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A Few Thoughts
by Sonia Bianchetti
The World Championships in Los Angeles are over and we can now draw some
I was not in Los Angeles and therefore I could only watch the
best two groups in each event on TV.
Of course, there is a great difference between seeing programs in
the arena or on TV. The speed, the use of the space and also part of the
choreography are lost on a small screen. Still some programs looked just
outstanding to me: in Ladies, Yu Na Kim and Joannie Rochette; in Men,
Patrick Chan, Evan Lysacek and Samuel Contesti; and in ice dancing,
Davis / White and Virtue / Moir.
Now that the IJS has stripped the emotion out of so many
programs, it is a welcome sight to see some artistry again. Both Patrick
Chan and Yu Na Kim were just wonderful. Yu Na was in a class of her own.
She is so natural and elegant. I was impressed by her ability in
expressing and interpreting the music, by the harmony of all her movements,
by the excellent choreography. Her short program was superb, one of the
best programs I can remember in a long time. It made me cry! She made me
feel that “artistic emotion” that I have been missing for many years.
This program will go down in skating history like the Bolero of
Torvill and Dean, Katarina Witt's Carmen, Kurt Browning’s Casablanca or
Yagodin’s Winter. Thank you Yu Na!
As an Italian I cannot help expressing all my distress at the
performance of Carolina Kostner. Carolina is a very talented skater, she
can be very artistic, but that evening she looked like a ghost on the ice;
she was totally lost, as if she had a mental black out. Really sad. I do
hope that she will soon recover from this shock.
In spite of a few outstanding programs, the overall standard was
rather depressing, except perhaps for ice dancing. Out of approximately
250 programs, only a few were flawless.
While occasional stars like Yu-Na Kim or Patrick Chan still find
a way to meld grace with passion under the new system, they are the
exception, not the rule. And this cannot be considered satisfactory.
No wonder that figure skating popularity has vanished in North
America in the past few years. The rating for the Ladies’ final, the
only live telecast on NBC, was 2.7, but just 0.6 among adults 18–49. And
in 2010, as reported by The Star, “CBC won't cover Grand Prix figure skating
events or the world championships in Turin, Italy. Moore's argument is that
the worlds are less important in an Olympic year. Regardless, the
international skating package doesn't turn a profit. So far, we have not
been able to make enough revenue on (international) figure skating to make
it worthwhile”. Isn’t this amazing considering that Canada can count on
skaters such as Chan, Rochette and Virtue/Moir to be among the favourites
for a medal at the Olympic Games in Vancouver?
Some people claim that the lack of interest in North
America. is more related to the lack of any “great star”. This may be
part of it, but I don't believe it's the whole story.
A lot of fans in other countries as well just don't understand
and don't like the new scoring system.
Nevertheless, Ottavio Cinquanta, the ISU President, declared in Los
Angeles: “If figure skating is going down in TV in this country we are
sorry but the standard is very high. We are improving the quality”. Are
you sure, Mr. President? And: “If it is not acceptable by the market what
can we do? We are not a marketing company”. A suggestion? Revise the
IJS so that the skaters may be free once again to express their feelings,
their creativity, their passion instead of being obliged to skate like
robots, and make sure that the public in the arena and at home can
understand the scoring and the results!
Cinquanta also said the sport's popularity is growing in Asia,
which has produced some of the top female skaters in recent years like South
Korea's Yu-Na Kim and Japan's Mao Asada. How long will this last? A
sport, to survive, cannot just rely on the popularity of one or two stars,
especially when these stars often shine all too briefly.
One of the main problems that emerged in Los Angeles and caused
a lot of discussion was judging. I have always tried to support and defend
the judges as much as I could, knowing from experience how difficult it is
to judge well in an objective, fair and honest way. But what happened in
Los Angeles is difficult to understand. And the reduction of the number of
judges in each panel has probably contributed to this disaster.
How is it possible that, in the men’s short program, a skater
like Chan, who has fabulous skating skills, choreography and
transitions, received lower PC marks in those areas than Joubert? A real
scandal that perhaps should set off some alarms!
Chan's program, in my opinion, was by far the best If it could be
argued that Joubert got a few more points in the technical score thanks to
his quad combination, although sloppy, in no way should he have been
marked higher in the PCs.
It is almost as if the judges threw up marks without taking into
consideration at all what the skaters were doing with regard to each PC.
