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2018 Olympics Skating “Scandal”

Where would we be without one?

I’m speaking, of course, of the Women’s Single Gold/Silver. Personally, I refuse to get on a hobby horse one way or another about who should have the gold. We’re talking two mind-boggling athletes with musicality oozing out their pores, both of whom came through on the day(s) in question…who have, moreover, consistently come through. First/second was no fluke. Neither, for that matter, was bronze. Well-deserved on all counts. What I find disturbing/annoying are the on-line pundits who are, once again, dissing what has proven to be a really good system for balancing the difficult equation of a sport that is also an artform.

Many sports have this in common. Diving, freestyle ski or snowboard, gymnastics…etc…all of those share the problem, but only in figure skating are the judges the villains of every Olympics. I feel sorry for them. You couldn’t pay me enough…

Wait…they aren’t paid.

Viewing the comments/articles online I see two things in particular that get to me.

(1) People equating this outcome to the Lipinski/Kwan outcome, what, twenty years ago? “Youth and athleticism being preferred over maturity and artistry.” Sorry, doesn’t cut it, at least not for me. Lip/Kwan was under the old 6.0 system, one of the most arcane pieces of judging a sports event ever created. (Interesting trivia: The scale of 0 to 6.0, rather than 0 to 10.0, was derived from the figures that are no long a part of competition. Each compulsory figure was skated with six tracings (three on each foot).) There was no way of quantifying an entire program, both in the elements and in the execution of those elements. Each judge assigned a number on that scale to “technical” and another to “artistic”…according to personal opinion…then assigned a ranking ordinal. Consequently, no matter what you did in the short, if you were in the top three and won the long, you won the gold…no cumulative score anywhere in the mix. This is because after the short, each judge assigned an ordinal (numerical placement) for each skater. They did the same after the long and the addition of those ordinals, not the scores, determined the final placement. Following a short Kwan ‘won’ according to ordinals, Lipinski ‘won’ the long ordinals. By my memory, Lip did 2 triple-triples, Kwan did not. Kwan had a slight bobble coming out of a jump, Lipinski had none. Lipinski was free and easy, Kwan, while smooth and beautiful, was not. Nonetheless, it’s possible the same ISU judging system might have given that gold to Kwan, possible her overall artistry and content would have overcome those other deficits. A program with two triple-doubles against a program with two triple-triples would have a very large differential to make up, but it could be done…quantifiably…with a system designed to recognize all aspects of a program, not just an obvious handful. Hard to say, I’ve never reviewed the two programs and haven’t the personal expertise to make that judgement anyway, but I think it’s safe to say that that outcome was as much a factor in the instigation of the ISU system as the later pairs competition.


2018 was a whole different ball game. There was no “obvious superiority” like 3-3 vs 3-2. These two young Russian athletes both had packed programs with virtually identical (except for placement within the program) elements, numerically speaking, long and short. Each individual element as well as the connective tissue had predetermined points assigned, with a trained expert analyzing whether or not those elements, as executed in that performance, met specific criteria. The “component score” follows a similar predetermined set of values, and while it is unquestionably more subjective, the skating skills and musicality of both young ladies were off the charts.  On this occasion the math went one way, public opinion went another. PO wants something to blame, something to change and so PO points to, again, the ISU judging system, which brings us to:

(2)  “Playing the 10% bonus system” must be stopped. Uh…what? MEN have been playing that system for years now, and suddenly, a woman successfully uses the same tactics and everyone’s screaming “Change the system?” Am I the only one that has a problem with this? So she didn’t put one or two jumps in the first half. So what? I found the program a perfectly engaging visual crescendo, less distracting, in fact, than the front loaded programs from pre-ISUJS years.

(As a corellary: We still hear commentators making comments like “now all the hard jumps are out of the way,  [the skater] can relax and enjoy the program.” Uh...exkooseimwah? Since when is an athlete supposed to relax and enjoy the competition? At what point does a slalom skier relax and enjoy? When they hit the flat, maybe? As someone who finds spins and footwork a whole lot more unique and interesting than jumps, I OBJECT! I don’t want a competitor giving 120% on a jump so they can “relax” and give 80 or 90% on the rest.)

