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No Passion lived at the Palavela: The 2006 Olympic Games in Torino
by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
The joyful motto of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino was "Passion
lives here". But no passion lived at the Palavela, the figure skating
arena! Rather than passion, what was living in the arena was the
suffering of the skaters and of all of us who love the sport. I cannot
remember another Olympic Games where in all four categories skating was so
disappointing and miserable. It is not my anger and disagreement with the
New Judging System (NJS) speaking, just my pain.
The figure skating pairs' event again ended in a high Olympic drama. Dan
Zhang and Hao Zhang of China were awarded the silver medal and the second
place in free skating even though they stopped skating for more than three
minutes after a frightening fall from Dan in attempting a throw quadruple
Salchow. The accident occurred 30 seconds after the beginning of their
free skating program and she was severely injured. It will take some
weeks before she will, hopefully, fully recover. When they stopped
skating, the music did as well. The girl could hardly walk and
considering the gravity of the crash, nobody expected they would be able
to finish their routine. But they did. And they skated well, executing
difficult lifts and twist lifts, jumps and jump combinations. The only
error was that she stepped out of a throw triple loop. To me the girl
deserved a gold medal for her courage and bravery -- but for a competition
result, it is a different story.
According to ISU Rule 351, regarding "Allowance of a fresh start":
the opinion of the Referee, medical attention is required, the Referee
must stop the performance and allow the competitor to continue immediately
from the point of interruption or, if this is not possible, allow a period
of up to two (2) minutes before the continuation.
The Referee, Hely
Abbondati from Finland, a very experienced judge and Referee, should have
immediately consulted with the competitors when the music stopped, and if
they felt like continuing, she should have blown her whistle to indicate
the beginning of the two minutes allowance. Well, nothing like that
happened. The interruption taken by Zhang and Zhang exceeded the two
minutes allowance by at least one minute, but no penalty was applied.
According to Rule 353, deductions should be applied for interruption to
the program: -1.0 for 11-20 seconds' interruption, -2.0 for 21-30
seconds' interruption, etc. Why was no deduction applied? And what about
the components marks? Wasn't the program affected by this long
interruption? How could they possibly have been given their personal best
of 125 points? Isn't this another flaw of the NJS?
To me the silver medal to Zhang and Zhang is wrong, is outrageous to the
other pairs. But since the third and fourth place pairs were also from
China, this was an internal affair of the Chinese federation. Nobody
protested and for the ISU all was OK.
The men's event has always been my favourite one and I looked forward to
it. But at the Torino Olympic Winter Games it could not have been a
bigger disappointment. Since 1964, during my skating career as an ISU
official, I judged and refereed seven Olympic Games and watched the others
on TV, but I cannot remember any other in which the best skaters failed to
leave me and the audience with a piece of their personality and the
emotion of the moment. Well, in the Torino Palavela, the only emotion I
felt was a great depression and sadness. I could have cried!
In the short program, all the skaters except three (Evgeny Plushenko of
Russia, Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland -- although he doubled the triple
Axel -- and Johnny Weir of the U.S.) missed one or more elements.
In free skating I prefer not to comment on the distressing performances of
Emanuel Sandhu of Canada, Johnny Weir, and Daisuke Takahashi of Japan,
whose skating I was looking forward to seeing. When I saw their programs,
my heart went out to them.
Among the European favourites, France's Brian Joubert was another
disappointment that night.
Jeffrey Buttle of Canada offered a consistent performance throughout and
showed a great sense of music and dance ability, but no artistic emotion
was shown, no passion!
Stephane Lambiel, the defending world champion, impressed the crowd with
some of his spectacular spins and masterful footwork, but no artistic
emotion; again, no passion.
Evan Lysacek of the U.S. was the highlight of the evening. Too bad that
his placement in the short program prevented him from getting a medal.
