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Competition on thin ice again . . . controversy returns to skating as Canada are toppled

STRIP away the sequins and figure skating can be a damned murky business.

The United States pipped Canada to gold in the figure skating but the result has been clouded in controversy about how the scoring was conducted. Picture: Reuters
The United States pipped Canada to gold in the figure skating but the result has been clouded in controversy about how the scoring was conducted. Picture: Reuters

Plotting, back-stabbing and, on one particular occasion, knee-capping, are all part of the skater's playbook alongside the choctaw turn and rotational lift.

It is just 12 years since the last Olympic judging scandal, which led to a revamp of the scoring system, meaning marks out of six were ditched for a far more complicated mathematical formula. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Canadian pair and darlings of the Olympics four years ago, last night became embroiled in the latest judging controversy, following the ice dance event. Oh Canada, indeed.

The defending champions would maintain a dignified silence but their supporters made their objections quite clear as the pair were left to settle for silver medals in Sochi. They finished second to world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States.

The view from the Canadian camp was that their skaters had been under-marked, fuelling speculation from before the Games that the US and Russia - whose skates took bronze - had struck a deal to prevent the Virtue and Moir from retaining their title in Sochi.

It is perhaps an unlikely allegiance but there would seem to be stranger partnerships in skating. Consider that Marina Zueva works as the coach of both the Canadians and the US, while always claiming blithely that she has never suffered a conflict of interest. She does, however, tend to wind up in the winner's circle.

It was a Russian coach who is reported to have claimed, without any specifics, that a barter had been agreed whereby the US would help the hosts win the skating team and pairs events - which they won - and Russia would do all they could for Davis and White in the ice dance.

The story was sent tossed (elegantly) into the background once competition got under way, of course, but it would be recovered in the moments which followed the judging of the short dance. Virtue and Moir were convinced that they had performed their routine flawlessly, but the judges disagreed, establishing an advantage for Davis and White which they exploited in last night's free skate.

Virtue left those watching under no illusions what she thought about the scores when she looked agape at the judges afterwards. The tension was then exacerbated when Petri Kokko, who invented one of the footwork elements - a tricky, 36-second compulsory quickstep segment - which the Candian pair lost marks on, stated later that they had performed it perfectly.

"All I know is that Tess and Scott won the gold medal in Vancouver in a dead straight event, no-one questioned it," said Mike Slipchuk, the Skate Canada high-performance director. "If there are questions hanging over this one at the end, there's really nothing they can do about it. I think that in the digital age, with fans and media able to go back and look at the programs over and over and over, they can draw their own conclusions."

Davis and White did their best to keep their pearly-white smiles fixed and ignore the latest controversy in figure skating. They produced a free dance worthy of gold, with a combination of speed, power and athleticism. However, questions about how the scoring had been carried out would only be put on ice.

"This new [scoring] system has done wonders for our sport," insisted White. "We really feel like over the last six years we have been able to really take our routines and run in a really positive direction.

"I think you learn that early on - when you go out there and do what feels like the performance, the marks you see don't always reflect how you felt. But it is a good lesson, not just in skating but in life, and I think that it has helped us to learn to overcome obstacles and to learn that you have to grow to improve if you want to meet your own goals."

It is a message which might resonate with Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, who won bronze at the European Championships but have finished 10th in Sochi. Their coach, double Olympic champion Evgeny Platov, believes they have podium potential but improvements in figure skating are incremental, progress is slow and four years can fly by.

"It went pretty well. Actually, I think the Europeans was better, there was more fire in the skate," said Platov. "I cannot ever be satisfied because if you are satisfied it means your job is over.

"We will add to every element. We have to add endurance so in the end they can fly and we have to have more speed. The target here was top 10, the next target in four years is medals. Definitely."

Elsewhere, Great Britain's two-man bobsleigh crew of Lamin Deen and John Baines finished 23rd as hosts Russia claimed their fifth gold of the Games at the Sanki Sliding Centre. British ski halfpipe hopeful Rowan Cheshire was also discharged from hospital after suffering concussion in training, but there has been no confirmation that she will compete in Rosa Khutor on Thursday.

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