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The New Judging System: A Flop
by Sonia Bianchetti
February 2005

The New Judging System, adopted by the ISU Congress in 2004, was tested for the first time in an ISU Championship last week in Turin during the 2005 European Figure Skating Championships.

The new system, which was announced and advertised as the solution to all judging problems, was simply a total flop, producing dubious results in at least two events, ladies and dance.

From the very first day, it was evident that the judging in some cases made no sense at all and did not reflect what was actually being performed on the ice. This was particularly true in the program components. It looked obvious that in some cases the judges based their marks on the reputation of the skater and his/her previous "personal best score," which appeared on the score board in the arena beside their names, and not on what was actually performed on the ice. The criteria on which the points for the technical score are based are questionable, as well. To give one example, the Swedish ladies' competitor, Lina Johansson, fell down five times, including once where she went flat on the ice during a camel spin. It was very sad, of course, but sport is sport. Well, her total element score was 34.56 and for the program components she received 38.06 points. She had only 4.0 deductions for her falls, though, because in one case her fall did not correspond to a "fall" as defined in rule 353 of the Special Regulations which reads: "a fall is defined as the loss of control by a skater resulting in both blades leaving the ice and the skater landing immobile." In my opinion, though, a deduction of 1.0 for each fall is meaningless, especially in view of the fact that jumps marred by a fall are still given credit under the new judging system. A program marred by five falls is a disaster by any standard, even if it's a Yagudin-quality program!

Some might object that this is exactly what happened with the old system. And we can partly agree with this. But this means that the revolutionary new judging system, which is computer-dependent and is costing millions of dollars to the ISU and will cost a lot to each Member as well, failed in its main objective: to guarantee fair and objective results.

From what we could all see in Turin, nothing has actually changed since the old 6.0 system, except that in the past, at least before the "Assessment" era, judging as bad as what we saw during the European Championships would have been penalized somehow by the ISU Technical Committee. Today the Assessment Committee is unlikely to consider these scandalous results to be wrong as long as the judges' marks remain within the famous "corridor," and no protests are allowed, either!

As clearly stated in ISU Communication N° 1305, circulated, just in case, only a few days before the start of the European Championships, "No protests against evaluation by judges of skaters. performances are permitted. For figure skating and speed skating protest against results are permitted only on the case of incorrect mathematical calculation"!

The first place in free skating to Irina Slutskaya was definitely wrong and cast a shadow on the validity of the new system. After a brilliant short program for which she deserved first place, she completely messed up her free skating, landing only three triple jumps and one double Axel correctly. Her performance has been one of her worst that I can remember. She had no speed and seemed to trudge on the ice. Knowing how sick she had been last year, I was seriously concerned that she might have some problems with breathing or her heart. I felt great sympathy for her.

When I saw the marks go up, I could not believe my eyes. She was placed first in the free skating and she won the European title. In my opinion, as well as the general opinion of the press and the spectators in the arena, both Poykio and Liashenko, at least, were better than she was.

Poykio executed correctly five triple jumps, individually or in combination, and had nice spins, even if not as difficult as Slutskaya's; her program was well choreographed; she moves well on the ice and skates to her music; she is a very elegant skater, pleasant to watch. I enjoyed her performance very much. Liashenko was also good and better than Slutskaya although, in my opinion, not as good as Poykio. She executed six triple jumps in her program, of which three, however, had shaky landings.

In ice dancing, as viewers can see for themselves on television, the French couple Delobel and Schoenfelder were robbed both in the original and the free dance, where they were outstanding and should have won.

The correctness of the results depends on whether they reflect the performance of the competitors, no matter which judging or the scoring system is used, be it the old or the new one. As I have said many times and I repeat in my book Cracked Ice, what happened in Salt Lake City had nothing to do with the scoring system, the competence of the judges or how they evaluate a performance. The problem was cheating, not the scoring system.

In Turin, during an interview with Gwendal Peizerat, Cinquanta declared that he invented the new judging system on Christmas Day 2001, but he cannot invent new judges. So figure skating's problems are far from being solved and the fact that judging has been turned into a very complicated, mysterious and secret affair will not help.