Friday, May 3, 2013

Petition Asks that Denis Ten Be Awarded Retroactive Gold Medal

Impossible? It happened once, when the whole world was up in arms 12 years ago at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Why not again now?
Corruption and political bias may be as old as figure skating itself, but sometimes the judges push their luck to the point where the world cannot accept the outrage any longer. As a result of worldwide protests, as well as a confession of corruption from a French judge, the International Skating Union (ISU) made an unprecedented decision at the 2002 Games: to award a second Olympic gold medal to the Canadian pairs team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who viewers and experts alike believed should have won the gold in the first place.
Now a petition asks that the same type of action be taken to redress a terrible wrong done less than two weeks ago at this year’s World Figure Skating Championship by awarding a gold medal in the men’s competition to the man who most deserved it: Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten. The petition is addressed to Ottavio Cinquanta, the president of the International Skating Union (ISU), and Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The perennial overmarking of World Champion Patrick Chan of Canada, who gave a performance so flawed that even he apologized for it, robbed a very talented young skater of the gold medal he clearly earned. Ten — the first skater from Kazakhstan to ever break into the ranks of elite skaters — delivered the program of his life on March 15, 2013. His program was not just technically difficult and flawless, but artistically exquisite as well. His scores were high and he won the long program, but by a margin so small that it allowed Patrick Chan to squeeze by him and win the gold yet again. That, in spite of the fact that Chan’s program was marred by four major mistakes, including two falls.
Any other skater but Chan would not have even been within striking distance of the podium with such a skate. Yet the judges deemed Chan't disastrous skate to be almost as good as Ten’s perfect performance. And based on the combined short and long program score, they awarded him the gold medal.
It is true that Chan’s short program was flawless, but so was Denis Ten’s, who was second to Chan in that phase of the competition. Yet the difference in the long (and far more important) program between the two skaters was far smaller than difference between them in the short, where they both skated clean programs. How can that be defended?
Most of the press covering the event was up in arms. Here is a sample of headlines and quotes from the press and skaters:

It is in part because of this kind of judging that the sport of figure skating has seen a rapid and catastrophic decline in recent years. Shows fold, pro competitions are history, skaters compete in half-empty arenas or worse, and TV networks do not even bother to cover the premier event of the year—the World Championships (other than airing a highlight show weeks later). Little wonder that people are giving up on a sport in which audiences believe that what they watch and what the judges judge are completely different competitions. Fans become alienated, refusing to travel to events and patronize a corrupt sport that is losing its last shred of credibility.

Very sadly, Ten is not the only victim of this kind of judging. Last year Patrick Chan similarly skated a flawed program, yet defeated Daisuke Takahashi of Japan. The crowd booed not just the scores, but even the award ceremony. The only reason the judges walked out of the arena alive and well this year was that the event was held on Chan’s home ice in London, Ontario, Canada. Moreover, other deserving skaters are overlooked by the scandal caused by such corrupt judging. Javier Fernandez, for instance, was the first skater to medal at the World Figure Skating Championship. He, too, skated a program superior to Chan's, yet his accomplishment was completely overshadowed by the scandal involving the gold medal.
The judges’ propensity to score Chan dozens of points higher than anyone expects has resulted in the coining of a new word commonly used in skating: Chanflation. What makes Chanflation and other such blatant judging bias possible is the very judging system implemented by the ISU after the 2002 Olympic scandal—presumably to make political judging less likely to happen. Instead, it accomplished the exact opposite. The judging is now anonymous, with no one knowing which judge awards which mark to which skater. Moreover, the arbitrary program component scores (PCSs), meant to replace the artistic mark, are entirely subjective.
Chan is constantly awarded PCSs high enough to make up for his technical flaws. (In other words, the bigger the flaws, the higher the PCS's must be to save his skin.) Under the previous, 6.0 judging system, it would have been inconceivable for a skater who made so many errors in a program to get a perfect 6.0 mark for artistic impression. The flaws and falls distract from the artistic value of the performance. Yet Chan received higher scores for program execution than Ten, who was flawless — including an incredible mark of 9.5! He also got a 9.75 for transitions. What would the judges have awarded Chan had he actually skated a clean program?
The petition asking that Ten be awarded a gold medal retroactively for his performance is unlikely to succeed now that the sport is not in the world limelight the way it was back in 2002. But if enough people sign, at the very least it could draw attention to the endemic corruption in the sport and its governing body, the International Skating Union — whose president is kept in office even against the ISU’s own constitution. (See article on June 29.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Recent Controversial Musings in the Press

While I’m taking a short break from slamming the International Judging System, I’d like to bring to your attention what others in the press, big and small, have had to say very recently about the subject. It looks like the cracks in the systems are beginning to give more and more people serious food for thought.

