Sale, Jamie and Pelletier, David
Jamie Sale and David Pelletier
Canadian figure skaters
It is the dream of perhaps every amateur athlete: to mount the podium and accept an Olympic gold medal. It happened for Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sale (pronounced SA-lay) and David Pelletier (PELL-tee-ay). But in their case, the glow of the gold was tarnished somewhat by the taint of scandal that preceded it. Theirs was one of the most compelling stories to come out of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised questions about how figure skating is judged.
Growing up on Ice
Sale and Pelletier had been partners for only four years when they leaped into international headlines. The two Canada natives grew up three years in age and four provinces apart; Sale in Alberta and Pelletier in Quebec. For the young girl, skating was a creative outlet for her energy. She first got on the ice at age three, wearing double-bladed skates to help her balance. At five, Sale was enrolled in both figure skating and gymnastics, but she would make her choice two years later.
Meanwhile, Pelletier was also making a choice—figure skating or hockey. He made his decision at fifteen, despite the razzing from his friends that he had entered a "girl's sport." When a coach told Pelletier's mother that the boy had no talent, David, an independent sort, responded by redoubling his efforts. Soon his practice and dedication had paid off. He began competing, first as a single, but it was in pairs that he began to realize success. He was partners with Julie Laporte when the two of them placed seventh at the 1992 world junior championships. Three years later Pelletier and new partner Allison Gaylor finished fifteenth at the 1995 world championships.
Change Partners and Skate
Sale was also making her name on the world stage. At age sixteen she and partner Jason Turner represented Canada at the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, placing twelfth. That same year they placed sixteenth at the world championships in Chiba, Japan; after those two competitions Sale and Turner decided to go their separate ways. Sale embarked on a singles career, peaking at fifth in the 1995 Canadian Nationals.
Pelletier and Sale had met more than once in the past. In 1994, the two were Canadian national teammates, though she skated in the senior division and he in the juniors. Pelletier admitted to Chatelaine interviewer Beth Hitchcock that the thought of partnering with Olympian Sale was "intimidating." Though she was the younger of the two, "in skating you put people on a pedestal," Pelletier said. "She was the star out West; she was the future. She was a very confident, cocky little girl. Everybody in Quebec wanted to skate with Jamie Sale."
By 1996, however, Sale was on a downward track, splitting with Olympics partner Turner and struggling as a singles competitor. The first tryout of Sale and Pelletier was described as "awkward" in the Chatelaine piece. "To start, Sale wasn't entirely sure she wanted to leave Alberta," noted Hitchcock. Even Pelletier's coaches "were discouraged by what they saw; they advised him to look elsewhere." When Pelletier delivered an outright rejection, Sale was "devastated," as the skater told Hitchcock. "I thought he was my last hope," she remarked.
Depressed and unmotivated, Sale was delivered an ultimatum by her parents: no more funding unless her heart was truly in the sport. She "picked herself up," said Hitchcock, "hired a trainer and went to skating boot camp." Pelletier was likewise experiencing difficulty. After learning his first partner, Laporte, had been killed in an auto accident in 1998, "I decided to take two months off my skating," Pelletier told an interviewer for Canadian television. "I sat down and wrote some criteria I wanted for another partner. I decided that if I can't find anybody, I'll just quit."
Together at Last
He and interim partner Caroline Roy hadn't performed well enough to make the Canadian senior team; after they finished a disappointing sixth in the 1998 nationals, "his coach, Richard Gautier, gave him two choices: quit or give Sale a second try," according to James Deacon in a Maclean's piece. "It wasn't much of a choice for either of them. Off the ice, he was serving beer at the Molson Centre in Montreal, while Sale was working as a waitress in Edmonton." The two engaged in one more tryout, during which Pelletier hoisted Sale in the air. She whispered to her coach, "Wow, I had no idea it was supposed to be like this!" A new partnership was born.
The debut of Sale and Pelletier took place at the 1998 Skate Canada finals. The pair won a bronze medal. Their skating would take a dramatic new turn with the addition of choreographer Lori Nichol, who created a routine from the theme to the movie Love Story. As they recreated the story of the ill-fated lovers, Sale and Pelletier began embarking on a love story of their own. Pelletier separated from his wife and the two skaters became a real-life couple, sharing a home in Edmonton, Alberta, while remaining protective of their privacy.
As Sale and Pelletier began to excel in elite competition—they were undefeated from 2000 to 2001 in international meets—their path led to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. By the time they arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, the two were considered "the It couple of figure skating," in the words of Time International reporter Mary Jollimore. "In a pursuit that rewards mirror imaging of every move," explained James Deacon of Maclean's, "they are uncanny mimics of one another, gliding seamlessly around the ice, totally in sync. And they skate with such evident passion—for the sport, for the music, for each other."
Having finished second after the Olympics short program, Sale and Pelletier prepared to "trot out their straight-to-the-tear-duct long program," as Sports Illustrated reporter Michael Farber put it. "They were born for Love Story: Sale, with gleaming black hair and ready smile, could pass for a young Ali McGraw, and Pelletier has the boyish looks and carefree ways that evoke Ryan O'Neal bounding across Harvard Yard." But no Olympic gold is ever assured, and for Sale and Pelletier the main threat came from the much-admired Russian pair, Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Nor were the Canadians without their critics. "Their routine was one they had performed at competitions two years ago," remarked Time writer Richard Lacayo in a cover story. "As music they were using the theme from [Love Story ]. Compared to the Russians' more nuanced classical choice,… it sounded a bit sappy and show biz."
