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.