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Response to Lauren Gilchrist's article of March 6:
"New Judging system removes politics from skating world"
by Sonia Bianchetti
March 2007

A recent article by Lauren Gilchrist, "New judging system removes politics from skating world", contains an interview about the New Judging System with Kelly Parks, a Canadian figure skating judge. Far be it from me to criticize the personal opinions expressed by Ms. Parks on the validity of the NJS, which are absolutely legitimate and respectable.

The article, though, contains a couple of statements that I would like to clarify and rectify in view of my experience as a moderator of figure skating Judges' Seminars during the 6.0 system era.

More precisely, the statement: "Under the old judging system, which was used at the 2002 Olympics, the athletes started with a perfect score of 6.0 and each time they made an error they received a deduction" is fundamentally wrong. It made my eyes roll with astonishment and, above all, I was shocked that it could have been made by a judge who, as declared, has been judging nationally and internationally for more than 25 years.

As a past ISU Office Holder and Chairman of the Figure Skating Technical Committee, I have given Judges' Seminars all over the world, including Canada, for 25 years, teaching how to evaluate the skaters' performances in compulsory figures, the short program and the free skating. Never did I, nor any other moderator that I know, at least until the NJS was in force, ever express or even conceive of such an idea, because it makes no sense.

On what basis could anyone define a perfect free program deserving a score of 6.0 before it was performed? On the number of double, triple or quadruple jumps, perhaps? Or on the number and the kind of spins, on how many revolutions, changes of positions or foot? And what about pairs? The concept of deducting for errors from a theoretical perfect 6.0 score could only be applied in judging the compulsory figures, where the idea of a perfect circle, with or without turns, and how it had to look was an objective fact, clear to everybody. Therefore it was possible to apply deductions in case of wobbles, circles of different sizes or poor alignment, turns out of axis or with wrong changes of edges. And the characteristics of the figures remained the same since the day they were invented. A rocker was a rocker in 1920 as well as in 1990!

Today's free skating programs are completely different. Luckily, with the exception of a vague definition of a "well balanced program", no rules defining a "perfect program" ever existed! Not to speak of the fact that any such rule should have been updated every second year to reflect the rapid development of the sport in all disciplines!

The 6.0 system was in use for more than a century and during those many years, 5.9 and 6.0 marks were awarded many times to competitors who had performed perfect and outstanding programs for their time. Janet Lynn, John Curry or Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov collected a few well deserved 5.9 and 6.0 marks during their career. Still, at least from a technical point of view, their programs could not even be compared to those of Michelle Kwan or Shizuka Arakawa, of Alexei Yagudin or Eugeny Plushenko, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov or Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier or Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. The deduction system was never applied in free skating. The old system worked in the same way as the new one.

During the skating, the judges used to takes notes on their private protocols on the kind of element executed, whether it was a double, triple or quadruple jump, its quality, the kinds of spins and step sequences, the speed, the difficulty of the connecting steps, the choreography, the interpretation and the expression of the music, etc. Based on this they built up the marks they intended to award for that program "as a whole", in Technical Merit and Presentation. Not the other way around, as stated in the article.

The second statement I would like to comment on is that "There's a lot less opportunity for manipulation...It's a much better system, we don't have the politics..

Well, I would not be so sure about the correctness of this statement either, since, unfortunately, many knowledgeable persons continue to stress that the lack of transparency in the judging system is encouraging deals to be made since now there is no fear of being discovered.

But what is even more worrisome for the sport is that since the judges are anonymous, nobody to-day can check their competence. Under the New Judging System, during the so-called "Round Table Meetings" following the events, the referees cannot discuss the marks nor question the judges since they do not have the slightest idea of who has done what, both in the Grade of Execution (GOE) and the Components. All is secret! The same applies to the Technical Committees. It is understandable that some judges, although not all of them, like the idea of being anonymous. It is definitely easier and more comfortable, especially for those judges who prefer not to be questioned on their competence! But is this good for the sport?

There is no doubt that to-day judging is much easier than it used to be. The judges are no longer responsible for the results nor do they have to recognize the jumps or the difficulty of the spins or the steps any longer. The Technical Panel is doing that for them. Still, there is a general opinion that the competitions are badly judged both technically and in the Components. Is secret judging favouring the incompetence of the judges, perhaps? How is the ISU going to check if the judges know skating well enough to guarantee fair judging to the competitors?