Figure Skating Conspiracy? U.S. Officials Deny L'Equipe Report Alleging Intent To 'Help' Russians

Jeremy Abbott of the United States falls as he competes in the men's team short program figure skating competition at the Ice
Jeremy Abbott of the United States falls as he competes in the men's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

By Pritha Sarkar

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Figure Skating has strongly denied reports suggesting the United States and Russia are conspiring to help each other win gold medals at the Sochi Olympics.

"Comments made in a L'Equipe story are categorically false," the American governing body said in a statement on Saturday.

"There is no 'help' between countries. We have no further response to rumours, anonymous sources or conjecture."

U.S. media picked up on the report, saying the arrangement would help Meryl Davis and Charlie White to become the first Americans to win the Olympic ice dance gold, while Russia in return would benefit in the team and pairs competitions.

The original report also alluded to the fact that the arrangement was made so Davis and White were guaranteed to beat Canadian rivals and 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, with whom they share a coach in Marina Zoueva.

Such an arrangement would seem to make little sense, though, as Russia are strong contenders for the team title, boasting strong performers in all four disciplines. Davis and White are favourites for the ice dance gold, given they have not been beaten for almost two years.

Twice world champion Davis shrugged her shoulders when she was made aware of the allegations, after she and White topped the standings in the ice dance segment of the team competition.

"We haven't heard anything about it," she said. "We are confident that what we are putting out onto the ice speaks for itself."

Judging scandals have often blighted figure skating, with the most famous being at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when allegations of vote-rigging led to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier being awarded duplicate gold medals in the pairs competition with Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was banned after admitting she had been pressured to back the Russians in an arrangement that would also lead to French couple Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat winning the ice dance.

That episode led to the axing of the old 6.0-scoring system and it was replaced with the current accumulative scoring system, which officials believe cannot be manipulated as scores are now picked at random - with the judging panel unaware which scores have been discarded.

"We have lived through Sale and Pelletier, figure skating has a storied past with all that stuff," Moir said.

"The wonderful thing about the Olympic Games is that we are athletes and we do our jobs and we don't have to worry about all that." (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, editing by Ossian Shine and Ed Osmond)



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