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Sunday, February 17, 2002

Trouble awaits Canucks?

By STEVE BUFFERY -- Team Sun

 SALT LAKE CITY -- If the fix is in, Canadian ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz are toast.

 But even if the final order of the dance competition has not been pre-ordained, it appears as though Bourne and Kraatz may still get burned.

 Renowned figure skating expert and former world dance medallist Tracy Wilson was one of the insiders who blew the whistle on corrupt ice dance judging at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Before the event even began at those Games, Wilson provided to the media a list of how the dance competition would end, and she was bang on.

 The Toronto resident, doing commentary for NBC here, does not have similiar evidence of a fix here, but she still has a bad feeling about the judging panel at these Games and how they'll treat four-time world championship bronze medallists Bourne and Kraatz.

 "I'm leery of this panel," Wilson told The Toronto Sun yesterday. "It's not a free thinking or creative panel."

 WORRIES

 What Wilson sees is a panel of 10 judges who are not big fans of Bourne and Kraatz. Which means despite having a banner season and winning the prestigious Grand Prix final in December, the team may miss out on the medals for the second consecutive Olympics.

 Wilson's greatest worry is the composition of the judges. Unlike the Grand Prix final, there is not a Canadian, American, British or Japanese judge on the 10-person panel. Those are nations that appreciate the more modern style of dance performed by Bourne and Kraatz.

 On the other hand, there are judges from Russia, Italy and Ukraine, federations that generally favour European dancers. And already there have been unsettling developments with the dance judging.

 One is the presence of Ukrainian judge Yuri Balkov, who was suspended by the International Skating Union a few years ago for unethical voting after a fellow judge, Jean Senft of Canada, taped him discussing the order of skaters prior to an event.

 Another is the voting pattern of Italian judge Walter Zuccaro, who has a history of scoring the dance teams from his nation much higher than they should be.

 For instance, in the second compulsory dance on Friday, Zuccaro placed the Italian team of Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio in first place even though no other judge did the same.

 The one saving grace, Wilson said, is that Bourne and Kraatz have a strong original dance program and a killer free dance.

 "I haven't given up hope," Wilson said. "It will be interesting to see how this plays out."

 Bourne and Kraatz are fourth heading into today's original. The Italians are third, Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh of Russia are second, and the leaders are Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.

 Wilson doesn't have much of a problem with that order -- yet. There still is the original and free dance to go, worth 30% and 50% of the overall score.

 "The French were the clear winners in the compulsories," Wilson said. "That's an important point to make."

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