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Pelletier and Le Gougne meet again in Paris

To err is human; to forgive, divine

Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier made the "Love Story" program famous in using it up to and including the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier made the "Love Story" program famous in using it up to and including the 2002 Winter Olympics. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(10/19/2009) - Official history is under the spotlight, whereas the small events of daily life seldom make headlines.

This year's Trophee Eric Bompard made history on the ice, only four months ahead of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Backstage, in the unseen long corridors around the rink, an anonymous and unexpected event took place: the reconciliation between David Pelletier, 2002 Olympic gold medalist in pairs with partner (now wife) Jamie Salé, and Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the judge who admitted she had been pressured to place Salé and Pelletier behind their Russian rivals, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Salé and Pelletier performed a near-flawless free skate to their trademark Love Story program, while Sikharulidze turned out of the landing of a double Axel in the Russians' free skate.

Salé's tears, when she received her marks, circulated around the globe and gave birth to what became one of the biggest scandals figure skating ever endured. Skate Canada filed an official complaint, and some of the event's officials heard Le Gougne admit she had been pressured to place the Canadians second, because her federation wanted to protect Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, who were fighting for the ice dance gold medal (of course, it must be remembered that four other judges voted with LeGougne).

Salé and Pelletier were then awarded a second Olympic gold medal in an unprecedented decision from the ISU a few days later. Although the ISU internal inquiry never conclusively decided Le Gougne's guilt, she was banned for three years from all ISU events, as was the French Federation President Didier Gailhaguet. This scandal reshaped figure skating and ice dance, as it opened the door to the creation of the International Judging System, currently used everywhere in the world.

Pelletier had not met Le Gougne since the Salt Lake City Games. This year he came to Bercy as a commentator for CBC. When he saw Le Gougne in the corridor, he did not recognize her at first.

When he did, he went to her and offered kind and encouraging words. Then it was Le Gougne's turn.

"If I ever did harm to you, I would like to sincerely apologize," she said with tears in her eyes.

Pelletier smiled at her and replied: "In fact, you were the victim of all this," he said. "But you were also the heroine. You had the courage to tell the truth. Otherwise skating would never have evolved, and we should thank you."

Pelletier and Le Gougne talked for an emotional 15 minutes, and finally they hugged one another for a several seconds. Le Gougne, who has lived her life for and around figure skating, has never fully recovered from the Salt Lake City scandal. She should run for President of the French Federation next June, against past and current president Gailhaguet, who rebounded much faster from the Salt Lake City scandal.

On the other side of the wall, in the main arena, America's Alexe Gilles had just completed a beautiful clean short program, as a proof of figure skating's renewed strength seven years after the scandal.

Back then, in 2002, billions of TV viewers witnessed it. Seven years later, only a handful of skating insiders, who were going back and forth from the press room to the mixed zone to the rink to offer icenetwork.com's live coverage of the Eric Bompard Trophy, were there to see this event. This one may not make history. No press conference was organized around it. After all, it was simply a matter of one human being forgiving another. Yet human reconciliations are rare enough that they merit mention, especially when they come as a dénouement to such an important part of sport's history.