Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cinquanta’s Power Play Shows Disdain for Skaters and Sport


When Ottavio Cinquanta brought the full weight of the ISU to bear on 19-year-old Yu-Na Kim, pressuring her to compete at the Four Continents Championships just three weeks before the 2010 Olympics, the skating world gasped with indignation. This was not merely a misguided request to Kim personally. The top official of the International Skating Union openly threatened sanctions against Kim’s Korean federation if their top skaters didn’t submit to his demand. Such a heavy-handed action demonstrates Cinquanta’s disdain for figure skaters and his disinterest in showcasing the sport in its best light at the Winter Games next month.

This is hardly the first time a skater was asked by a skating association to participate in an event against their will. As far back as 1975, Dorothy Hamill missed her senior high school prom because of a show she was forced to skate in. But when it comes to major events, such as Worlds and Olympics, officials have always tried to balance the needs of sport against those of the athletes. Cinquanta did not, and his request crossed a line most people intuitively feel should not have been crossed.

With the support of both her coach and federation, Kim turned down the request. It was the only sensible things she could do, as Michelle Kwan recently indicated in an interview. But with a sport as political and subjective as figure skating, how can she not fear consequences knowing she has upset the ISU apple cart and put her own federation at risk of sanctions? No athlete should be subjected to such stress under any circumstances, let alone at a time of maximum Olympic pressure.

Kim aside, the scheduling of the event itself boggles the mind and demonstrates the ISU’s indifference to the needs of elite skaters worldwide. Just weeks before the world gathers for the largest and most prestigious sporting event on Earth, the ISU saw fit to schedule a competition in Korea that’s of minor interest at best even in non-Olympic years. (Four Continents was conceived in 1999 to serve as a qualifying for Worlds. It never served its original purpose.)

To compete in Korea, skaters training in Europe and America must face long transcontinental flights during winter months, interrupt their training, subject themselves to severe jetlag, and potentially expose themselves to illness or injury. How dare the ISU request that of athletes at a time when they are preparing for the most important competition of their lives? The timing is so bad, in fact, that skaters at the U.S. Nationals can only make it to Korea in time if they leave Nationals before the end of the exhibition.

Whatever possessed the ISU to hold this event this season and schedule it at such an unfortunate time?  Clearly Cinquanta saw it as an opportunity to cash in on the new-found popularity of the sport in Korea, where the competition is being held. What happens to the skaters a few weeks later at the Olympics is of little interest to the ISU president, whose sport is speed, not figure skating.

Contributing to such short-sighted action is the sorry state the sports finds itself in today. Just a decade ago networks were signing contracts with the ISU for tens of million of dollars. Today, the ISU struggles to find anyone to cover its major events. Figure skating has seen a dramatic reversal of fortunes and loss of revenues in recent years. But instead of trying to squeeze the last dime out of Four Continents, the ISU would do far better to take a long hard look at state of the sport, its extremely controversial judging system, and consider what might have contributed to the steady decline in figure skating’s popularity.

When justifying Kim’s decision to turn down Cinquanta’s request, her coach and former world champion Brian Orser explained it best: “What we have to do is put the skater first," he told the Chicago Tribune . Clearly, Cinquanta and the ISU are doing the exact opposite.


  1. Once again Monica - a bang on, accurate and well written article. My sincere respect to you and others such as Sonia Bianchetti, who do their best to illustrate to the world, the overwhelming deficiencies in the fractured sport of figure skating.

  2. The ISU which used to be the most esteemed organization for figure skaters has totally lost its reputation. It is no longer the "leading light" of the sport and to be frank, its has become the destroyer of the sport it used to defend.
    Every national federation should object to a the continuation of Cinquanta as president of this organization or at worst, it might well be necessary to resign membership from such an orgaization which is no longer capable of defending the sport of international figure skating.
    I speak in the name of all those who made this sport and with whom I trained:
    Cecilia Colledge
    Pierre & Andrée Brunet
    Maribel Vinson Owen
    Megan Taylor
    Carl Schaeffer

    May those in power decide to act

  3. But it sounds as if the US Nationals are just as poorly scheduled--way too close to the Olympic games. Don't the same arguments apply?

  4. Replace Cincuanta or rescind membership in the ISU! Cinquanta clearly does not understand nor care about the sport of Figure Skating, he only cares about his own power! Cinquanta has proven his lack of expertise on many occasions through his un informed leadership. Figure skating has been headed in the wrong direction for quite some time, it is time to take our sport back and make it the esteemed sport it once was.