As for my favourite, Plushenko, he definitely was by far the best of the
day, with an excellent performance from a technical point of view. He
mastered all his quadruple and triple jumps and jump combinations, and
executed very difficult and spectacular step sequences. He was in a class
of his own and no doubt he more than deserved the gold medal. However,
the choreography of his program suffered from the fact that it was
front-loaded with all the difficult elements, his program did not always
really reflect the character of the music and he was moving his arms up
and down like an automaton, without his heart and his usual appeal. I
could not recognise the Evgeny I know and love for his artistry, his
personality, his appeal. I could not find the "artiste" I expected to
see. In his perfect performance, passion was missing and again that left
me with a feeling of grief.
The dance event will be remembered as the one with the highest number of
falls ever in the history of this sport, and for having achieved a
"personal best" for the bad taste and horrendous costumes that are putting
under question the honor of ice dancing as an Olympic sport. What I
really found unwatchable was all the stuff the ladies are putting on their
costumes: fringe, sequins, ostrich feathers, sparkles, jewels, and
crowns, which would look excessive even in a circus during carnival time!
If ice dancing is supposed to be a sport of art and beauty, why is all
this ugly stuff allowed? ISU Rule 304 prescribes that "the clothing of the
competitors must be modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic
competition ... not garish or theatrical in design" and "it must not give
the effect of excessive nudity for athletic sport." Well, unless by
"excessive nudity" the ISU means that ladies cannot appear topless and men
completely naked, I wonder why deductions have not been applied here.
And, unfortunately, I have noticed that some of these extreme costumes do
not only come from women and men in ice dancing. We had some good
examples in the men's event as well!
In the ladies' event, after an overall satisfactory short program, I had
hoped that at least the last skating event of the 2006 Olympic Winter
Games would give me some joy and leave some hope for the future of our
beloved sport. But what a disappointment again!
Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, the winner, was the only girl who skated well,
with speed, flow and deep edges; she landed five triple jumps, though no
triple-triple combination. Her program was beautiful and received a
standing ovation. Her gold medal was well deserved.
We cannot say the same for Sasha Cohen of the U.S., the silver medalist,
and even less for Irina Slutskaya of Russia, the bronze medalist.
Cohen fell on her first jump, a triple Lutz, and put her hands down on the
triple flip to keep balance after a shaky landing. Since the two hands she
put down seemed to be supporting all her weight, according to the
definition of fall, an extra deduction of 1.0 should have been applied.
The Technical Panel did not do so and, very likely, from what I have
heard, this was a mistake. Cohen really got a gift not being given a
second deduction for this jump although even with one point less she would
still have won the silver medal. This proves, once more, how influential
and dangerous the technical panel may be on the results. She herself said
she thought her silver medal was a gift. She was so sure that she would
not be on the podium that immediately after finishing her program, she
took off her costume and changed into street clothes. When she learned
she had finished second, she told her coach, John Nicks, that she'd been
lucky, and he agreed.
Slutskaya, the reigning world champion, landed only four clean triples and
she turned her fourth jump into a double-double combination, which was
more than shocking for such a strong jumper as Slutskaya. After her fall
on the triple loop, she started to panic. She seemed almost to forget her
Far too many performances in the ladies' free skating final were badly
flawed and none of the leaders matched the difficult jumps executed by the
top female skaters at Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002.
This disaster, in my opinion as well as those of many people who have
knowledge of figure skating, including many top world coaches and skaters,
is mostly due to the new figure skating judging system, which is too
demanding and too difficult in all four disciplines. Too many jumps and
jump combinations, lifts and throws are required. Single skaters must do
four spins in the long program, all of which, to pile up points, must
include changes of foot, of edge, of rotation and positions. Very strict
and precise requirements also apply to step sequences and spiral sequences
in the ladies' short and free.
The consequence is that all the skating programs are starting to look
alike. The new system rewards certain moves, like pulling your skate blade
to your head. We saw it on the lifts in pairs and dance, and the spins
and spirals in ladies. Even some of the men were copying that move. The
creativity of the choreographer is lost when skater after skater does the
same move. The programs are boring to watch, and the NJS takes so much
time that the events have now become exhausting.