Click on each story headline for the full article.

Figure skating judging system still has flaws

By Bev Smith

Toronto Globe and Mail

The figure-skating judging scandal that rocked the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics gave birth to a complex scoring system that is sometimes as controversial as the one it replaced …

Has it actually stopped the deal making? The complexity of the current system was meant to make it more difficult to rig marks. But one of its weaknesses of the code of points is the anonymity in which judges now work. They are no longer accountable publicly, as they were in Salt Lake City.

Modern Skating is Ugly

Ria Novosti Russian News

Figure skating has lost its aesthetic appeal and places too much emphasis on complex but ugly moves, the newly crowned European champion pair of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

Suppose They Held a Grand Prix and Nobody Came?

By George Rossano

Ice Skating International

To the handful of spectators at the recent Skate America competition in Ontario, CA it was painfully obvious. Spectator attendance was sparse, extremely sparse. Walking around the concourse and seeing so may familiar faces it seemed the attendance was mainly driven by the local skating community: skaters, parents, coaches, officials, and the occasional skating groupie. In a huge market like southern California, how could public interest be so low?

Figure Skating Under Rhetorical Questions

By Vladislav Luchianov

World Figure Skating

Major questions remain and until they have no conclusive answers, conclusive to all – figure skating, unfortunately, will have difficulties with regaining its popularity.

An ISU official speaks out

Translation on Figure Skating Universe of an op-ed in a Russian publication (PDF of original available at link above).

This is an interview of Alexander Lakernik, chairman of the ISU technical committee: "Going into details, we have gone too far."

This story is not a criticism of the system, but an insider's attempt to take a step back and seek some balance.

Johnny Weir on the Judging and the System


Note: This is part of an article I wrote for the "" featuring Johnny's Weir's comments at a press conference during 2012 Nationals. I asked the questions about the judging and the judging system. For the full article, click on the link at the bottom.

When he finished his long program at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Johnny Weir left the ice in tears, overwhelmed by the raw emotion over what he had just accomplished. Every elite athlete dreams of a moment like this, but only a lucky few ever get to truly experience one. The three-time U.S. national champion delivered the performance of a lifetime in front of the world at the Olympic Games. Yet even in a competition largely marked by flawed, shaky performances, the judges deemed Weir's perfect skate no better than sixth, triggering a controversy never yet put to rest.

Weir recalled that night in Vancouver and what transpired behind the scenes shortly after his skate. His placement, he said, did not shock him. “I knew most likely an Olympic medal wasn’t in my future. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who is liked by the judges.” What stung the most was what he overheard backstage. A high skating official went up to his coach, Galina Zmievskaya, Weir recalls, and told her, “I wish we had know he was going to skate like that.” The implication, Weir said, was that they would have marked him different had they realized that after a shaky season he still had it in him to deliver such a performance. “Why should it matter? They should judge what happened that day.”

But now, the 27-year-old skater-turned-pop star is ready to come back. On January 19 Weir announced that he has resumed his early-morning practice routine and will forsake his red-carpet lifestyle in order to take another stab at Olympic competition.Such an experience would be enough to make most skaters hang up their competitive skates for good. And for a while that is what Weir did. In the two years since he set out to prove to himself and the world that he has what it takes to become a star without the benefit of Olympic accolades. From fashion runways and rubbing shoulders with celebrities, to starring in reality shows, writing an autobiography, and performing in ice shows worldwide, Weir maintained a higher public profile than most world and Olympic champions.

During the 45-minute talk with the press last week, Weir explained his decision and shared his no-holds-barred views on every topic: the judging system, his gay marriage, and everything in between.

On his reasons for coming back

Now that I’ve given myself two years away from competition, given myself time to eat and be fat and be happy and get married, I’m coming back in a completely different mind frame. I’ve achieved so many things in my career. This is not for a medal, not for the judges. This comeback is for me. I can come back and completely enjoy my skating because I have a life. I don’t have the pressure of “You win the Olympics or you work at Home Depot.”

