Gymnastics officials from the United States and Romania conspired to fix scores last fall at the World Gymnastics Championships at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, according to Greg Marsden, the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics coach at the time.
Marsden said last week in Salt Lake City that he and the Romanian coach exchanged scores, which were to be delivered to the countries' respective judges. The scores were what each country wanted its athletes to receive.
Marsden told of the incident to illustrate what he says is the highly political nature of gymnastics. Marsden said that this type of collusion is an accepted practice in international competition.
At the championships in October, the Romanians had an outstanding performance and their high marks--seven 10s in the team competition--were justified, Marsden said. He added that the Romanians could not keep their part of the agreement, however, because the U.S. gymnasts performed poorly and the scores requested would have brought undo attention to the Romanian judge.
One U.S. judge, Audrey Schweyer of Allentown, Pa., denied that there was any agreement in Rotterdam. Mike Jacki, executive director of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation in Indianapolis, also denied the charge but did say that collusion is common among Eastern Bloc countries, and an issue in international competition.
Marsden, a highly respected women's gymnastic coach at the University of Utah, resigned as national coach in January, citing differences with the USGF. Marsden, however, said that Jacki had had no knowledge of the agreement.
Attempts to reach Yuri Titov, president of the International Gymnastics Federation were unsuccessful. Repeated efforts to contact representatives of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation also were unsuccessful.
The Romanians won the women's team competition at the World Championships with a score of 395.400, with the Soviet Union finishing second at 394.950. The United States finished sixth with a score of 383.40.
Marsden said that the coach for the Romanian women's team, Adrian Goreac, approached him in Rotterdam, before the competition.
"I was in a bar one night and the Romanian coach asked me if we, the United States, would be willing to work with them to help them beat the Russians," Marsden said.
"He asked me if I could control my judges. He said that we were not in competition with either his team or the Russians, but rather were looking at a sixth-, fifth- or maybe even a fourth-place finish. I told him I would get back to him.
"We talked in a group . . . and (decided it) would be to our interest (to cooperate). And so we did that. It was just the delegation there (in Rotterdam) I talked to, the coaching staff and the judges--our judges.
Marsden said that before the competition began, the Romanian coach and judges met with him and the U.S. judges in a hotel room, used as a hospitality suite, where the countries exchanged presents and agreed to work together.
"The next day, the Romanian coach slipped me a piece of paper, which listed nothing but the numbers 1-6, and scores he wanted to see each girl receive. The paper had no names, nothing, just scores.
"The scores were 9.8 for the first girl, then 9.9 for the next two and then three 10.0s, or something close to that. I told him I didn't know if we could go that far, the scores were so high, but we would do our best."
Marsden said that he then gave the Romanian coach a list of scores he wanted the U.S. women to receive. He said that the agreement included two events--the floor exercise and the balance beam. Schweyer was among the judges on the floor exercise, the Romanian among those on the beam.
"But it didn't make any difference because their girls hit their routines," Marsden said. "They were spectacular, and the scores they asked us for, not only did our judge give but the other judges gave, and, they got those scores. It was the average (the Romanians) were asking for. We thought it was unrealistic--but they were so good that is exactly what they got."
But the Romanians could not keep their part of the bargain, he said, because the Americans performed too poorly on the beam.
"We had misses and when you miss it's impossible for their judge to help because basically you haven't done your part," Marsden said. "Your athletes have to hit and do their part of it, and then the judge may be able to help them one-half of a 10th or a 10th of a point. But (the athletes) have to do a decent job. Otherwise it becomes obvious to everyone."
Schweyer denied that she was part of any agreement.
"No, that didn't happen, not to the best of my knowledge," she said. "I don't remember a piece of paper or anything that blatant.
"We are there three weeks, so we talked to a lot of people. It's always general conversation. You agree to be fair."
Marsden, however, said he had discussed the agreement with Schweyer, although he took pains not to mention her by name.
"Before the competition, I told her that I had told the Romanian coach the scores were so high I didn't know what we could do," Marsden said. "She was concerned because she could get yanked off the floor (removed as a judge). I told her I had told the coach she'd do her best.
"After the competition, we discussed how the scores were right in line with everybody else.
"She was only doing what everyone expected her to do, what always had been done," Marsden said of Schweyer.
The other U.S. judge in Rotterdam, Joanne Pasqualle of Fullerton, also denied knowing about an agreement with Romania.
Jacki said that the practice of countries conspiring on scoring is a major problem in international competition, but that the U.S. has not been involved in it.
"What Greg interpreted as collaboration is standard operating procedure," Jacki said. "We are saying to other countries, 'We want you to be fair.' We are not saying, 'We want you to cheat for us.' "
Jacki also said: "These discussions go on all the time by every country. They say they want to collaborate. We say 'OK, if you are between a 9.4 and a 9.5 we will try to give you the 9.5, but only if it is justified. We will try to give you the benefit of the doubt, but only if your athlete does the job.' "
Jacki said that he has sent mandates to U.S. judges not to cooperate with other countries. "Across the board we have the fairest judges. . . . I could not say that about some Eastern Bloc countries. Some will do whatever they can to get their kids the top scores."
Schweyer said it is common for the representatives of different countries to meet and talk at major meets. The United States had a hospitality suite in Rotterdam and entertained several countries there.
"Yeah, we swung a lot of deals in that room," said Marsden, declining to elaborate. "What they (Jacki and Schweyer) are saying is right. You agree to help and you watch what they do and they watch what you do. And, if you like what they do and you them, maybe you can work together next time."
The World Championship meet was only Marsden's second international competition after becoming the U.S. women's coach last April. His first was the Pan American Games in which, he said, the United States made no deals because the team was superior and wasn't threatened.
Despite his relative inexperience in international meets, Marsden said he knew these deals were made and was only surprised at the directness with which they were negotiated.
"I knew it went on and had read about it, and I know it isn't right," Marsden said. "But I felt this was my responsibility to my athletes, because if I did not (cooperate) they would be taken advantage of because we didn't play the game."
The international federation has acted to try to diminish the effect one judge can have on scoring. The number of judges was recently increased from four to six per event, specifically to combat collusion.
Don Peters, the current U.S. women's national team coach, who was at the World Championships as a personal coach, said he knew nothing of the alleged deal but also said that cheating was nothing new.
"Over the years, there has always been a problem with cheating," he said.
He has proposed that the number of judges go from six to eight per event, with the three high scores and the three low scores being thrown out, and the middle two averaged.
"Every judge, in every country in the world scores their kid higher than any other judge on the panel," said Peters, acknowledging the problem. "And they score other countries lower if that country is close competitively."
Currently, with six judges, the high and low scores are thrown out and the middle four are averaged.
"Like I said, I know (score fixing) isn't right," Marsden said. "But I don't think one article is going to clean it up. . . . In fact, I am worried (it) may even hurt our athletes because the United States won't be able to work with anybody and all the other countries will continue. Then, our athletes will be at a disadvantage."