The point is, jumps in the second half are accepted as being harder to do than jumps in the first half. The bonus put on that increased difficulty by people a whole lot smarter than I is 10%. I don’t know where the designers of the system came up with that figure, but I suggest that until 10% of the competitive skaters are able to put all the jumps in the second half and land them not only successfully but with positive grades of execution…there’s some validity to that number. I for sure object to it coming under the gun only when a female benefited from it.

And it’s not as if she’s counting on that 10% to win. It’s not as if her spins and footwork are neglected. It’s not as if she’s just skating around when she’s not doing those jumps. She’s known, thanks to the judging system that quantifies these things and gives the competitors feedback delineating the shortcomings in their program, that where she was coming up short was in components, something which she’s worked on and improved all season long…at least according to the competition scores, which detractors of the result would have us believe is an across the board conspiracy to bolster youthful athleticism over artistry. Her competitors have known all season long about the construction of her program. Nothing stopped her competitors from tweaking their program to offset whatever advantage that 10% gave her.

None of which has anything to do with whether or not I “agree” with the outcome. As I say…I’m just blown away by both of them and wish them all the best in the future. I think they’re good for the sport and for each other, and maybe one of them will be the one to break the quad barrier. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Quads are, afterall, big point-makers!

3 comments to 2018 Olympics Skating “Scandal”

  • Jane! It is very good to see you blogging again! We fans and friends don’t get to hear/see you enough online. (Or maybe that just means we (or I) ought to be writing you more. Hmm…. OK, my subconscious sometimes is way ahead of my conscious mind. So, yeah.)

    I can’t have an opinion on the Olympics, because I didn’t watch.

    However, — Yes, it’s an art form. I wish I were good at sports. Or dancing. Heck, I’m just OK at swimming, but I like swimming. … And will want to try out the apartment complex pool this summer.

    So — Anything athletic is a physical, kinesthetic expression of art and physical ability and learned as well as natural effort and grace. And dang, I wish I had that more. But I can appreciate that some people work at it and are blessed with natural athletic talent, and that’s pretty great.

    Judging who’s better in several run-throughs of a competition has got to be difficult. Who’s to say who’s really batter. On some level, it’s enough to say they’re both excellent at it. And why is that not enough for some folks?

    By comparison, I might like (I do like) several authors’ work. I often have no idea, until lately, whether I agree with them or like them, in their personal beliefs and lives. But I can probably still like their writing, their storytelling. — And although I may have my own personal preferences on this or that point of a given writer’s work (stylistics, characterization, plotting, you name it) that’s only my own opinion, and other people are quite likely to have their own differing opinions. Broadly, though, it’s that old question of which of your favorites do you like best? and like most people’s answers on that, hey, I like this one and that one and the other one, and don’t anybody dare try to take ’em away from me, because I like all of them so much, and I’d feel like there was something missing without those authors and their work.

    So to me, the ultimate answer of whether two or three very talented, hard-working people ought to get a top medal is…hmm, kinda moot. I would very much like for them, as talented folks, to be recognized and rewarded for all that effort and talent, though. But I’m not sure I’d be able to pick who is absolutely better or best. So I suppose it’s good that I’m not the guy in charge of that! A big blow-up over it, a “scandal’ ?

    I think today’s pop culture and infotainment / pop news — has gotten really silly about creating the impression of scandal or controversy or highlighting bad news or divisiveness. I’m sure I’m just as prone as anyone to fall for (pseudo) “drama” about some things, to have strong opinions and express them. The internet in general has a troubling tendency to highlight people’s trouble with controlling themselves on expressing opinions or dealing with other people. I guess we are just none of us mature enough yet to handle that. (Some do really well, but many don’t. I’ve been known to lose my cool or get my feelings hurt, or freak out, so I’m not immune either.)