Nothing new, but if we want the scoring to establish some credibility
something must be done to avoid such a shame. In my opinion the results in
the short program should have been exactly the reverse: Chan, Lysacek,
There were similar problems in the ladies' event as well.
This only confirms that the way the PCS are judged very often does
do not reflect at all the performances on the ice. Why? Because
the current PCs are too many and much too complicated to be judged by
beings, in a few seconds at the end of a program, may be after 8 or 9 hours
spent on the ice judging 53 competitors!
I am more convinced than ever that two PCs would be more than
enough: one covering the technical aspects (skating skills, transitions,
footwork, linking movements and the step sequences as well) and the second
one covering the artistic aspects (performance execution, choreography,
interpretation and expression of the music). Furthermore, the PCs should be
judged on a relative scale, with marks ranging from 0 to 6. Absolute
judging in program components makes no sense. In which way can “beauty” be
defined as perfect? How possibly can the judges assess a correct mark? And
on what basis can a certain mark be considered right or wrong? Only by
comparing the various programs one with the other, can a judge decide which
one deserves more. In my opinion, this is the only possible way to have
the PCs properly evaluated and the results understood by the skaters, the
public in the arena and at home.
Luckily the final result in the men and ladies was correct. Which
was not the case in ice dancing.
I am not an expert in this discipline, but anybody could see that
there was no way the Russians should have been first, nor
Domnina and Shabalin were marked like superstars, they received all level
four on elements, and seven marks of +3 on GOE and many +2. Yet they did
simple three-turns and crossovers, and just flailed their arms around and
did awkward, unattractive lifts that scored high on the levels. How could
this happen? Can anyone explain this in a credible way? I have received
many letters from all over the world, including TV commentators, who cannot
believe that this was possible.
One piece of good news is that Cinquanta in Los Angeles announced
that he plans to reduce the number of competitors at the Worlds by
establishing tough new qualifying standards.
There were 216 skaters from 52 countries at the World Figure
Skating Championships. The women’s field alone had 54 skaters, and it took
more than eight hours to complete all the short programs. And at least 30%
of these skaters would not even make it to the novice event in the US.
“If the standard of skating is so poor, the ISU should change. “This is a championship, not a festival,” the ISU president said during his
annual speech on the state of the sport.
This was long overdue and, believe it or not, this time I fully
agree with him. Almost every Olympic sport has a qualifying system to
ensure that only the best competitors can be entered in a world
championship. This not only to save money, but also to make the
competitions manageable, interesting, and worth watching with dignified
standards. Which is not the case today. What we are seeing now, at the
World Championships, as well as at the Europeans and the Junior
Worlds, isunacceptable for such prestigious events.
The idea of a qualifying system to reduce the number of skater at
the Worlds is not new. It goes back to the late 1980s. The proposal that
was first discussed by the Technical Committee when I was still an ISU
office holder, was to use the European Championships and the Four
Continents as qualifying events. It was rejected by the Congress by a large
majority of Members, including the US. The so called “small countries”
objected to any rule that might prevent their entries to the Worlds.
Over the years, various proposals were submitted to the ISU
Congress but were always rejected.
Perhaps now the situation has changed and hopefully the small
Members will agree that something has to be done to prevent the risk of
ISU Championships becoming so expensive that nobody will be able to afford
to organise them in the future.
In my opinion the idea of using the Europeans and the Four
Continents is still valid and may be the fairest and easiest solution.
This would also encourage Members to send their best skaters to participate
in the Four Continents, a practice that has so far been disregarded. But there
can be other ways of course.
What is most important is that two
basic principles are considered:
- that no country can have more than
three competitors in a championships, so that as many different countries as
possible can be represented;
- that in no case should the system be based on Regional
qualifying events so that the skaters will only compete within their small
geographical region. This would mean to support small countries with poor
quality skating, while penalizing the larger successful skating Members. In
Europe, for instance, among the 39 European Members, only very few have a
decent standard of skating in more than one discipline. Therefore if you
divide them according to geographical regions you can end up with a group of
skaters that can hardly stand up but would qualify, and other groups where
some good ones will lose their opportunity of qualifying at all. The
reverse applies to qualifying groups in North America, where for sure the
worst competitor is better than the best ones in most European countries,
but would have no chance. Totally wrong. Even worse for pairs and dance.
In essence, the problem is more political than technical. It all
depends on how far Cinquanta wants to push in the ISU election year. He
gets a lot of his support from the small countries which represent 95% of
the ISU Members.