10 years ago today I walked into the Salt Lake City Ice Center and as the French announcer for figure skating. I didn’t know what to expect. This was to be the day when Canadian pair skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier would receive their Olympic gold medals; six days after first receiving silver.
At the centre of it all were four athletes: Olympic gold medallists Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze from Russia and Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
I don’t know that there has ever been a closer rivalry in pair skating. The fact that they were all able to keep their heads above water and ascend the podium together after living in a fishbowl for the previous 6 days, is a testament to their sportsmanship. As Jamie says: “They (the Russians) didn’t do anything wrong.”
The tension in the building was palpable. People were nervous and skittish and worried that things wouldn’t go off as planned. So much so, that I was relieved of my announcing duties during the actual medal ceremony. My boss and my boss’s boss didn’t know why. The European French speaking replacement did: it was because I was Canadian. Apparently, it was felt if there was a pronounciation slip-up no one wanted any “conspiracy” theories about the announcing team messing up. See what I mean? crazy.
I often wonder what it must have been like for Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze. They won the title and then were told “not really”. There is no way around it – this was tough stuff for all of them.
Here we are ten years later and Sale and Pelletier continue to hold a special fascination for media and public alike.
Just last week it seemed from a report in the press that they were retiring. Hmmmm…I wondered.
We were together at a show earlier this week so I asked them about this and lots of other things.
Setting the record straight with Jamie and David:
I also thought it would be fun to release a section from my book: ‘Taking The Ice – Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating’ where the back story of how Sale and Pelletier’s medals came to be presented. It is a Canadian perspective. I am sure that the Russian point of view is equally charged.
All these years later, I feel for the innocent victims: the skaters. It can’t have been easy.
‘Sally Rehorick – Chef de Mission for Team Canada –
Sally Rehorick defines the word leader. Always at the ready, in whatever situation to do what is needed, she was never needed more than she was as the Chef de Mission for TeamCanadainSalt Lake Cityin 2002. The Chef de Mission is responsible for the entire delegation of a nation and Sally saw this as a unique honour and was committed to supporting all ofCanada’s athletes at the Olympic Games.
On the night of the pairs’ free program, she was seated in the Olympic Family Zone and when the marks came in, fellow Canadian skating judge, and mission staff member, Susan Heffernan said to her: “This is very bad for skating.” just before zipping her down to the athletes’ area backstage to see the skaters.
Rehorick recalls: “The area was like a morgue. Elena and Anton were stony-faced and Tamara wouldn’t look me in the eye.” She had the chance to speak with Jamie and David about their “fabulous performance.”
Sally doesn’t recall ever hearing anything about a deal in advance of the event but says simply: “I knew it was a wrong result.” She said: “The part of me that was a judge was dying” and goes on to say that her knowledge of the sport would be essential over the next few days because she could speak with confidence about figure skating with the many players who would be involved: the media, the IOC, the COC, and Skate Canada to name a few.
As Sally says, it was a “short night”; she went to Canada House to be part of the silver medal celebration for Jamie and David, and then back to the Village for the mission staff daily de-brief, a quick sleep and then right back at it, bright and early the next morning.
There were a couple of things on the agenda including a segment with CBC’s Peter Jordan “It’s a Living”, an interview with CBC’s Ron MacLean as well as with Radio Canada and a press conference. At the beginning of the day it all seemed rather straightforward. Although it might have been easier to tape the “It’s a Living” segment on another day; the permission for the crew to have access to the Athlete’s Village was somewhat unprecedented, extremely difficult to get and impossible to re-schedule. The premise was after a series of staged TV spots where Sally and Peter had gone head to head in various sports over the fall; Peter had ultimately won “the series” and was going to be “Chef de Mission” for a day. What a day it was!
First things first, she needed to go to CBC’s studio for the interview with Ron MacLean. Sally welcomed the opportunity to do what Ron requested: to watch the programs one at a time and then evaluate them for Ron and the audience at home.
Overnight, Sally had started to wonder if she had been biased in her evaluation of what had happened in the pair’s event the night before. The interview would last about 20 minutes and she recalls: “At the end of the analysis of Jamie and David’s program, I started to cry on camera. It was at that moment that I realized I hadn’t been biased. It was a tragedy and it was wrong.” Sally was overwhelmed by Ron’s professionalism and sensitivity. Once she finished the interview she laughingly remembers Peter Jordan shaking his head and saying to her: “Wow! Being Chef de Mission is not an easy job!”
Now halfway through the morning, word had spread about the skating result and there were now hundreds of people at the press conference, who all wanted to speak to Sally about a possible judging scandal. At this point Sally knew nothing about what had transpired on the judging panel but was able to address the actual performances of the pairs from a performance perspective. She concluded that: “the wrong pair was standing on top of the podium.”
Sally took seriously the responsibility of making sure that all of Canada’s athletes were supported and her next stop was the speed skating oval where she ran into pair judges Benoit Lavoie from Canada, Lucie Brennan from the USA and Sissy Krick from Germany who appeared shell-shocked about what was transpiring. They filled Sally in about what had happened inside the room during the Judges’ post-event meeting. Sally was confirmed in her suspicion that the result was wrong from a technical point of view and the three judges confirmed that Marie-Reine had stood up during the meeting and said: ”You just don’t know about my federation.”
Sally got mad and called a meeting of the COC’s Crisis Management Team. It was there that she proposed the solution of a second gold medal. The team agreed and she contactedCanada’s IOC member, Dick Pound, and said: ”We need a ‘Sylvie Frechette’ this week. There’s a precedent.”
