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Moscow: An Unforgettable Championship
by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
March 22, 2005

The 2005 World Figure Skating Championships will be remembered as a unique mixture of all that no one would ever expect to see in a skating event. Nothing was missing:

  • A new judging scandal in the ladies' event;
  • The worst men's final in memory; and
  • The new judging system leaking from all sides.

I will not go through placements or details on who has done what. I believe that anyone reading this brief document has seen the competitions and is aware of what happened in Moscow. I will only make general remarks on the events and draw some conclusions.

The pair skating event was totally uninteresting to me. The top pairs presented excellent lifts and triple throws, as well as difficult and complicated spins, but pair skating seems to be losing its flavour, its beauty, its appeal, its art.

In the endeavour to achieve very high technical scores, the couples are putting everything they can into their programs. One lift or throw jump after the other, sometimes of mediocre quality, but with the most unbelievable positions and dismounts, not always aesthetically good, just to increase their level of difficulty.

But no skating anymore. A few pairs, such as the U.S. team Inoue/Baldwin or the German team Savchenko/Szolkowy, skated well, with excellent programs, good interpretation, and real pair skating, but did not get the marks. To get the marks, in all disciplines, the competitors must include in their programs high-level jumps, lifts, spins or step sequences. It does not matter whether the quality is good or not. Very seldom are the judges' GOE higher than 0. So to get high marks the skaters must rely only on the difficulty levels. This is a real problem for the sport. In my opinion it would be much better to have less difficult and complicated elements but of a high quality, receiving +2 or +3 from the judges, rather than very high-level difficulties of a mediocre quality.

What will be the future of figure skating if this system is not changed? What I feared since the beginning, for the future development of our sport, is already happening after only one year. The skaters are using every trick to get more marks, to the detriment of the overall performance.

As reported by Salvatore Zanca of the Associated Press, commenting on the New Judging System, U.S. skater Evan Lysacek said the system "is pushing the skaters to try for more difficulty, especially in the second part of the program. The thing is you don't need to necessarily skate a perfect program to have the results come out in the order they should."

This is just frightening! And it brings me to the next event: the men's final.

The men's event has always been my favourite. Usually at least the last two groups to skate are exciting, breathtaking, fantastic. But this time in Moscow I could have cried. I wanted to turn the television off!

Truly, it was the worst men's final at a World Championship that I have ever seen. A real disaster. The choice of the medal winners was not among the competitors who skated the best programs, but among those who skated the least badly! With a couple of exceptions, it was an unbelievably low performance from practically all the competitors who did skate. This is of great concern. What might be the reasons for this disaster? Are the skaters too tired at the end of the season? Are the programs that comply with the new system too demanding? Now the skaters have to give more and more and they need a lot more training. Can this be the reason behind the surprisingly high number of injuries suffered by the top skaters this year? The list is long: Evgeny Plushenko, Johnny Weir, Timothy Goebel, Takeshi Honda, Carolina Kostner, Sasha Cohen, Shizuka Arakava, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, not to mention the horrible accident that occurred to Tatiana Totmianina at Skate America.

The ladies' event, from a skating point of view, was better, except that the judging was disgusting.

Once again the podium of the ladies' event was wrong. The first place to Irina Slutskaya of Russia in the short program was an absolute outrage, another real scandal, and a total fiasco of the new judging system. The correct place for her should have been no higher than fourth.

It was snowing in Moscow and it was very cold. The judges must have thought it was Christmas, not Easter! And, as happened only two months ago in Torino at the European Championships, Slutskaya, the host, received gifts from all the judges. Or perhaps, as Slutskaya said after her victory in Torino, once again God wanted to give her a medal for her illness.

The component marks given to her, in both the short and the free program, were much too high compared to those given to the other competitors, such as Cohen, Kwan, Rochette, and Suguri. Maybe Slutskaya excels in the "Utilization of personal and public space", or in the "Use of finesse to reflect the nuances of the music", which, I am afraid, I am not subtle enough to appreciate!

No matter what Cinquanta says and may try to sell to the media, judging is still subjective, is still human judging. And if one looks at the scoring sheets, the sport is being judged largely the same way as before, with the skaters still receiving marks based on reputation, whichever system is used.

As we have repeated hundred of times, the problem is the judges, not the scoring system. What we saw in Moscow in the ladies' event looked like a "fixed" competition.

The New Judging System in Moscow showed all its weaknesses; it is leaking from all sides.

First, and most disturbingly: it is destroying our beautiful sport.

Second: it failed in its main purpose. It does not guarantee any objectivity at all in the judging. On the contrary! Besides having the judges still judging in subjective ways, using the components marks to push up a favoured skater, we have the callers who decide the level of far too many elements according to their personal views or interpretation of the rules. They have proven to be inconsistent. The levels of the same elements vary from competition to competition. They can really have a say in the determination of the order of the podium! The same applies to the Referee who, totally on his own, decides the penalties to be applied to falls, if a fall was a fall, how long it lasted, the duration of separations, the timing of the programs, etc.

Third: the so-called "human errors" in entering the marks or the elements into the computer are becoming more and more common. A scoring mistake on the first day of the World Championships was just what the ISU needed!

After the men's qualifying event was over, and the draw of the starting order for the short program had been held, a member of the Chinese delegation informed the ISU that there had been a "human error" in the score of the Chinese skater, Chengjiang Li. One element, a spin, had been forgotten by the Technical Specialists!

Although not allowed by the ISU's own rules, this "human error" was corrected. Apparently the rules are not applied in the same way for everybody.

As a result, Johnny Weir, the U.S. champion, was dropped from fifth to sixth, which meant that a new draw of the starting order for the short program was needed. When informed, Johnny commented, "This is the only system in the world where you can drop a place overnight".

It is troubling to see this severe error, plus the dozens of erroneous marks entered in the computers by the judges during the last two seasons, 15 in this season alone during the Grand Prix series: four at Skate America, three more at Skate Canada, two at the NHK Trophy, two at the Cup of China and one each at the Grand Prix in France and Russia, culminating with the error affecting Kimberly Meissner of the U.S. at the Junior World Championships. And who can guarantee that there have not been many more? And what if it happens at the Olympics next year?

The ISU is constantly minimizing the importance of these errors, claiming that they do not affect the final result. But this is nonsense and shows total lack of respect for the competitors, besides being wrong.

What happened to Weir could cost a medal if nobody catches the error in time. At the Olympics next year the officials will not have the luxury of several hours to find errors that occurred during the final free skating, for instance. Will Ottavio Cinquanta award two gold medals again, perhaps?

With skaters executing so many elements in their long programs, including very quickly rotated triple or quadruple jumps, it is very easy to miscall a jump or push a wrong button. And errors are hard to catch in a large field of skaters.

And what to say of the fact that the free skating results that appeared on the scoreboard in the arena, on television and distributed by internet, with Lysacek in second place, Buttle in third and Sandhu in fourth, were changed after the medal award ceremony, dropping Lysacek from second to fourth place?

Is our sport becoming a joke?

Somebody commented that, unless something is done, the system should be thrown in the garbage. Perhaps this would be the best solution.