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Skaters deny scandal claims

French ice dancers Gwendal Peizerat and Marina Anissina face the press
French ice dancers Gwendal Peizerat and Marina Anissina face the press  

ARLES, France -- The rival Winter Olympic ice skating pairs at the centre of a result-fixing scandal have refuted allegations of any wrongdoing.

French ice dancers Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat and the Russian pairs champions, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, competed in last February's Salt Lake City games where both teams won gold medals.

But an inquiry by the U.S. authorities alleges that Russian gangster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov persuaded French judges to vote for the Russians in one competition and vice versa in a second event.

Read the sealed complaint: U.S. v. Tokhtakhounov  (FindLaw document; PDF format)

On Monday, Anissina, Peizerat, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze attended a press conference where Didier Gailhaguet, the president of the French Skating Federation, said each team "won their medal on the ice."

Anissina told the press conference she knew Tokhtakhounov, but did not speak to him during the Olympics.

She called the vote-fixing allegations "ridiculous."

"This situation has perturbed me. I am certain it is something that is a complete fabrication," she said.

Anissina said she met Tokhtakhounov in 1999 at a reception and kept in occasional contact with him.

"But I never asked him for anything. It's not true at all," she said.

"During the Olympics, I never telephoned him. I am sure that that is not my voice. I don't know who my mother called, but I am sure that she didn't do that either."

Tokhtakhounov has been charged with fixing Olympic skating events
Tokhtakhounov has been charged with fixing Olympic skating events  

The initial judging sparked outrage and immediate suspicions of a fix because the Russians stumbled during their performance yet still beat Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier whose skating was widely considered more impressive.

After the scandal -- the biggest in Olympic history -- duplicate gold medals were given to the Canadians.

FBI investigators allege that Tokhtakhounov together with "unnamed conspirators" arranged for a French judge to vote for Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze in return for a similar arrangement to ensure that a Russian judge voted for the French team in the ice dancing contest.

The gold medal in the pairs figure skating was given to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze by five votes to four, even though the pair made a technical error and their performance was bettered by Sale and Pelletier.

The International Olympic Committee awarded gold to both the Russians and the Canadians while the ice dancing gold went to Anissina and Peizerat.

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians, though she later withdrew the claim.

Peizerat, wearing a T-shirt with the words "Not Guilty," said: "You can't take the medal away from us, it's in our hearts."

Le Gougne and Gailhaguet have been suspended from the International Skating Union for three years and banned from the 2006 Winter Games.

Gailhaguet said the scenario that prosecutors have come up with doesn't make sense because the Russian judge voted for a Russian couple in ice dancing.

Gailhaguet, president of the French Skating Federation, denies the claims
Gailhaguet, president of the French Skating Federation, denies the claims  

"The Russian judge voted against the French skaters, so where's the alliance?" Gailhaguet said. "There is no Franco-Russian axis."

International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge has said he does not want to punish athletes for the criminal actions of others.

Rogge told The Associated Press: "We do not rule out any action or sanction but we need to know more facts before we do that. The information that we have (so far) received is too much to be ignored."

Thomas Bach, the IOC vice president, said he was "not ruling out anything, not even the annulment of the Olympic results."

Tokhtakhounov's lawyer, Luca Saldarelli, has said: "He's absolutely surprised. He doesn't know anything about the Salt Lake City Olympic games. He's not even a fan of figure-skating."


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