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Gailhaguet elected new FFSG president

Didier Gailhaguet got a clear cut victory by 361 ballots out of 664 possible in the first run of the election.
Didier Gailhaguet got a clear cut victory by 361 ballots out of 664 possible in the first run of the election. (Getty)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/22/2007) - The French Skating Federation (FFSG, or Fédération Française des Sports de Glace) is like a wild horse. Like a wild horse, it is frail and fragile, as it has just recovered from a 10-year state of near bankruptcy. Like a wild horse again it has the "diva temper," with its caprices, and is ready to rush into one direction, suddenly run to the opposite and then come back. Like a wild horse, finally, it is prompt to kick its riders off. Four of them have tried to master it in the last three years. Last week the skating club representatives had to gather again for electing a new president.

Didier Gailhaguet, the winner (see his resume below), got a clear cut victory by 361 ballots out of 664 possible in the first run of the election.

Many thought that Marc Faujanet, himself a skating fan and sponsor, would win the election. Faujanet, however, was the FFSG vice president under Bernard Goy, the man who pushed the FFSG to near bankruptcy, with a record high 8.3 million Euros of debt. A personal friend of the French Minister of Sport and of ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta, Faujanet was not able to rally a majority of club presidents to his program and ended with 206 votes, far behind Gailhaguet.

Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who had been at the center of the controversy during the 2002 Olympic judging scandal in Salt Lake City, has been a regular candidate to the FFSG presidency ever since. She ended up third of the vote, with a total of 85 ballots.

"I am not here to cheat", Gailhaguet promised after winning the vote. "I have paid for the 2002 Olympic games scandal", he said, "as I was banned from the ISU for three years. Now it is time to go forward". His main priority, he added, will go to the sport. He said he wanted to provide support to the younger athletes, those who are "coming after the Jouberts and the Delobel-Schoenfelder", and to detect those who will succeed them beyond. He should present his managerial team soon.

"I do not know if this is the best election", one of the voters commented later. "But this was certainly the 'least worst' we could do. We had Faujanet, who was in the team which led to bankruptcy, and we had Gailhaguet. Gailhaguet says he has changed. We'll see". No one mentioned the international impact Gailhaguet's election would have on the international scene. <

At least the wild horse is financially sound now. Let us hope the rider will keep his promise.

The rider's bio: Gailhaguet, now 54, has spent most of his life in skating. A French National Champion himself (in the early 70s), he trained with renowned coaches Gus Lussi and Pierre Brunet in the United States. A major promoter of multiple rotation jumps, he was then a big fan to U.S. National Champion Janet Lynn. He even claims to have filmed another American skating icon, Ronald Robertson (1956 Olympic silver medalist), performing a quadruple Salchow during an exhibition when he was well over his forties.

Gailhaguet tried to bring the jumping skills he learned in the U.S. to his own students, some of whom he hired from the gymnastics ranks. He brought three-time World silver medalist Surya Bonaly from the gym floor to the ice rink and coached her to her fame. Soon after, he was appointed as the French Team Director, until he was elected as the FFSG President in 1998, a position he held until 2004. He created the "Top Jump" competition, in which skaters of international fame got points according to the level of jumps they managed to land properly. Brian Joubert was one of the main contenders of the Top Jump in 2000, a few months before he started to reach his European and world fame.

Gailhaguet was also instrumental in creating the ISU Grand Prix, which owed France the right to organize the first ISU Final in February 1996. Gailhaguet was then even presented as a potential successor to Cinquanta.

Biased world fame: The 2002 Olympic scandal, however, cost Gailhaguet his uprising international career. Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who was judging the pairs event in Salt Lake City, was accused of bias when she placed Elena Bereznaia and Anton Shikarulidze, the Russian pair, ahead of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the Canadian pair. Some witnesses then reported that Le Gougne had acknowledged to have placed the Russian pair ahead, because Gailhaguet had ordered her to do so. The plan they reported to have heard was that the French vote in favor of the Russian pair would protect the potential gold medal of the French ice dancers, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat (who eventually won - however with far less controversy). The International Olympic Committee and the ISU then decided to award an other gold Olympic medal to the Canadian pair, a never seen event in figure skating history. Le Gougne retracted right after, but both she and Gailhaguet got a three-year suspension from the ISU at the end of three-month internal hearings.

Triumphantly reelected to the FFSG presidency in 2002 (with nearly 90 percent of the votes), Gailhaguet was however forced to leave in 2004, after a defiance motion was voted against him. The FFSG was then nearly broke again. He then formed an Association of skating officials and fans to officially "propose ideas and support" to his elected successor, Norbert Tourne. In Gaihaguet's Association then was Claude Ancelet, who became the Association's candidate and was elected as the new President of the FFSG in 2006. Ancelet was himself dismissed by a motion of defiance in early November of 2007. Some claim that Gailhaguet, who was not offered any role by Ancelet, was instrumental in calling for the motion. New elections were organized right after, and resulted into Gailhaguet's return.