Friday, February 13, 2009

Just a Few Thoughts…

January-February 2008, PS Magazine

Last January, right after Nationals, Chicago Tribune writer Philip Hersch forecast a bleak future for our sport in the United States due to dwindling TV money and ratings, and the lack of recognizable skating superstars. Less than a year later, Hersch wrote in an article published December 5 in various Tribune Co. newspapers that the “Dearth of new talent is what ails ice skating. While the focus is on judging issues, the fact that the U.S. is so dominant while other countries’ programs falter threatens the future of the sport.” Hmm, interesting…first, I had to look up dearth (–noun 1. an inadequate supply; scarcity; lack). So I guess he’s clarifying his statement from last winter, it’s not the lack of talent in the US, but the rest of the world. OK…Maybe someone can help me here...I’m not too clear on the good/bad thing. I thought that the object was to dominate. I’m curious, do you think there were many Soviet sports writers who complained about the lack of competition for the last 30 or so years in pairs? Just asking.
Another mania that has been bothering me is the continued badgering of the international judging system on the internet. I admit that I have taken a few shots at it, but really can we just get over it? Here is an excerpt from an open letter from Sonia Bianchetti published in Tom Sobell’s Skating Group on Yahoo.
…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?... A tragic comedy!...
First, you can blow any amount of smoke, but it is a competition ultimately scored by judges regardless of ANY system we have used in the past, present or future. The truth is people do not like to lose and when they do, they will blame anyone, least of all themselves, but mostly the judges. If you are keeping scores, that only makes about six people who are happy after each competition. Comparing the old to the new, the two scores in the 6.0 system reveal nothing of how the numbers were reached. When coaching under that system and a parent asked why their child received their particular marks, the coach could only guess what was wrong. At least IJS shows the math. Just looking at the protocol will tell you exactly where someone won or lost.
Secondly, as it has always been, a great program is easy to judge… in any system. Nevertheless, if three technical panellists cannot decide whether a “transfer of weight” has happened while looking at a replay just as Ms. Bianchetti refers, are the judges better suited to make a judgment from memory? The IJS system gives the panel multiple opportunities to get it right, the 6.0 system only ONE.
Another vocal critic of the IJS is National Judge Jack Curtis. Although his style of writing is amusingly sarcastic, I believe some of his statements are misleading, inaccurate or at least tweaked a little to help him make a point (I know I like to do this too). Jack writes in his article, The Emperor’s New Judging System, that at last year’s world championships, Asada attained 38% of her score from jumping. In the 6.0, 50% of the mark was the technical score. Comparatively using Jack’s 38% figure, that leaves 12% for spins and any other technical element. Considering there are only four spins allowed compared to seven jump elements at the senior level, I don’t see the issue. Some will recall that last year I did a study of over 295 Jr. Ladies Long Programs. Quoting myself from the IJS article from the February/March 2007 PS Magazine, “The average Jr. Lady’s PCS (Program Component Score) is 4.12 points greater than the Total Element Score.” If the jumps are overtaking the programs, shouldn’t the TES be greater than the component scores?
Finally, Mr. Curtis adds, “For jumping, it helps to be juvenile and skinny. A good orthopedist will come in handy too as Lipinski, Galindo, Yagudin, Plushenko and others have learned while shopping for their joint repairs.” What does this have to do with the IJS? Especially when three of the four mentioned skated in the 6.0 system.
Judging competitions are just that…judging. Getting out my dictionary again, a judge is, “a person appointed to decide any competition, contest or matter at issue.” Whether the criteria for judging are decided by the ISU, or the judges themselves, whether it’s the 6.0 or the IJS, it is supposed to be fair and unbiased…but under any system, those who have been in this sport for a lifetime know the truth. Just as Tom Weir wrote a long time ago in USA Today, “skating is not a sport, it is an opinion.” Like Sonia Bianchetti, Jack Curtis holds the same opinion that the old system provides accountability for the judges. “With 6.0, the judges’ names come with their work. If you want to bother, you can compute the outcome yourself. You know exactly who is doing what to whom.” Yes, maybe the “who,” but never the “why!”
For a copy of the entire Jack Curtis’s, The Emperor’s New Judging System article and the Sonia Bianchetti letter please e-mail me at or you can Google them.

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