Also, I'd like to push figure skating back in the public eye. We’ve been in a lull for a while. People don’t watch. I have a high public persona and I hope to use that to attract public attention to the many talents in the sport. I want to try to put figure skating back on the map with pop culture.

On the type of programs he plans to perform

I’m trying to find a way to mix Lady Gaga and Carmen. I don’t know if that will become something or if it’s just a random idea. I'm trying to come up with ideas to combine on ice and off ice persona. On ice I’m this very elegant, balletic and classical skater. Off ice, I'm a train wreck of a fashion person with too much makeup on. If I can tap into the enjoyment and creative vibes I get during shows, you’ll be seeing something different. It won’t be “now I’m doing this three turn because it gives me two-tenths extra points" and "now I’m doing this change of edge because it makes the level higher." It will be more free.

On political judging today

Things come in and out of fashion. Patrick Chan can fall down four times and still win by 30 points. It’s quite evident that there’s still a lot politically going on behind the scenes that we’re not privy to. The Russians were always vilified for politics and doing things behind the scenes, and people still don’t trust Russian skating officials. But when you fall three or four times and you win, it’s clear there’s something else going on. No one has a fair shot if Patrick Chan is in the competition. So it’s not about the rules and trying a quad; it’s about whether the judges like me. If they don’t it won’t matter what I do.

On the current judging system

The judging system to me is a lot of hot air. They’re trying to make it as complicated as possible so you can’t see what’s actually going on behind closed doors. You can’t actually see this person talking to a judge in the ladies’ room. Things like that happen in figure skating. The judging system is just smoke and mirrors.

But to be competitive you have to play by the rules and I’m prepared to do that. I’ll learn to do the whole footwork sequence on one foot and do a quadruple flip with my finger in my nose and have my costume do a complete change while I’m in midair and change from a swan to a deck of cards. Whatever I have to do, I’ll try. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. The judges like me or they don’t.

Click here for the full article

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Artistic Heart of Skating Torn Out, Skaters Say

In a recently televised interview, Canadian skating star Toller Cranston stated that he's embarrassed to be part of the sport, and blasted the new system for judging figure skating with his renowned candor. “The way it's judged now, the more you can do the more points you get, so everything is overproduced and generic,” said the 1976 Olympic medalist. He was no kinder to the medalists at the 2010 Winter Olympics, who use the new system to their advantage. They were, Cranston said, like “cats hanging by a claw from a roof."

Although often considered unconventional, even eccentric in his opinions, Cranston does not stand alone when it comes to his views about the state of figure skating today. Skating champions from around the world are expressing their distress about the direction the sport has taken under the International Judging System (IJS), which replaced the century-old 6.0 system back in 2004.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt recently bemoaned the loss of emotion and passion that used to be the hallmarks of figure skating. “It’s like putting figure skating in a box,” she said in an interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Former World Champion Stephane Lambiel was quoted in an Italian skating magazine as saying that present rules favor good jumpers without charisma. American skating legend Janet Lynn, beloved for her musicality and artistry during the 1970s, went as far as calling the IJS “a totalitarian system of measurement that does not breed freedom on the ice or lift the human spirit.” Most interestingly, perhaps, even the current world champion, Patrick Chan, who has benefitted the most from the new system, has harsh words for it. In a December interview he said that skating used to be much more "epic and memorable" in the past. "There was a lot more uniqueness between each skater, whereas nowadays it's almost beco

me a production line.”

Yet in spite of such doom and gloom about the loss of artistry in figure skating, no one seems willing or able to lift a finger to do something about it. Part of it has to do with the political nature of skating and the small but entrenched group of people who make decisions at the International Skating Union—an organization headed by a speed skater, not a figure skater. But in all fairness, the system does have fierce support among its rank and file. Many judges, coaches and skaters love the fact that every move is measurable according to a precise (albeit arbitrary) code of points that encourages skaters to push the technical limits of the sport. The system also allows skaters to receive immediate feedback about their performance, with element-by-element breakdown of their programs. If you want to know why you lost those two tenths of a point that kept you off the podium, the judges' scoring sheets will give you an answer. Neat, clean, precise, and objective—at least in theory. To some, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered when the new system replaced the old one following the pairs scandal at the 2002 Games.

So which is it? Has the new judging system saved or destroyed figure skating? Judging by TV ratings and event attendance, the sport has fallen off a cliff in North America and Europe. Tours have folded, professional competitions are but a faint memory, and opportunities for professional skating are shrinking faster than the polar ice caps. The sport survives as a technical, competitive enterprise. But is it thesame sport?

