Winter Olympics 2014: Russian Figure Skater Adelina Sotnikova's Gold Medal Scores Questioned

Does figure skating have another judging scandal on its hands?

Feb. 21, 2014— -- There are a few things that are certain in figure skating: Thrills, spills, sequins and whining about the judges.

There was no doubt that Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, 17, skated well at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Thursday, but many were left dumbfounded when she edged out the defending champion, South Korea's Yuna Kim, for the gold.

She didn't do it by a small margin, either.

Sotnikova, who was widely regarded as the second best skater on the Russian team, dethroned Kim, nicknamed "the Queen" in the skating world, by 5.48 points despite a flawless performance.

While the home crowd roared with appreciation for Sotnikova, who became the first Russian woman to win a gold medal in the women's individual event, many began to scrutinize the judging.

Read More: Sochi Olympics Record Set by Petition Questioning Skating Gold Medal

The roster of judges for the women's free skate on Thursday included Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, who was caught on tape trying to orchestrate a vote trading scheme at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. Balkov was suspended for one year.

Read More: Records of Judges Who Gave Russian Figure Skater Adelina Sotnikova Gold Medal Scrutinized

Also on the panel was Alla Shekhovtseva, the wife of a longtime Russian figure skating federation official, according to USA Today.

A petition posted to calling for an investigation into the figure skating results and judging was signed by more than 1.6 million people, causing the website to crash.

U.S. Figure Skating, the International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee haven't responded to a request for comment from

Ashley Wagner, the American skater who finished in seventh place, called for more transparency among the nine-member judging panel.

"People don't want to watch a sport where you see people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean. It is confusing and we need to make it clear for you," she said at a news conference on Thursday. "They need to get rid of the anonymous judging."

Judging System Overhauled After 2002 Scandal

The sport's backroom bargaining was exposed at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City after a French judge alleged she had been pressured into a deal with a Russian judge to fix the pairs skating competition.

The scandal was an embarrassment for the International Skating Union, prompting officials to scrap the system where 6.0 was a perfect score.

Under the current scoring methodology, a technical panel calls the elements of a skater's program for the judging panel to score. Judges then grade a skater's execution and presentation using a cumulative system.

The most problematic impact of the system is that judges are now allowed to give their scores anonymously, Eric Zitzewitz, an economist at Dartmouth University who has studied judging bias, told

The judges' tendencies to inflate scores for athletes from their own countries and trade votes with other judges has increased 20 percent since the rules were changed in 2004, according to Zitzweitz, who published a study in the Journal of Sports Economics.

"I have the impression now the score just appears from a black box," he said. "It's impossible for a regular spectator to know if the judging is fair or not."

Read More: Full Olympics Coverage

While the controversy continues to stew, Sotnikova said she was thrilled with her achievement.

"I won. It's my gold medal. I can't believe it," she said. "Two years ago, all of my competitions were very bad. I didn't know if I had what it takes to be successful. Now I know that I do."