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A Tragic Comedy
by Sonia Bianchetti
October 2007

On a rainy day in the country, I summoned the courage to read ISU Communication Nº 1459, with the clarifications and amendments to Communication 1445 issued only three months before (on May 7).

The encyclopaedia of errors and horrors gets richer every day with new items surprising and striking as usual, but seldom comforting.

Can't the so-called ISU Experts devote more thinking to what they are sending out to avoid new changes every second day?

I can only guess who the writers are, but it seems that they don't fully think out what the rules should be and they don't anticipate the unintended consequences of the rules, and even if they think they know what a rule should be they are not doing an adequate job in expressing the rule in a clear, complete and concise way.

The ISU documents are so poorly written and developed that even the officials on the technical panels do not always understand what the documents mean and need clarification. If the Technical Panel officials don't understand the rules all the time, what chance do skaters and coaches have?

From personal experience I know that writing rules is difficult. Even more writing them in a second language. Still?.The English is horrid. Many paragraphs of the last edict make no sense at all, to me at least.

I will quote just a couple:

  1. " 5. A change regular Spiral (free leg back) - Biellmann or vise versa is not a change of position, according to definition position stays the same (same direction of skating, same edge, same position of the free leg - backwards)"

    I guess that what they are trying to say is that to count as a change of position the skater must change direction of motion (forwards or backwards), or change edge (inside or outside), or change direction of the free leg (forward or backwards), or change foot. But, as a specialist wrote to me, to be certain, one would need some questions answered:

    1. What is a "regular Spiral"?
    2. Does "change regular Spiral" refer to a change of edge or to a change of position?
    3. What is the meaning of "free leg back"? This implies the possibility of a "regular Spiral" with the free leg in other positions.
    4. What, in "Biellman or vice-versa" is the meaning of the "vice-versa"? Leaning over and grabbing your skating ankle? It can't be grabbing your free ankle in front since the earlier specification stated "free leg back".

  2. Spins 1. In the Levels Chart a Spin Combination without change of foot, (Singles), difficult variations count as many times as the number executed in different positions one of which can be intermediate. However a skater can get not more than 3 Features this way (any two basic positions and any one intermediate position).

    I do not have a clue to what is intended. Just incomprehensible! Perhaps that there can only be three changes of position, one of which can be intermediate level? And, does the "number executed in different positions" refer to spins or to difficult variations? The use of "count" is not defined; here it apparently means "qualify as a feature" but it is only a guess again..

    Perhaps my knowledge of English is not adequate to understand what the ISU writes (which is possible) , but the "ISU English" is supposed to provide a clear understanding of what the rules really mean.

    Furthermore, the terminology used to describe features and requirements of features is very often imprecise and confusing. The texts are frequently full of grammatical and spelling errors. Does NO ONE proof read the texts, or have them reviewed by a third party for clarity before they are approved? I think not!

Another problem is that there is no one place at the ISU to get a current COMPLETE description of IJS rules and requirements, and that makes things even more confusing. You get clarifications of clarifications of documents 1–2 years old. To understand the rules, one has to work through many layers of documents to figure it out. Not the best way to reach understanding.

Moreover, some details on spiral sequences , spins and spin combinations sound like a perverse effort to make things more and more complex and confusing, and doesn't help at all.

The creation of the "intermediate position" is an incredible piece of unnecessary stupidity, in my view.

Take the sit spin for instance. Instead of just being down in the knee, or having the skating knee at 90 degrees, now the hip, or better the "bottom of the buttocks", has to be below the knee to count as a sit position. But if you define a sit spin that way, what do you do with all the positions where the hip is above the knee? Instead of simply being a quality issue to be taken care of quite simply in the GoE (Grade of Execution), they have to make it complicated and say, the "almost a sit" position is now an "intermediate" position. The same applies to the definition of an upright spin. Having added these complications, now you have to say when an intermediate position can earn features. In some situations it can and in others it can't. All this complexity, why?

The "overkill" that is going on in all the details is "killing" the sport, and yet supposedly the skaters should make "use of finesse to reflect the nuances of the music"! Rather than skating tests, the skaters might be better off passing arithmetic tests!

I would not be surprised if the next amendment to the Rules includes how many times a skater is allowed to breath during the execution of a jump, a revolution in a spin or in each position in a spiral sequence!

And what to say about the amendment to the definition of a jump combination? A real masterpiece.

Already the definition itself, allowing "two three turns between the jumps with a slight touch down (without weight transfer)"is odd. But the last amendment goes beyond imagination: In cases of weight transfer or weight on both feet (other than toe on the ice for the toe jumps take-off) a jump combination can no longer be called. The element will be called in the Short Program "name of first jump plus combination", in the Free Skating "sequence" or "name of first jump(s) plus sequence".

Is it conceivable that a World or Olympic title may depend on the personal impression (because it can only be an impression) of a couple of callers that there was or was not "a weight transfer" in the touch down or in the three turns between two jumps? Crazy! And so unfair to the skaters. Wasn't the new system invented to limit personal opinions of the individual judges?

When the IJS was sold to the skating world, it was said that the technical panel decisions would be "cut and dried" about what the skaters executed. There would no more be interpretations or opinions. But now they fully admit there are grey areas and interpretations. They admit that one can't always decide with perfect certainty that something was or was not executed. And they have decided that if they get it wrong, the decisions cannot be appealed because it is a "field of play" decision!

My view of why there is no appeal is, they know that they will get it wrong often enough that there would be no end to the appeals and competitions would be thrown into turmoil. So now the approach is "yes, it is just our opinion, and if we get it wrong, bad luck." Where is the famous objectivity in judging announced by the ISU trumpets?

A tragic comedy!

Figure skating is dying with a yawn of boredom.

We just cannot resign ourselves to the idea that the beauty and the art of figure skating may be destroyed forever because of some silly rules that could be changed over night if only the boss would allow it. .

Cinquanta's revolution, of which he is still so proud, deprived the skaters of any freedom, as most revolutions do. But, as history teaches, after each revolution, there is a "counter revolution". My impression is that this will take place very soon. Aren't "impressions" considered objective facts now? So keep the faith!

To conclude with a positive note, they have finally agreed to reduce the value of a failed double Axel with respect to the triple toe-loop. It took only four years, but they got it. EUREKA!

So, let's continue to fight, all together, for the improvement of the IJS to bring back to our wonderful sport its appeal and its popularity, if not before the Olympics in Vancouver, at least before the 2016 Olympics in Sochi.

I am confident that good sense will prevail even among the ISU office holders.