Picture this: Russian hugging Russian skater she judged

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Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova.  (SBS television)

Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva hugging gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova. (SBS television / February 22, 2014)

SOCHI, Russia — The image of a woman Korean television identified as Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova is being circulated as alleged evidence of a conspiracy to defeat South Korea’s Yuna Kim in the women’s Olympic figure skating event that ended Thursday.

The picture, which dozens of Koreans emailed me, comes from a telecast by Korean broadcaster SBS. A member of NBC’s broadcast team confirmed the scene had been picked up on backstage cameras.

(On the issue of whether it still could have been digitally falsified, photo experts who studied details in the image said the chances of it having been photo shopped were beyond remote.)

What the image shows is a case of bad judgment.

It does not offer any tangible proof that the results showed equally bad judgment.

For Shekhovtseva, wife of a top Russian figure skating federation official, to be embracing a compatriot she had just judged is just another example of the incestuous relationships the International Skating Union makes no attempt to stop. Like ISU officials, Shekhovtseva obviously saw nothing wrong in what she did — in full view of TV cameras.

Most of the time, these relationships go unnoticed because there is minimal argument about results.

But each national figure skating federation is involved in the training and nomination of its international judges. Those judges often watch practices of skaters from their own country and offer tips to help improve their scores.

That is akin to having an NFL referee from Chicago going to Bears’ practice and showing the offensive linemen how to avoid being called for holding.

That judges feel more allegiance to their national federations than they do to the world of skating always has the potential to cause controversy. International Skating Union officials simply will not acknowledge the image problems created because they don’t have independent judges.

In this case, the problem is worse because Shekhovtseva is married to Valentin Piseev, the former president and current general director of the Russian Figure Skating Federation.

The ISU has a constitutional rule, that disqualifies anyone from officiating an event who “due to their relationships, may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing skater.’’

But ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta dismissed the notion people with such personal relationships should not be allowed to judge.

“Would you rather have an idiot acting as a judge than a good one who is a relative of the manager of a federation?” Cinquanta told the Tribune. “It is far more important to have a good judge than a possible conflict of interest.’’

The Korean Skating Union reportedly filed a protest of the women’s event with the ISU Saturday, but such an action would be futile on several counts, including not being filed in time, according to the ISU constitution.

Rule 123 allows protests of results “only in the case of incorrect mathematical calculation.”

The only thing the ISU miscalculated here is how bad it looks.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil
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