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Tara Lipinski reflects on figure skating scandal that rocked 2002 Winter Olympics

"It is crazy to think that these athletes were giving up their lives for these Olympic moments and judges really had no criteria to judge on,” she said.
/ Source: TODAY

Figure skating is always one of the marquee events at the Winter Olympics, and Tara Lipinski is turning back the clock on one of the sport’s most scandalous moments.

Lipinski, a gold medal skater from the 1998 Games, is an executive producer of the new four-part Peacock docuseries “Meddling,” which revisits the judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, when Russian pairs Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal and Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won silver. (Peacock is owned by our parent company, NBCUniversal.)

The results after the free skate stunned everyone.

“There was a big rivalry. They were going back and forth,” Lipinski said Friday on the 3rd hour of TODAY.

“They were so close in their technical and artistic ability and at the Olympic Games, everyone knew that whoever skated the cleanest would win. So, on that night Jamie and David were absolutely flawless. They had their Olympic moment. And the Russians, he stepped out of his double axel, made a technical mistake. So, I think everyone in the audience thought, ‘It’s going to the Canadians.’ But, clearly, it didn’t.”

Controversy swirled around French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who has denied that she was told to give a higher score to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.

2002 Olympics
At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier initially won silver medals, while Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze (center) took home gold and China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China (right) won bronze after the pairs free program.Robert Laberge / Getty Images

“She sticks by her answer that she gave shortly after the event in Salt Lake (City) that she was not pressured, that, of course, the French federation, the head of the French federation may have pressured her a little bit before the event, but during the event, she says she’s judged fairly and since then she sticks by that,” said Lipinski, who is now a figure skating analyst with NBC Sports.

The uproar that ensued was deafening. Sale and Pelletier were ultimately named co-gold medalists, but the incident led to a significant change in the sport.

2002 Winter Olympic Games :
Sikharulidze and Berezhnaya, left, wound up sharing the gold medal with Sale and Pelletier.Tim de Waele / Getty Images

“This was the best thing that came out of this event, is a new judging system,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski, who made the documentary with her husband, Todd Kapostasy, is surprised it took so long for a shakeup.

“I competed in that era of judging … and it is crazy to think that these athletes were giving up their lives for these Olympic moments and judges really had no criteria to judge on,” she said.

Will a new figure skating legend emerge in the upcoming Olympics? We'll have an answer soon, since the Games, which will be held in Beijing, begin Feb. 4.