The Salt Lake Scandal
But on the evening of Monday, February 11, the Russian pair "did not skate their best," according to Lacayo. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze "had as many as six flaws in their program, notably Sikharulidze's stumble on the side-by-side double Axel." By comparison, Sale and Pelletier were "a miracle of unity." Then, wrote Lacayo, "came the astonishing scores. While the Canadians posted high technical scores, the Russians beat them in the presentation category, and were placed first by five of the nine judges. "Sale and Pelletier looked briefly stunned," wrote Lacayo. "The crowd of some 16,000 at the Salt Lake Ice Center exploded in boos."
|1974||David Pelletier born November 22 in Sayabec, Quebec|
|1977||Jamie Sale born April 21 in Calgary, Alberta|
|1998||Sale and Pelletier's first competition as a team|
|2000||Compete in first of three Canadian championships|
|2001||Represent Canada in world championships|
|2002||Represent Canada at Olympic Winter Games, Salt Lake City, Utah|
|2002||Judging controversy emerges after Sale and Pelletier are awarded silver medal|
|2002||Sale and Pelletier awarded a gold medal|
|2002||Join Stars on Ice tour|
|2002||Sign endorsement agreement with equipment manufacturer CCM|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1992||Pelletier placed seventh at world junior championships with partner Julie Laporte|
|1994||Sale represented Canada at Olympic Winter Games, Lillehammer, Norway, with partner Jason Turner|
|1995||Sale placed fifth in singles at Canadian Nationals|
|1998||Debut of Sale and Pelletier at Skate Canada|
|1999||Won Skate America|
|2000||Won first of three Canadian championships; first to post perfect "six" scores|
|2000||Placed fourth, world championships|
|2001||Gold medal, world championships|
|2001||Received Lou Marsh Trophy and named Canada's "Team of the Year"|
|2002||Silver medal, Olympic Winter Games, Salt Lake City, Utah|
|2002||Awarded co-gold medal at same games|
Even while the Russians were accepting the gold medal and the Canadians silver, the suspicion of fixed judging was raised. The spotlight in particular shone on the French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who seemed to own the deciding vote between the Russia-China-Poland-Ukraine bloc who favored the Russians, and the U.S.-Canada-Germany-Japan judges who placed Sale and Pelletier as the winners. "Skategate" read the headlines as an investigation into judging began. In a matter of days Le Gougne admitted that she had been pressured by her sport's national federation to favor the Russian pair in exchange for the Russian judge's vote in favor of France's ice-dancing finalists. It was a world-class scandal that eventually forced a promise from the International Skating Union (ISU) to clean up their sport's judging practices.
In the midst of the controversy, both pairs strove to maintain a sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship. "We are not the bad guys, and we don't steal anything from anybody," Sikharulidze said in a People piece. "We have a good relationship with Jamie and David." "Anton and Yelena are our friends," Pelletier maintained in the same article. Six days after the controversy erupted, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge announced the suspension of Le Gouge and said that Sale and Pelletier would be awarded co-gold medals with Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze in a special medals ceremony.
On February 17, the Canadians and the Russians shared the podium; the two sets of friends exchanged small talk and gifts as 700 journalists and a worldwide television audience tuned in to see the dual gold medalists. But while Sale and Pelletier maintained a professional face during the Olympic uproar, there was some underlying resentment. Pelletier said he was "ready to go down the skeleton run without a helmet," according to Deacon. When Sale was asked whether the vote-tampering had denied the pair a rightful place at the top, she "left no doubt that she felt a terrible loss," Deacon added. She told him that a gold medal was "what I have dreamed for, well, for my whole life. You bet I feel cheated out of that. Big-time."
"15 Who Had 15 Minutes of Fame." Time (December 30-January 6, 2003).
Begley, Sharon. "Our Sport Has Gangrene." Newsweek (February 25, 2002).
Chu, Jeff. "Fun and Games." Time International (February 25, 2002).
Cruz, Clarissa. "The Ice Storm." Entertainment Weekly (March 1, 2002).
Deacon, James. "Passion Play." Maclean's (April 2, 2001).
Deacon, James. "Stuff the Silver." Maclean's (February 25, 2002).
Deacon, James. "'We Lost Control of Our Lives.'" Maclean's (November 18, 2002).
Farber, Michael. "High Concept." Sports Illustrated (February 11, 2002).
Hitchcock, Beth. "Hearts of Gold." Chatelaine (February, 2002).
Jollimore, Mary. "Love Is Cool." Time International (January 28, 2002).
Lacayo, Richard. "A Sport on Thin Ice." Time (February 25, 2002).
Morse, Jodie. "After a False Start, Chemistry." Time (February 25, 2002).
Smolowe, Jill. "Happy Ending." People (March 4, 2002).
Swift, E. M. "Thorny Issue." Sports Illustrated (February 25, 2002).
Kaufman, King. "Skategate." Salon.com. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/02/13/scandal/ (February 13, 2002).
Sale and Pelletier Web Site. http://www.sale-pelletier.com/ (January 16, 2003).
Sketch by Susan Salter
Where Are They Now?
The Olympic scandal dubbed "Skategate" put Jamie Sale and David Pelletier into the headlines. Time and Newsweek both ran cover stories on the skating fracas. But when the story died down, so did the exposure of the skaters. Though they signed endorsement agreements, "instead of cashing in on lucrative, post-Olympic shows and commercial appearances, the skaters spent their off-season at home in Edmonton," noted James Deacon in a November, 2002, Maclean's piece. A proposed Sale-and-Pelletier headliner tour was cancelled, though the skaters did appear in the well-known Stars on Ice circuit. "We're not worried about how much money we're making, so nobody else should be, either," Pelletier told Deacon.
In the wake of their ice drama, Pelletier added, "that's when we lost control of our lives. It took a few months to get that control back, and in the end, we did pretty good. Today, we are extremely successful with our tour, our sponsorship and our career. If we had to go through a few months of crap, then it was worth it. Now we can look ahead."