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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 04:18 GMT

Russian pair spark medal row

By BBC Sport's James Cowling

Russian figure skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze have won a controversial gold at the Winter Olympics.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze made a mistake in their side-by-side jumps.

But they still managed to outskate a flawless performance by the Canadian team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who finished second.

Pelletier was so sure of victory, he got down on his knees and kissed the ice as the crowd shouted: "Six, six" as they expected maximum marks.

"Our silver medal is worth a gold medal"
Jamie Sale

But rapturous applause turned to disbelief when the judges' result came up in a very close five-four split in favour of the Russians.

"I am angry. It is tough tonight. It is the toughest day of my life," said Pelletier, who burst into tears during a press conference.

"When I turn 50, I am sure I will look at the medal and say 'well, it seems like it does not shine enough. It should be gold'."

The Russian duo received 5.7s and 5.8s across the board for technical merit and seven 5.9s and two 5.8s for presentation.

The marks for the Canadians were superior to their rivals for technique but fell short in the presentation department.

They received only three 5.9s and six 5.8s for their second mark.

Sale could not hide her disappointment.

"Our silver medal is worth a gold medal," she said.

It was their first loss in nine competitions.

The pair's choreographer Lori Nichol said: "The judges' decision is an embarrassment to this sport.

"My job now is (to make sure) that they don't punish themselves or take to heart the opinion given by a few of the judges on the panel tonight."

The tension for the final grew in the warm-up when Sale crashed into Sikharulidze at full speed.

Both fell and Sale appeared slightly injured, although neither team seemed affected by the collision when they performed their free programmes.

China's Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao finished third, capturing the first ever Olympic pairs' medal for their country.

Skating last, the highly acrobatic team almost made history with an attempted throw quadruple salchow.

Shen nearly competed the difficult move but fell off the edge of her skate after landing it.

The crowd seemed almost oblivious to the feat, as people were still in shock over the result for first place.

For Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, however, their win makes it 11 gold medals in a row for the Russians.

They have won the pairs' title at every Olympics since 1964.

They have won the pairs' title at every Olympics since 1964.

"It was a gold-medal performance," insisted Sikharulidze.

"We tried to skate with emotions, with everything. There was no fall, no big mistake.

"If something was wrong with my jump, it was a minor thing."


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