Simplifying skaters’ routines: Best for the sport?
Figure skating is at a crossroads. The casual viewer may not notice it, but it permeates every competition. And this past weekend at the Cup of China, this dilemma was brought to the forefront.
The debate about the new judging system has now become a debate about the growing oversimplification of skating routines. After two days of watching the ladies’ event at the Cup of China, questions of whether or not the current judging system is best for our sport continue to arise. In an event that was marred with mistakes, it was the downgrading of some subtle mistakes that spoke the loudest.
In last Friday’s short program, American Mirai Nagasu skated with impressive command and speed, winning the event. Nagasu wasn’t a favorite heading into Beijing, but the speed of her spins, stretch of her spirals, and strength of her jumps helped secure Nagasu a victory in the first phase of the competition.
The long program, however, held a different story for the 2008 U.S. champ. Taking the ice as the last lady to perform, Nagasu fell on a planned triple loop late in her program, and, while she stood up on the rest of her elements and skated with her usual speed and a greater sophistication than we‘ve seen from her in the past, Nagasu dropped to fifth place in the standings. The reason for her plunge? Nagasu received credit for only two of her seven jumping passes. The rest were downgraded.
If last weekend’s event were judged using the 6.0 judging system, Nagasu probably would have been on the podium in Beijing. To the blind eye, the majority of her triple jumps looked rotated. She didn’t have a lot of speed on her landings, but the downgrades that she was penalized for wouldn’t have killed her score if it weren’t for the use of slow motion replay and points subtracted for such mistakes under the current system. This killed Nagasu’s chances for a medal and left her with a lot of homework as she heads to her second event on the Grand Prix, Skate Canada.
When a skater makes mistakes, they should be penalized. Slow motion replays are a great addition to skating events and have helped to promote accuracy in judging. However, some of Nagasu’s jumps didn’t look any more or less rotated than those performed in her short program–even after watching them in slow motion–and it’s worrisome that when such calls are taken into play, skaters may abandon attempting difficult triple jumps and combinations so as not to risk the potential for lost points.
In last Saturday‘s long program, Finland’s Kiira Korpi won the silver medal with a free skate marred with bigger mistakes and simpler jumps than Nagasu’s. Only landing three clean triples and popping two more, Korpi didn’t attempt a triple flip and failed to rotate a triple lutz in her long program. Despite the lack of technical content in her long program, Korpi scored significantly higher than Nagasu in both marks, calling into question which direction the sport is going. Watching Nagasu and Korpi’s skates back-to-back, Nagasu seemed to have trumped Korpi’s performance so much so that the average skating fan would have had trouble deciphering where Nagasu went wrong.
It’s understandable that the judges would deduct for mistakes. But what is so difficult for skating fans–and even me–to fully grasp is how the judges arrive at their scores and why certain mistakes are weighed more heavily than others. When looking at the protocol following the event, the numerical values assigned to jumps and trying to decipher what led the panel to downgrade certain elements can become so puzzling that fans and even skaters are easily confused.
It still seems like the judges, and now the technical specialists, have the ability to promote certain skaters and knock other skaters down. If a skater underrotates their jumps, they should take a hit from the judges, but the extent to which certain mistakes are weighed seems askew.
While there isn’t going to be a significant change in this system, it’s disconcerting that the wrong things in the sport seem to be rewarded. Underrotations need to be taken into consideration, but for many skaters this will only serve to oversimply their programs, ultimately robbing skating of the drama that comes from truly difficult and risky routines in the interest of avoiding downgrades and lost points.
We can’t go back to the 6.0 system, but it was obvious after watching last weekend’s event that the current system won‘t suffice in its current form either.