Monday, February 27, 2012

Change is Inevitable - Growth is Optional!

Over the Edge Mar/Apr 2012

It seems to be the time of the year when all I read on the internet regarding skating is how IJS has ruined the sport. In an article widely circulated on the web by Monica Friedlander of, former Canadian skating star Toller Cranston was quoted as saying, “The way it's judged now, the more you can do the more points you get, so everything is overproduced and generic.” Also quoted in the article, the beloved Janet Lynn, called the IJS “a totalitarian system of measurement that does not breed freedom on the ice or lift the human spirit.”
Although Toller and Janet have earned the right to speak out, I respectfully disagree. Had Toller or Janet really been involved in the sport during the challenging transition from 6.0 to IJS, the interview and comments may have sounded a little differently and have more merit. From my perspective, I would say that Alissa Czisney’s Dr. Zhivago program from the 2009 U.S. Championships in Spokane would challenge the most esteemed champions of the past. How about Jeremy Abbott’s Day in the Life short program or from last year, Ryan Bradley's Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy? I don’t agree with the statement that IJS does not breed freedom on the ice or lift the human spirit. It just bothers me that critics who don’t like the system take it out on the thousands of skaters out there currently giving it their all.
So let’s say we listen to the critics of IJS and go back to 6.0…how does that make the sport better? The skaters will still be the same and would they not have the same skill set? Back in the 6.0 system, is the quad going to be any less relevant? Back in the 80’s, rules were continually changing to try and limit jumps. In fact, it has been a constant tug of war since the turn of the century…I’m referring to the 1900’s. Then again, switching back to 6.0 will allow fans to boo the judges again directly. What I believe has always been is that there are skating enthusiasts who love the theatre and those who love the athletics.
Under the international judging system, judges award points for five additional components - skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography/composition and interpretation, as well as the grade of execution of skills. Now guess what… didn’t the judges consider those same components as well as the technical ability of the skater to prepare their marks in the 6.0 system? Go to youTube and watch Toller Cranston. Do you think he couldn’t compete in an IJS system? He would kill. Even with his lack of jumps at today’s standard, could Toller be competitive? YES! He may not get the points in the jumps but as Evan Lysachek showed at the Olympics, you can get your points other ways. What has changed?
The only real difference I see between the skaters of today and those of yesteryear is the quality of flow and edges (besides the obvious growth in the number of revolutions in the air). While there are some who have those unique qualities today, it’s not the norm. I don’t blame this on IJS, but on two additional points.
The first, the elimination of figures - those of us who did figures, regardless if we were good at them or not, learned to “sit” on an edge. We learned how to work the ice with our edges, to feel the bite of skating “in” the ice. How about lilt? When was the last time you heard someone use it in a lesson? I’m not even sure today’s skaters, other than dancers, would understand the term. Today’s skaters have difficulty understanding those concepts…but it’s not their fault.
The second - the volume of new skaters beginning in the 1990’s through the mid 2000’s overwhelmed our teachers and coaches. In a frenzy of hiring new coaches to keep up with demand, actual skating skills and a lack of experience was often overlooked. Personally, I was thrust into group classes with absolutely no idea on how to teach basic skills. Teaching a double Axel, no problem; teaching a swizzle to a group of 4-year olds, not so easy. In 1996 when I became a skating director for the first time, the learn to skate school went from 650 skaters to over 1100 almost overnight! I had no idea were to find quality instructors. I was looking for anybody with a heartbeat who could stand up in skates…owning their own skates was a plus! Eventually, many of my older competitive skaters came to the rescue and they brought great energy to the classes. This was not a problem exclusively in my arena. It was happening all over the country and besides the teenagers, many adult skaters with almost no experience or background were teaching. While most could demonstrate the skills, many of these new coaches lacked the knowledge and experience to break down the skills to provide a solid foundation of “skating skills” like turns and steps.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is what it is…I love skating…yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t tell me that these kids today don’t have the heart or passion. Don’t belittle their accomplishments because you don’t like the system. The past is the past and tomorrow is the future. To stay the same or to go backwards…not an option… we have to move forward!


Xan said...

I'm just grateful that I was a new coach in your area when you were doing seminars to help us learn how to teach those basic skills to the 4 year olds!

Pete said...

Thank you Jimmie! As a fan of the sport I believe you have the correct perspective. Those who propose going back to 6.0 constantly short-change today's skaters whether intentional or not.

Teach the youngsters the basic skills and they can thrive under any scoring system. Hopefully USFSA will find a way to incorporate some form of the original figures into their required skills programs.

Lori said...


Fabulous post! I couldn't agree more. I think those who advocate a return to the 6.0 system overlook many of the problems it promoted. I, for one, enjoy seeing skaters need to work to fill the spaces in-between their jumps and spins with more than just lots of backward crossovers. In my opinion, it actually promotes programs that are more interesting to watch. The 10% bonus in the long program actually gets skaters to put elements into the second half of their program, which I think is a vast improvement over some performances not so long ago where every jump was performed in the two minutes of the program and the rest was filler.

Perhaps one of the best aspects, though, is the fact that, theoretically, anybody can win. If you perform the elements well, you can win, even if you are new on the scene or less well known. I can't speak for others, but I certainly don't long for a return of the days where someone who attempts a quad but fails miserably beats someone who does not attempt a quad but performs all of their elements extremely well. I do not think we would be better off returning to a system where a skater's name and/or reputation can hold him or her up in the placement even with a poor performance.

Most importantly, as you point out, the scores for artistry are still there and rewarded. What today's skaters lack in edge quality and artistry is not the fault of the system. If anything, this system helps draw attention to the fact that we are not paying enough attention to this very important part of our training, and how can we improve if we are never made aware of our weaknesses?

Thanks for a great post!

BSeditor said...

God, I've wanted to say something just like this for the past three years, but I don't have a blog! LOL.

I don't skate - have never stepped foot on the ice, in fact - so I can't speak to a lot of the more intricate points of the sport and the scoring. But I have been a fan since the late 1980s.

There are parts of the new system I like and a lot that I don't. But it's the reality of the sport now and going back to the 6.0 system would just dredge up the same problems everybody hated about it back then.

Where I get frustrated isn't with the scoring system or the skaters themselves. I tend to put more blame on choreographers and some coaches who seem to fight the system tooth-and-nail rather than embracing it. It's completely possible to make magical programs that rack up a lot of points and still make the audience leap to their feet - the programs you mentioned, plus Chan's Take Five and Concerto de Aranjuez, Buttle's Samson and Delilah, etc. I feel like a lot of the top choreographers stretched themselves too thin, giving great work to Skaters A and maybe B and crap to skaters C, D, E and F.

From the outside looking in (and please correct my assumption if I'm wrong), it seems that, with a few exceptions, coaches are largely responsible for music selection and packaging. So again, it's hard for me to fault the skaters when they might not have as much input into their programs than the ones who take more control (like Johnny Weir, for example).

Also, without watching videos from major competitions going back 20 years, I think it's a myth that there are more falls under IJS and that skaters had cleaner performances under 6.0. I want to see clean programs as much as anyone, but that's an argument I just don't buy.