But the Torino Olympic Games were not the first figure skating event in
which the NJS has proven to have caused a disaster. Since it was first
adopted in ISU championships, one year ago at the 2005 European
Championships in Torino, it appeared clear that something was wrong with
it. Never before we had seen such poor skating, even among the medal
winners, not to mention the results, which have been really questionable
in some events.
After the catastrophe we all witnessed last week in Torino, I had hoped
that there would at least be a positive effect if it obliged ISU President
Ottavio Cinquanta to admit that something must be drastically changed in
the concept itself of his "invention".
I could not have been more wrong! Instead, we got more deception. During
the exhibition gala at the Palavela on Friday, as reported by the Los
Angeles Times, Cinquanta said the new system's Olympic debut was "more
than a success, it was a triumph". He added that "This doesn't mean the
system is perfect, nothing is perfect. But we are very, very satisfied."
And, unbelievable as it might seem, he has thrown the blame for the
decline in quality of skating on the national skating federations for not
developing skaters who can cope with the new rules.
The ISU can produce administration, a system of judging, can organize
competitions, but we don't produce the skaters. So if the member
federations, the national federations, they are unable to make available
talent, it is not the fault of the ISU. . . . As a general consideration today,
the programs of the skaters in figure skating today are much, much more
difficult than before, and in the past, in general. But I repeat, to not
have the talent is another story.
He is making a fool of himself and the ISU leadership. But this is no
surprise. This is typical of Cinquanta. He seems unable to imagine, let
alone admit, that if something goes wrong he could possibly bear some
responsibility for it. It is always somebody else's fault!
I would just like to remind the ISU president that these "untalented
skaters" have been on the skating scene for more than two years, and
before the NJS era, curiously enough, they were unanimously considered
excellent and very talented. If they are unable to perform at their best
now, couldn't there be some reason that should perhaps be considered by
the ISU leadership if they want to preserve the beauty and the popularity
of the sport?
Perhaps Mr. Cinquanta should also ask himself why there have been more
injuries than ever before among all categories of skaters, from senior to
juniors and novices, in all disciplines, and why the TV ratings continue
to decline for figure skating, and with them the money of the federation
he is administering.
The new marking system is more than confusing. Nobody understands what is
going on. The public is losing interest. During my 15 days' stay in
Torino, I heard only complaints from fans and people on the buses or in
the arena about the confusing and mysterious numbers appearing on the
screen. They all miss the well-known and beloved 6.0 system. On the
other hand, it is enough to watch the face of the competitors waiting for
their marks in the "kiss and cry corner" to realise that the only thing
they understand is the placement they have been assigned by the judges.
One wonders if the sport will regret the day it decided to get rid of the
numbers that made it famous.
But that is not skating's only problem. This new system allows the judges
to be anonymous, the worst idea ever for a sport known for cheating, and
this is making our sport like a joke. If you look at the detailed results
of the judges, you see the most unbelievable results. It is beyond
ridiculous. Not only can a skater receive grade of execution marks going
from -1 to +2 on the same element (as happened for the fantastic throw
triple Axel of Inoue and Baldwin of the U.S.), but each competitor in the
top 10 may have a couple of first places. Some may object that this
happened also with the old system. True. But why then waste millions of
dollars for this technological monster?
There is something very bad going on in figure skating. Somebody must fix
this. I am afraid this will not be done by the present leadership of the
ISU unless forced to do so by the Members during the next ISU Congress, in
June in Budapest. All those who feel that the future of figure skating
itself is in danger, such as the coaches, the skaters, the judges, the
national federations and the officials should raise their voices, get
organised and put pressure on their own federations to submit urgent
proposals to change the judging and the scoring system, change the
composition of the programs, and eliminate secret judging. This is the
only possible legal way to find a way out in the interest of the sport and