Maybe it’s the fault of a moronic judging system that’s only capable of dissecting edges and splitting hairs on transitions, never taking stock of a performance as whole or the magic of the moment. If you prefer, chalk up the atrocity to the same old cancer that’s been eating at the heart of the sport’s credibility since its inception: judging bias, a wrong that no scoring system known to by man can right.
Fact is that on the night of February 18 one competitor skated his heart out more than any other. With the skate of his life, Johnny Weir put down a performance of Olympic caliber that was technically as difficult as that of the winner — if anything, even smoother, with jumps landed like butter and artistry flowing through his every pore. Eight triples, all of them landed and finished off with graceful flow and precision. The performance didn’t seem strained, calculated, contrived to gain points at every step but exuded the joy of skating that was once the hallmark of our sport.
For that, it didn’t go unrewarded. The audience jumped to its feet as one. It was the kind of moment the Olympics are supposed to be all about. But the magic went straight over the judges’ math-filled heads, and Weir got buried in sixth place. The judges found the program lacking — in what, heavens only knows. They rationalize it, to be sure, in mathematically indisputable ways. After all, art is simply a mathematical equation under the International Judging System. You can slice it every which way, score umpteenth components and spew up a global score that only computers can understand.
Problem is, none of the rationalization holds water. Everyone with a good pair of eyes or glasses knows Johnny Weir laid down a medal-winning performance and the judges were too blind and prejudiced to score in the moment. Their decision was made months in advance. Whether they didn’t like Weir’s tassel, his fur controversy, his poor placements over the past few years, his reality show, or his pink mats in the Olympic village, it’s all besides the point. At the Olympics they did not judge what they saw on the ice.
Could this have happened under the 6.0 system? Sure, but probably not in this case. The old system was every bit as corrupt as the one that replaced it (under the laughable pretense that it would eliminate human bias). But at least it was transparent. The audience could see every mark from every judge right up there on the screen. Had Johnny Weir — who received perfect 6.0’s under that system — received a string of 5.2 last night, the booing alone would have made headlines. Instead, he got a global score of 156.77, which means nothing to anyone. So the booing stopped quickly, muted by utter incomprehension.
Few people care what happens to skaters who don’t medal, but predetermined judging is just as wrong regardless of whether it happens to the gold medalist or the sixth place finisher. Or the 25th. Skaters who stumbled out of jumps on Thursday night, who sat on the ice, and who otherwise couldn’t move the audience to more than a polite applause got higher scores than those who skated cleanly.
Patrick Chan and especially Stephane Lambiel are quality skaters who on a good night of competition deserve every mark that’s handed so lavishly to them. But neither of them had that kind of night at this Olympics. They fell or stumbled. Lambiel was uninspired and uninspiring, something that rarely happens to him. Even the jumps he did land were so close to a sitting position that most of the credit he received must have been for his uncanny ability to save them. Patrick Chan stumbled both in the short and the long, sitting on the ice on the second triple axel. Yet both of them placed higher than Weir, who didn’t miss a beat.
Changing the judging system clearly can’t change human nature. But what it did do is create a system that cannot see the forest for the trees. The judging is so mired in technicalities and math it completely loses track of the performance as a whole — the spark, the connection to the audience, and the intangible magic that defined our sport for more than a century.