Friday, January 15, 2010

Controversy and Rumblings Galore as Nationals, Canadians Get Underway


As skaters worldwide step into the most intense pre-Olympic spotlight at the U.S. Nationals, Canadian Nationals and European Championships, few people are paying attention to a high-level public conflagration about the way these competitions and the upcoming Olympics are being judged.

"If the scoring is anonymous, there is no accountability," Dick Pound of the International Olympic committee was quoted as saying in interviews such as this one in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "You have to be accountable for your marks, not hide under some shield of anonymity."

"Those are irresponsible comments," blasted William Thompson, the chief executive officer of Skate Canada, noting that in a case of a major scandal, the ISU can find out what score each judge awarded.

Thompson may be technically correct, but everyone who can spell “transparency” knows how safe from scrutiny and crowd booing judges are when no one in the audience can see a single mark, associate it with the nationality of a judge, or otherwise have the foggiest notion how the global mark flashed on the screen ever came to be. 187.2. Clear as mud.

"Perhaps we actually prefer our figs with a whiff of scandal. And that booing the judges was part of the fun," wrote Newsweek sports writer Mark Starr in a special to the Everett Herald.
Incidentally, Skate Canada’s William Thompson is the same one who also led the macho-man campaign to keep Canadian skaters from donning elaborate costumes at the Olympics. They detract from the athletic performance, he says. Maybe Pound could also remind him that skating is an art as well as a jumping contest?

Marketing the International Judging System

But if you have a problem with the new scoring system, not to worry. The U.S. Figure Skating Association has a cure for everything. As the controversy about the muddled scoring continues, the federation has published a new guide to the system, to be distributed at Nationals in Spokane. The USFSA's Skating magazine is also running a series of articles on decoding the system. Will a slick brochure and related fun and games translate into either transparancy or accuracy?

Fans will are also be treated in Spokane to super-duper "SkateBugs," which will allow them to listen to various audio commentaries during the senior events. No doubt the yakking in their ears will greatly enhance the live viewing experience. Maybe they should have just stayed home and watched on TV without having to stuff anything in their ears?

Meanwhile, the plunging popularity of the sport is catching the attention of sports writers nationwide, including the New York Times' Jeré Longman, who suggested the sport may need another Tonya Harding to pump some life into it. "The spotlight has dimmed to a 40-watt blub," he wrote.

The contorted judging system that five years ago replaced the 6.0 system was intended to eliminate corruption in the aftermath of the pairs scandal that rocked the 2002 Olympic. So instead of knowing who awards each biased mark, we now know nothing at all.

“Sure, it could be biased, but at least it was explicable bias," Starr writes. “Now, numbers roll up as if on a gas pump. The points formula is based on the idea that nobody trusts anybody. It’s totally incomprehensible. Really, what could a mark of 98.60 possibly mean to anyone except on a thermometer or an algebra test?”

Finally, a rash of articles about the quad went from mourning its presumed demise to suggesting it single-handedly holds the key to Olympic glory. A big thanks to Johnny Weir for his common-sense reminder about what figure skating is all about:

"You don’t have to out-quad somebody,” he said . “You have to out-skate somebody.”


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