  5. Thanks for your comments. In response to DocRoc: Nationals is the main qualifying competition for the Olympics and it's always been held in January, a month before the Games. You can't not have a National Championship (all countries do), but you most certainly can do just fine without an insignificant competition like 4CC. Skaters train the whole year preparing and planning for Nationals/ Olympics/ Worlds. Moreover, skaters competing at Nationals don't have to fly in from other continents. And this year, the Olympics are in Vancouver, so U.S. skaters don't have far to go. Compare that with having to fly across the world at last minute's notice -- and for no good reason other than one person's whim!

  6. Congratulations to Brian Orser for having the balls to stand up to the pressure. The sport after all, is about the athletes. Four Continents, because of the timing, should be for the athletes who will not be going to the Olympics.

    The ISU under the "leadership" of Cinquanta has not produced much improvement in any of the sports it controls including speed skating. Cinquanta has filled his pockets with money, although the Grand Prix series does help the bank accounts of the athletes who participate. He throws expensive parties and stays in the finest hotels and has financed a great villa for himself. That is what Cinquanta understands about figure skating. What he has failed to understand is that figure skating was popular in part because of the conflict between the nations, the judges, the various abilities/strengths of the skaters and the athletes stories. The new judging system has changed that entertainment factor. It has homogenized the skating and rules out many talented skaters in the process. It has a mysterious point system and is boring to spectators, coaches, skaters and officials alike. Furthermore, judges have already figured out how to cheat just like they did before except now they can do it anonymously.

    There was an effort headed up by Ron Pfenning, Sonia Bianchetti and other international officials to start a new federation to supplant the ISU in hopes of undoing the corruption of the ISU and Mr. Cinquanta. It was quashed by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Is it time to revisit this idea?

  7. I can simply say that I strongly feel the Skating world should be operated and organized by the legends of our sport. The reason I say is because they are the ones who paved the way for skaters such as myself and have given those who don't participate in the sport physically a chance to understand what the ART of skating is all about.

    I was a little kid during the "Battle of the Brians" and would only hear about legends such as Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev or Katerina Witt and Kristina Yamaguchi, and I started skating around the time of Viktor Petrenko, Philip Candeloro, Alexei Urmanov, Todd Eldridge and would always be on pins n needles to see who was gonna get the most 5.9's or 6.0's. With the 6.0 system the sport was generally understandable by even those who had basic knowledge of the sport and it made it enjoyable when skaters had more freedom to do innovative step sequences such as Philip's "Three Muskateers" number or be as graceful and expressive as Oksana Baiul's Olympic "Swan Lake" program. There was character, passion and artistry in many different enjoyable levels.

    With the NJS, skating has become a mathematical equation. I mean we might as well even compare the idea of skating on the silver screen if need be. Who remembers the original "Cutting Edge"? Very close to what the skating world is about, as opposed to "Ice Princess". Cmon, being able to use physics and equations to become a champion figure skater? LESS IS MORE! There is still the same amount of favoritism and seeding with the NJS, if not more than with the old system. As long as there is a range of numbers being the scale for one persons opinion according to their knowledge of the sport and its execution, there will always be a level of discrepancy.

    Bring back the 6.0 system, let the legends of our sport, the ones who actually skated, bled, sweat and risked their lives out in such a physically demanding and mentally draining sport, be the ones to rejuvenate the sport and bring it back to what it was, because after all, they were the ones who saw thousands of skaters on their feet surrounding them with millions of others in the world cheering and hoping for that 6.0!

  8. I would like to point out that the Four Continents was brought in to give non-European skaters a similiar competition prior to Worlds. It was felt that the European Championships gave those skaters an advantage over the non-European skaters. At least, that is my understanding of the 4C's.

  9. So long as Cinquanta is the head of ISU, figure skating will be run as a dictatorship - and no person/group of persons will be able to make him understand that he is destroying this sport. If at some time in the future he should decide to step aside, he most likely will appoint his own successor, insisting that person run ISU in the exact same manner as Cinquanta had in the past. After all, Cinquanta has inherited his bad manners and greed from many who have previouly run the ISU. Thoughts?

  10. I congratulate Yu Na Kim and the Korean Federation, as well as Brian Orser, for declining to be coerced by the man who is totally responsible for ruining the sport. They have the courage that the rest of the world, including the United States, lacks. Shame on us!

    Chuck Foster

  11. Thanks for this well-written and perfectly timed article.

  12. I just found your blog! It's great! Can you please clarify for me, a skating fan for many years, the exact terms are of Cinquanta's presidency? Are there limits? It almost seems absurd to see him in power with such a record of disaster and dissent, from a western democratic perspective. What kind of organization is ISU? It seems more mysterious, undemocratic and arcane than most sports organizations participating in the Olympics. How long until he leaves?

  13. This is a very brilliant article. Thanks for sharing.

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