This was in reference to Canadian Sylvie Frechette being awarded a second gold medal after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when it was discovered that the Brazilian judge had pressed the wrong button in entering her score. Dick agreed to speak with IOC President Jacques Rogge.
Sally knew that Skate Canada and the COC were working together for a resolution and assumed that the ISU was doing the same thing and turned her attention back to the athletes. It became very clear that the eyes of the world were on Jamie and David and that they would require the care of one media person just to attend to their needs.
It also became clear that security was a potential area of need and with not enough additional RCMP available to help, the Americans stepped up, and their Secret Service started trailing Jamie and David in a special security detail. This little detail was not known to Jamie and David until it was revealed to them in an interview for this book.
Everyone wanted to talk to them: from major shows on the US Networks like the Jay Leno and David Letterman shows to the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. It was an exhausting time for Jamie and David and Sally wanted to ensure that they could experience the Games like “regular athletes.” One of the cool things she arranged was for them to meet the arriving Men’s Hockey Team who were newly arrived in the Village and waiting for their coach and management to arrive to conduct their first team meeting.
Sally spoke to them briefly and then introduced the hockey players to their special “visitors.” The players suddenly sat bolt upright when Jamie and David entered the room. Although there was an initial awkwardness in the atmosphere, the arrival of Coach Wayne Gretzky with 2 TeamCanada hockey jerseys for the skaters with their names on the back, loosened everybody up. Jamie and David immediately put them on and were thrilled when the “Great One” asked them to pose for a picture.
Sally says: “One of my favourite things about the Games is how the athletes mix. They were all pleased to meet each other.” She says that the Olympic Village wasn’t the sanctuary for Jamie and David it might have been under other circumstances or for other athletes. Theirs was a special case: “In the Village everyone was curious about them as well and the general rule of thumb for everyone: no autographs and no pictures; especially for staff. I had to go on 2 separate occasions to ask people to stop.”
In the background, the Olympics continued to unfold and the various groups worked to resolve the issue. She said of the experience: “It was hugely gratifying that something that could be done and when (ISU President) Ottavio (Cinquanta) went on air to say the 2nd Gold was to be awarded, I was nervous that it wouldn’t happen. They had apparently said in their council meetings something had to be done. It would not have happened had Ottavio and Rogge not worked together.”
When it was confirmed that a second gold medal would be awarded, Sally knew that she would have to be Jamie and David’s voice in ensuring that the medal ceremony would be done in such a ways as to respect their wishes.
Initially, the Russian coach, Tamara Moskvina wanted the skaters in skating outfits and a whole choreographed piece where the boys would skate with each other’s partner. It was already clear that the Chinese team, the Bronze medallists, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao would not be participating so what remained was making sure that this additional medal presentation went as smoothly as possible.
It was already felt as if the scandal of the pairs’ result had “hijacked the Olympics” and that the attention was being diverted from other Olympians in other sports. This was so much so that the medal ceremony originally planned for the women’s free program day on the final day of figure skating, was moved up to the Sunday before.
The Canadian pair was not interested in trying to re-create the atmosphere in the rink on the night of the pairs’ free program. David talked about feeling bittersweet; accepting a medal in front of a different audience from the one that had seen their competition.
Sally responded to a request from Jacques Rogge to help hammer out the protocol details of how the gold medals would be awarded. Accompanied by Mike Chambers, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, they decided ahead of this meeting on a couple of key details.
Although Jamie and David had no knowledge of the meeting or how things would transpire, Sally “had their back.”
She recalls with a giggle: “We went into room where Jacques Rogge was seated at the end of a large table – and at other end there were about 8 Russians.” She had already warned Mike that what would be up for discussion would be things like which athletes would enter first, who would stand on the podium where and which anthem would be played first. Jacques Rogge explained that the meeting was in some part to reassure everyone that the protocol would reflect the extraordinary circumstances and was meant to show due respect to all concerned.
She sensed though, a special sensitivity to the Canadian point of view given the circumstances, and says that the way the IOC President handled the meeting was a most fascinating lesson in the delicate and subtle art of diplomacy.
For every point of protocol, a person from the Russian delegation would say: “As the first winners of the Gold Medal, Russia feels that the Russian team should go first.”
It was Sally’s suggestion of using the short track podium where all the skaters could stand on the same level and having the women enter side by side followed by their partners that were eventually adopted.
Then came the big moment: Whose anthem would go first? The Russian delegate answered: “As the first winners of the Gold Medal,Russia feels that the Russian anthem should be played first.”
Sally had decided ahead of time that she wanted the Canadian anthem to be played second so that it would still be the one hanging in the air and would be the final impression for everyone watching. She and Mike huddled in pretend conversation and then Sally said: “Canada agrees.” She got her wish.
Although not perfect, she felt that the ‘Olympic moment’ had been taken away from Jamie and David and having the chance to have the Canadian anthem not followed in a rush by anyone else’s, was at least something. She continues: “When I say that my approach as Chef de Mission was to support the athlete in making a bad situation as good as it could be, that was my goal.”
Some time after the meeting, Sally recalls: “Mike Chambers said to me ‘I don’t think we will ever know everything that was going on and the aftermath and the forces that were brought to bear.’”
Sally Rehorick’s personal Chef de Mission Credo: “To stand behind athletes no matter what.” Mission accomplished.’