostly 5.8s and 5.7s. However, the Canadians received only four 5.9s for presentation versus the Russians' seven. So, the Russians won the Gold and the Canadians won the Silver. As soon as the results were announced, the TV commentators instantly questioned the judgment and they knew some of the judges did some manipulation.

When she returned to the officials’ hotel, Sally Stapleford, chair of the International Skating Union's Technical Committee, confronted her. During the interrogation, Le Gougne had a breakdown in which she allegedly said that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating organization, Didier Gailhaguet, to vote for the Russian pair regardless of how the others performed.

However, in a later signed statement, she denied taking part in such a deal and also revealed that she truly believed that Russians deserved to win.


The Aftermath

On April 30, 2002, Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were suspended by the ISU for three years and prohibited from attending the 2006 Winter Olympics for their roles in the scandal. Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were accused of manipulating the scoring during the finals. She was found guilty of misconduct on two counts.

The entire crisis turned everything upside down for the ISU and a new organization was formed and it was named World Skating Federation. It took all the control away from ISU.
In 2018, in an interview with Reuters, Le Gougne said that she didn’t have the power to see any skating competition after what happened in 2002. “I have been absolutely incapable of watching a competition on television since February 11, 2002,” Le Gougne said.

The entire story of the figure skating scandal will be told extensively in the upcoming sports documentary series on Netflix, titled ‘Bad Sport’.

‘Bad Sport’ arrives on Netflix on Wednesday, October 6.


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