Historically, skating as competitive sport and as performing art were two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked into a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. There were always skaters who excelled more at one or the other aspect, and in some cases their strength in one area prevailed long enough to win them a medal or title. But for the most part, the system rewarded those who could strike that magic balance between technique and artistry.

All that has changed. For the first time in the history of figure skating, a change in the judging system has not only changed the way skating is measured, but also the way it is performed. The point system is a radical, unprecedented departure from anything ever used to judge figure skating. With mathematical precision it forces skaters to focus on diabolically-difficult tricks and design cookie-cutter programs that strategically maximize points with every step at the expense of originality and emotion. Even age-old, crowd-pleasing moves such as fast scratch spins and stunning spread eagles, have been abandoned after being deemed unworthy of high scores under the system.

As a result, the artistic heart of figure skating has been ripped out of a sport that has been known for its dual artistic/technical personalities since before the days of Sonja Henie. The champions that captured our hearts were always able to meld the two. That’s what made skating special and that’s what may be forever lost under the new system.

“Figure skating is a different kind of sport [from all others], and you have to accept it,” Katarina Witt said. “You cannot compare it to swimming, which it’s about who’s the fastest.” Skating, she said, is about “who touches your heart. Who makes you remember a program for the rest of your life.” These days, few people remember who won the last Olympics.

When the ISU set out to devise a new system in 2002 it was tasked with devising a new way to judge – not a new sport. With their actions they grossly overstepped their authority and desecrated the sport they were entrusted with preserving.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rewarding Failure Diminishes Sport


If you tuned into the men’s competition at the Grand Prix Final you must have felt like Alice in Wonderland, watching a totally different event from the one ranked by the judges. The worst part is that there was nothing peculiar about this competition. This pattern of madness repeats itself event after event. Little wonder the sport is losing its last shred of credibility.

Blatant favoritism is nothing new in figure skating, although it is reaching unprecedented heights when Patrick Chan takes to the ice. To belabor this well-known point is a tedious pursuit. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or ISU judge to realize the man couldn’t lose if he tried (which he usually does).

But even such shameless bias is only a small part of the story. The reason why such manipulation can happen in the first place — why a skater can smash into the boards or botch jump after jump yet keep winning — has to do with the system itself. From the onset, the International Judging System was designed to reward failure, much the same way grade school kids are rewarded with A’s for effort. If not revamped (or better yet, put through the shredder), the system will put figure skating — already on the endangered species list —into the grave for good.

Common sense dictates that when a skater steps out of jump, puts his hands down, lands on his rear end, or crashes into the boards, he failed. Under the 6.0 system, the attempt was marked as such. A jump that ended in a bad fall was considered a non-jump. Under IJS, however, such fiascos are considered successful jumping attempts that get nearly full credit. If sufficiently rotated, a jump counts as done even if the skater plays Zamboni. The only difference between the splat and the jump landed vertically is a slight deduction for grade of execution.

Take a fall on a quad toe loop, for instance. What the judges do is start with the base value of 10.3, just as if the jump had been completed. Then they deduct a trifle, say 2.7 points or so, and you still rack up some 7.6 points! That's nearly as much as a perfectly executed triple axel! For an outright fall!

Where else but in figure skating is failure rewarded with such generosity? Imagine telling your boss you couldn’t complete an important project, but could he please give you that promotion anyway because you tried real hard and the task was so difficult? I don’t know about your boss, but mine wouldn’t take too kindly to this notion.

Yet that’s exactly what's happening in skating. Try, miss, hit the jackpot. Not surprisingly, skaters at all levels who know they can’t land a jump will go for it anyway to get that all-important partial credit. The result is that the audience pays good money to watch splashfest after splashfest, while skaters suffer increasing injury rates trying to hang on to jumps that are not landable.

“A for effort” can arguably do some good for little kids whose self-esteem needs a boost. Olympic skaters should not be in dire need of such propping up. What other reason can there be for lavishing points on a skater for botching jumps? They’re difficult, supporters of the system will argue. Surely skaters must be rewarded in some way for rotating four times in the air, right? Wrong. Are gymnasts awarded gold medals if they don’t stick a landing, never mind if they land flat on the mat or step out of bounds? Not funny. Then why should skaters be held to different standards?

