"Skategate" judging questions surround U.S. ice dancing win

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States react in the results area after competing in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Vadim Ghirda, AP

SOCHI, Russia -- America's new darlings on ice, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, find themselves at the center of a judging controversy that’s being called "Skategate." Sequins and sour grapes once again dominate Olympic skating -- not that it bothers them much.

"We don't sit back and wonder how the judges judge, because that's really not our role," Davis told CBS News. 

Americans win first gold in Olympic ice dancing
 They beat the previous gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, although a lot of people in the skating world wondered why.

Among the skeptics was the man who developed one of the event's required sequences, in which the American pair scored higher.

"I don't understand the judging," tweeted former Finnish skater Petri Kokko.

And frankly, neither does the Russian coach who coaches both pairs. She told CBS News the judging is a mystery to her, too.

Marina Zoueva CBS News
 "How judges decide, I think you have to ask the judges," Marina Zoueva said, adding, "I do not understand what they're looking for."

But judges don’t talk, they judge -- often controversially.

After the scandal of the Salt Lake games in 2002, when judges were caught fixing results, the system was changed and supposedly improved.

For Meryl Davis, the U.S. pair is simply doing whatever it is the judges like.

"It's subjective, and that's what makes our sport so unique and so special," she said.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada wait for their score with their coaches Oleg Epstein and Marina Zoueva. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
  Yet the subjectivity of skating is exactly why it gets criticized. Although Scott Moir of the Canadian pair stopped short of saying the results are agreed upon before the skaters even skate.

"It didn't go our way, but I don’t think the judging was pre-determined," he said. "It's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess."

The cookie crumbled the American way this time, but a sport which has tried to clean up its image apparently still has work to do.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.