    I do think, though, that the modern media, both entertainment and news / journalism, need to take a big chill pill much of the time, sit back, and ask themselves whether some of the things they’re doing are really what they ought to be doing; meaning, those things generate results, directly and in side-effects. At what point should they (or we) say, y’know, that’s not doing what’s good for us all, maybe we need to work on fixing that?

    And after all, there is (or was) a difference between responsible reporting of news journalism or entertainment, versus gossip. That’s why we have different words for those.

    Jane, you and I sometimes have some traits in common. But overall, you and CJ are really good about being practical-minded and tough-minded and careful, (and likely more so than I am) and this is much appreciated by those who know you both.

  • Walt

    Yes, it’s good to see you post, and thanks to BCS for mentioning it on CJ’s blog. Happy new kitchen!

    I only caught a little bit of curling this Olympics. In a game like that or the many races, picking a winner doesn’t bother me. In the artistic events picking a winner, by taste essentially, seems antithetical to the Olympic ideal of nations joining together to celebrate beauty. Imagine art museums having judges and picking, by judges’ individual taste, gold, silver, and bronze oil paintings, charcoals, and so forth.

  • Thank you! Scott is back to work now…illness gone and truck arrived…the weather is good…and we should see the kitchen truly complete soon! All we have is the tiling and a little more lighting/wiring and the stove-vent installation, all of which required an end to snow and ice. He’s working on the wiring this next week, and when that’s done, will do the backsplash. Sooooo excited. The amazing thing is, all the decisions we had to make re: cabinets, colors, handles…so many different elements that had to come together, and we’re super happy with all of them!

    The whole idea of the “new” judging system was to eliminate as much as possible the arbitrariness of judging, and find a quantifiable means of analyzing the elements…beyond just how pretty it looks, and I think it does an excellent job. There are, in fact, ways of analyzing, for instance, a jump. A lot like diving, where a “ripped” entry, i.e. lack of splash, is a quantifiably cleaner one, the snow skates create in a “skidded” take off is visible. The number of rotations, i.e. a double vs a triple rotation jump, has been given a quantifiable value, i.e., once the skate hits the ice, it can’t require more than a quarter turn from the angle of entry in order to qualify for the higher level…meaning you can’t do half the final turn after you hit the ice again. Whether or not those rotations are completed defines the skill, which has a base level number value. spins and footwork also have quantifiable levels. A special judge is assigned to determine what those individual elements are. The more and higher level elements in a routine, the higher the possible base value is. After that, it’s the job of the other judges to put a value on how well the element was performed. This also has standards that make a lot of sense based on how difficult it is to do. For instance, going into a jump with foot work is much harder than skating on one foot for half the length of the rink before making the jump. Performing the jump with arm/arms above the head is harder than the traditional pull the arms in tight to the chest. Coming out in a clean, stretched, free leg extended position with good flow, shows more control than coming out with a hand down or even continuing to rotate on the ice. All these elements go into a further score of plus or minus 1, 2, or 3 for each element. It really is a good system and values all the elements of figure skating, not simply the jumps or performance. We’ve finally got a judging system that rewards risk and pushes the athleticism forward. Most controversy in the past truly was a product of the VERY arbitrary 6.0 system, which was completely a matter of opinion. No judge truly had to account for the number they put in the box, because there was no way of quantifying that opinion.

    As for the 10% bonus to the elements done after the halfway mark, no one, NO ONE denies that’s harder to do. And no one has ever, until now, suggested that part of the judging system be changed, even when you’ve had men back-loading the hard elements since the system began. Suddenly, a woman games the system and does it successfully and people are saying “change the system!” “It makes for an unbalanced (i.e. less pretty, in their opinion) program.” That’s where I truly get testy. I happened to really like her program and didn’t consider it the least unbalanced but rather something the built steadily to the very explosive jumps in the final couple of minutes. It’s the choreographer’s job to embrace the numbers game and create art out of it, and the athlete’s job to make that choreography come to life.

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