‘Star rules’ hurting skating
After Friday’s short program at the NHK Trophy, the international judges seem to be sending a clear message: They want to see Brian Joubert on the podium in Vancouver.
The five-time world medalist, who skated much better than at his Grand Prix opener four weeks ago, is currently standing in first place over the strong field of men. After earning himself a short program score of 85.35 points, Joubert is almost two and a half points above reigning U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott and seven points above three-time U.S. champ Johnny Weir.
With such an impressive score, one would think that Joubert’s skating was head and shoulders above Abbott’s and Weir’s. In reality, while Joubert had a great technical performance, it seems as though his presentation score was inflated to the detriment of two much more artistic skaters.
While Joubert landed a huge quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination in his short program, making him the strongest jumper of the evening, Joubert’s spins–particularly his combination spin–were noticeably slower than the two Americans’, and he lacked the polish and choreography that both Abbott and Weir displayed. This is why it’s puzzling to see how the strength of Joubert’s second mark was the catalyst behind his win.
Abbott, who recently switched coaches after a rocky showing at last season’s World Championships, was easily the best skater of the night. His new short program is incredibly fluid, captivating, and dynamic. Where Joubert relies on mugging and pointing to the audience as choreography, Abbott genuinely interprets the music. Abbott’s edges are noticeably deeper than Joubert‘s, and his jump entrances are far less telegraphed. However, despite these strengths and a solid short program, skated with speed and the best choreography seen by any man this season, Abbott was marked lower than Joubert in his second mark. This leaves us to wonder what event the judges were judging.
The presentation mark is subjective. It always has been. Still, it’s incredibly difficult to grasp how the panel could find Joubert’s skating skills better than Abbott’s. Joubert’s program was exciting and a fan-favorite, but that doesn’t equate to having the best choreography or interpretation of the music; instead, it just means Joubert knows how to entice an audience of young women. With the subjectivity of the second mark, results like today’s can call into question the use of favoritism.
While skating has always been given a bad rep for sketchy judging, this use of favoritism isn’t unique to the skating world. In basketball, there are the “Jordan Rules,” a term for star players getting calls in their favor. Stars are not called for traveling as frequently and get foul calls more often. In baseball, umpires seem to give bigger strike zones to star pitchers, and well-known batters like Alex Rodriguez appear to receive smaller strike zones. All of these rules, to some degree, are constructed to give a bit of favoritism to the stars of the these sports. Brian Joubert is clearly a star of the skating world. So the question is, are there “Joubert Rules” in skating?
Joubert isn’t the only skater who has received a boost from the judges. Two weeks ago at the Cup of China we saw Kiira Korpi held up in the ladies’ event. Korpi didn’t have the strongest technical content in her programs and clearly wasn’t the most artistic skater of the field, but she still managed to take home the silver medal. This favoritism also came into play at the World Championships last season, where 2008 world silver medalist Carolina Kostner was held up based on the strength of her second mark.
These “star rules” may be a fact of sports, and to some degree it’s what comes with having humans act as enforcers, but it’s frustrating when we see results like today‘s. It indicates that the judges are coming in to these events with pre-assigned favorites and are judging based on something other than what’s actually taking place on the ice.
Joubert is a great skater. But his skating skills, choreography, and artistry are not in the same league as Jeremy Abbott’s. It’s disheartening to see these results, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for skaters like Abbott and Weir who were artistically superior to Joubert at this event. Our job as fans is to call out these discrepancies for what they are in the hopes that “star rules” are eventually phased out. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening before February.