A jump is spectacular, beautiful to watch, and technically difficult if, in addition to rotating it, the skater can gracefully finish the rotation in the air and then land on that thin steel blade with speed and grace. All other means of completing the jump — whether by sitting on the ice or arresting the fall by whatever other desperate means — does nothing to promote either the beauty or the difficulty of the sport.

Botched jumps are an eyesore, period. If nothing else, they should result in an automatic deductions in the component score, aka presentation mark. For all the difficulty of a quad, there’s nothing artistic about crashing on landing. Giving nearly full credit for failure at the highest levels of competition is a slap in the face of those skaters who land their jumps well and diminishes the very notion of sport. The practice also leave audiences baffled and frustrated. No wonder fans are abandoning figure skating in droves and skaters are performing to empty arenas. Soon it will be just them and the judges in the house.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dead Poets and the Battle for the Soul of Figure Skating


I'd like to invite Mr. Cinquanta and the ISU Technical Committee to watch my favorite movie — Dead Poets Society. No, I'm not losing my mind. What could figure skating have to do with movie about poetry and a boys' academy? Everything!

In case you ever watched this wonderful movie, you may remember one of the most powerful scenes in the beginning when the teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), asks the boys to rip out the first chapter of a book on poetry in which the author plots various measures of the poetry's value on a graph to calculate its greatness.

"Excrement!" Keating declares.

"We're not laying pipe!" he says. "We're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? 'I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can't dance to it!'"

That's exactly what you've done to figure skating, Mr. Cinquanta. You've chopped up the intangible qualities that are part of an artistic whole, assigned them point values, and then added them up at the cash register to produce results and records that mean absolutely nothing. Zip. They are, in Keating's words, excrement.

Keating goes on to say:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion."

And so is figure skating, when done right. Music is passion, and a captivating, heart-searing performance on the ice is all about passion and connecting with the audience.

How can you plot that? What number, what component score can measure passion?! Ultimately, is that the worth of a John Curry, Katarina Witt, Torvill & Dean, Brian Orser, Gordeeva & Grinkov, Paul Wylie, Stephane Lambiel, Sasha Cohen, Johnny Weir, or whoever your favorites may happen to be? Is that what they're all about? A Code of Points?!

Poems cannot be assigned numbers, and neither can a passionate figure skating performance be looked down upon with enough contempt to be broken up and plotted and assigned ridiculous meaningless numbers for interpretation and skating skill and other magical qualities that we instinctively appreciate as a whole.

"This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls," Keating sums up in Dead Poets Society.

He's right. So is the battle to judge the sport and art of figure skating. If we do nothing and let Mr. Cinquanta and his cronies get away with treating art like a calculus equation, we allow them to rip the heart and soul out of figure skating forever.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Addendum to Last Post: More Officials Speak Out


The March 15 entry of Save Skating entitled “Top Officials Say Judging System Seriously Flawed" addressed serious allegations made against the new judging system by high-level officials in the sport: Olympic figure skating judge Patrick Ibens and former referee and long-time ISU official Sonia Bianchetti.  

Since then, more top-level ISU officials have followed up with further stinging criticism of the system. They are Sally Stapleford, former chair of the ISU Technical Committee, and Britta Lindgren, a former member of the ISU Technical Committee. Here are some quotes from their column. Read and weep. Or better yet, join those of us who speak out to keep this system from destroying our sport for good. 


The ISU should reflect on the fact that they’re creating judges that are far less accountable … Incompetent/dishonest judges can sit at the meeting after the event without explaining anything in regards to their scores, and no one can accurately gauge their knowledge or lack of it. 

If you were a honest/independent/ knowledgeable judge you would relish the  opportunity to explain fully your rationale for certain marks/placements, as we both did when we were judging. But the system that is now in place favours mediocrity and discourages independence. 

Sadly some of the creators of this current judging system have never been judges, and, consequently, know very little of what is in the best interests when it comes to producing fair and honest judging... Hopefully now they will realise the error of their ways - which was totally predictable – by blindly going along with a Speed Skating President and his followers.  

When are the ISU going to "wake up and smell the roses?" They need to realise that they should scrap the famous "corridor" and return to a system that encourages judges not to worry about being in the "corridor" or "in line", but to judge fairly/ honestly and independently. 


Join the Facebook group “Bring Back the 6.0 System in Figure Skating.”