From France, A Judge's Utter Gall

Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the judge at the center of the 2002 skating scandal at the Winter Games, takes credit for the new scoring system.
Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the judge at the center of the 2002 skating scandal at the Winter Games, takes credit for the new scoring system. (By Yves Dieffenbacher -- Associated Press)
By Sally Jenkins
Friday, January 20, 2006

My life was so dull without Marie-Reine Le Gougne, I almost thought of ending it. Yes, it's true, at times I considered doing the worst to myself -- but then I thought, mais non , I am too precious, I cannot deprive the world of me, because after all, I am I. Without me, who would pay homage to the career of the figure skating judge and martyr, that renowned egoist Madame La Gougne? She has suffered so. Her suffering is nothing compared to mine, mais oui , but then, whose is? I am I, and she is she.

I was inconsolable while she was away. The world of skating was a desert. There was no fur-clad scandal, no perfumed deceit, or accented indignation. Imagine my desolation. It was as if the sun went behind a cloud. Just thinking about it makes me wish to lie down. Perhaps I have seen too much beauty. I must close my eyes.

But now Madame Le Gougne has returned to the public. In a recent interview, just as the skating world prepares for the Winter Olympics in Turin, she spoke out about her role in the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Games four years ago. The persecutions she has endured since then are apparently greater than earthquakes, wars, tsunamis, hurricanes or any of the other events that have occurred in the last quadrennial. She, too, thought of ending her life. But she did not. Perhaps what saved her was finding the perfect little scarf.

"I had periods of terrible suffering. It's true that I contemplated suicide," she told the Associated Press in an interview earlier this week in Paris. "But it's not in vain if it helps the world of skating evolve, if it undergoes a revolution."

A revolution! To the barricades!

She was so cruelly exiled after the affaire in Salt Lake City. She was, of course, the real victim, not the Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, or Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, whose medals were compromised by her fraudulent marks. The mob of an audience maltreated her too, with the largest torrent of boos in skating history.

Later, Madame collapsed in tears and confessed she had been under pressure from her federation's chief, Didier Gailhaguet, to cooperate in a vote-rigging conspiracy. Then she recanted. Her story became histrionic and confused. The accusations flew, yes, no, yes, no! What was a sensitive woman to do? Perhaps the vivid colors of the skaters' outfits affected her mind.

She was banned from skating for three years for corruption. I feared for her health, which is fragile as a flower petal. What would she do without the complimentary and lavish comforts of Olympic skating officialdom, the scented lobbies of four-star hotels, the warmth of ankle-length sable? The small coffees and creme fraiche? The little cakes?

Who knows what anguish, misery and torments she has endured the past four years. I was so worried for her that there were times when all I could do was smoke and brood, and walk my little dog. At meals, I could eat nothing more than a single smoked oyster.

The Salt Lake dispute forced the International Skating Union to reform its century old judging system. A new formula will be in effect in Turin: Instead of secretive deal making and subjective scores on a scale up to 6.0 issued by fragile aesthetes dressed in opera clothes, skaters will accumulate points for jumps, spins, footwork and artistic elements. The judges will punch their numbers into a computer during the performance. They will still be dressed in opera clothes.

Madame Le Gougne, incroyable as it seems, takes credit for this reform. "World skating has paid me homage," Le Gougne said. "I saw it at the Trophee Bompard [in November] when the judges came to see me and said: 'Marie-Reine, the new scoring system is so great, thank you Marie-Reine because without you there would not have been a new scoring system.' "

I would like to say thank you to Marie-Reine too. Thank you, Marie-Reine, for this exceptionally fine idea of thanking yourself for things you did not actually do. It's sort of like Bob Ney congratulating himself for lobbying reform. In the spirit of this idea, I want to pay homage to myself for a few things. The film "Munich." The mission to Pluto. Without me, my parents would not have been parents.

And thank you, Marie-Reine, for the entertainments you have provided. In a way, I will miss the old judging system that you were so much a part of. The theatrics, the conspiracies, the swooning and fainting. It plunges me into tristesse to think of a Winter Olympics without you and your kind. I fear it could lead to ennui . I could die of boredom with a single sigh. I must hold a lavender-scented kerchief to my face.

But there is some hope that we will see Madame Le Gougne again. She will attempt to be reinstated as a judge after the Turin Games. So perhaps there will be other occasions for homage.

I must go and sit in a cafe and think about that. Perhaps for days.

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