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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 20:14 GMT

Russians keep gold despite inquiry

BBC Sport Online's James Cowling reports on the continued controversy surrounding the result in the pairs' competition at the Winter Olympics.

The International Skating Union has launched an investigation into the controversial pairs final in Salt Lake City but says it cannot change the result.

Two days after Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russian squeaked victory over Canadian World Champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the controversy continues.

US referee Ronald Pfenning has made unspecified allegations against an unnamed judge officiating at the final, though these are said to have been denied.

The International Olympic Committee has now stepped in to persuade the skating union to resolve the matter before it overshadows the Games.

"While the IOC trusts the ISU will take all appropiate decisions we would like to emphasize the high urgency of the matter and the need to take adequate action as quickly as possible," said IOC president Jacques Rogge.

Earlier, speaking at a press conference, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta said: "I was embarrassed by the result but still do not think we are in the presence of a scandal.

"I have not the power to change the result, we cannot change the result of the competition.

"I am not a judge of the judges, I am the president of the ISU."

Canadian officials say they will lodge an appeal against the result.

Cinquanta added that the allegations surrounding the judging would be discussed at an ISU meeting in four days time and that no action would be taken until then.

The ISU announced it would conduct a rare 'internal assessment' after the Canadian Olympic delegation demanded an investigation into the pairs' result after Monday night's fiasco.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Olympic Association president, Michael Chambers has sent a letter to the ISU requesting an inquiry into the judging of the sport.

Chambers stated in the letter: "The COA is very disturbed by the results in the pairs free programme competition.

"It was apparent for whatever reason, the marks of the judges did not reflect accurately the actual performances."

Judges tight-lipped

Skate Canada, the country's national figure skating body, also issued a statement.

It read: "Be assured that if there is a hint of impropriety, Skate Canada will pursue every avenue available to address this."

It's media director, Brenda Gorman, said that the nine judges have been instructed not to talk to the media until next Friday after all the figure skating competitions have concluded.

While Canadians are incensed over the result, many Russians are rejoicing.

1984 Olympic pair's champion Oleg Vasilyev of Russia said: "Even though Sikharulidze made a slight technical error, they produced a superlative artistic impression. It was their victory."

The President of Russian Figure Skating, Valentin Piseyev, was entirely unrepentant.

"Our skaters were better and they won first place. What else is there?" he said.

The Russian couple even received a telegram from Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing his sincere congratulations on a superb victory.

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