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Judges, technology team to guard sports from scandal

By Mike Prater | The Idaho Statesman

Most medals in Athens will be decided by definitive results - the fastest to the finish line, the team with the most points, the strongest and the most accurate.

But medals in gymnastics, diving, boxing, synchronized swimming and other sports are awarded by judges who grade athletes on their performances. And those grades - and ultimately medals - can be called into question.

Remember the French judge for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City?

Marie-Reine LeGougne made headlines as the judge who was pressured into voting for the Russian pairs team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

The Russians won gold despite stumbling, while the Canadian pair of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier appeared to win the competition and definitely won the battle of public opinion.

The solution to one of the biggest scandals in Olympic history was duplicate gold medals for both teams. The International Skating Union later banned Le Gougne for three years and revamped its judging process.

Linda Chencinski doesn't want to become the next Le Gougne.

The same goes for Steve McFarland, who like Chencinski, is a judge headed to Athens for the 2004 Olympic Summer Games.

Chencinski, of Long Island, N.Y., is the lone American who will judge women's gymnastics. McFarland, from St. Louis, is the only American who judge diving.

Chencinski, who will be working her third Olympics, believes there is no need to worry about a gymnastics judging scandal in Athens.

``We've worked very hard to keep gymnastics a fair sport,'' she said. ``It's hard for any one person to have a tremendous influence.''

McFarland, making his second appearance as an Olympic diving judge, is practically guaranteeing a scandal-free competition in Athens. ``It is highly remote, I mean 99.999 percent unlikely, that a scandal of that nature would hit diving,'' he said.

Before the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, a rule went into effect that banned judges from the finals if a diver from the same country was still competing.

And while a neutral panel might mean some of the world's top judges aren't determining a gold medal, ``We value fairness over expertise,'' McFarland said.

The last major judging scandal to hit the Summer Olympics happened at the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, when a bribery scandal cost U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. a gold medal.

Jones lost in the finals to a South Korean, but was later voted the outstanding boxer of the tournament. Embarrassed officials established a new scoring system for Olympic and amateur boxing.

In Athens, five judges will work each match, and they will use a computer scoring system. At least three of the five judges must simultaneously register a successful punch into the computer in order for the boxer to receive points.

``It's hard to say what may or may not arise (in Athens), but we have seen international federations make changes to their sport to protect the integrity of the sport and No. 2 to maximize the potential of their sport,'' USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said.

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