The men’s event at U.S. Nationals exposed three of skating’s most time-honored debates.
And while I think too much importance was placed on these controversies than the actual skating (which I will write about later) I have a few thoughts on these universal truths of the sport that we all must recognize:
Sport Versus Art- Will we ever settle this one? I don’t think so, in terms of which one is more important, but historically, the greatest of champions have a great combination of both of those pieces. Yuzuru Hanyu does not score 300 points simply because of his quads- his spins, his footwork, his skating skills, his performance quality - is what puts him in the eschalion of the greatest in men’s skating. There is a reason Boyang Jin came in fifth at the Grand Prix Final with several quads, just like there is also a reason a beautiful skater with no triples will not win either. In skating’s basic form, the technical elements have to be there to get a skater in the game, and then it’s the quality of those elements and of your performance that differentiates skaters and puts them over the top. You have to have both; one is not enough.
Most skaters are not Yuzuru Hanyu and at the top of both sides of the scorecard. Most are better at one than the other, or a combination of solid in both (see Gracie, Ashley and Polina). There are good jumpers, good spinners, good performers, fast skaters, flexible skaters and everything in between. The sum of all of their parts equal their total package as a skater. Scores reflect that, as the should. The sum of all the scoring categories add up to a total. Which leads me to my next point...
Jumps < TES: Just like it’s assumed that facial expression equals PCS, it is also assumed that jumps equal TES, and neither of those assumptions are true. Though a man lands quads, that does not mean that his spins, his footwork, or his choreographic sequences are of high quality. And those other elements make up a significant portion of a technical element score. In Hanyu’s short program from the Grand Prix Final, 30% of his technical element points came off of non-jumping elements. Though not worth as much proportionally as much as the jumps, that number is statistically significant and affects scores.
GOE complicates this scenario even further. Skaters like Jason Brown use GOE as their bread and butter; though they may not do the highest technically difficult elements, they do them so well that they gather a lot of points. A skater can gain up to three points on each jump, on each spin and on each step or choreographic sequence. It is the way that the system works; it is how the math adds up. Adam Rippon’s mom tweeted “Three dimes are worth more than a quarter.” Beyond her own son, that simple logic is undeniably true.
Nationals Scoring: There is a reason that the ISU does not list National event scores in their official statistics and that is because national event scores never translate to international ones, in favorable and unfavorable ways to the skaters. And this is not just true of the United States- check out any Russian event if you doubt me. Whether that is because panels relate more to a national-specific style of skating or because they are more emotionally invested in a skater, or because a national audience is more invested in their own skaters, that is a fact. In a sense, a certain amount of overscoring is expected at a national event, right or wrong.
At this Nationals, both technical panels in the singles events were lenient with jump calls. There were many skaters who benefited from this, and not just the winners. While I don’t think that is the best strategy to prepare skaters for international events, I also think that the skaters are well aware of this fact. If a skater struggles with a jump, they know it and they know when it is cheated and when it is clean.
Judging of this sport in general is a convoluted process, but Nationals scoring is a different beast all its own. An interesting scenario to think about- What if an international panel had judged the other events? Would Kayne/OShea be pairs champions? Would Polina Edmunds be a silver medallist? Would the Shibs have won the dance event? Though no one disagreed with the results in the other disciplines as vocally as the mens, I would think that at least one of those other podiums would’ve looked drastically different if an international panel would have judged it.
Which begs the question- WHY are national events judged by domestic judges? Because each federation likes to strategize the development of its skaters? That would seem the most logical of answers. That is also why the selection process is set up the way that it is; a selection panel determines the international teams, not the event judging panel. Again, this is the same abroad as it is in the U.S. Top Chinese skaters don’t even compete at their national championships, as the selection panel make their decisions based on so many other factors than just those results.
So that being said, is the event scoring more a reflection of the selection panel’s strategy than the skating taking place? I don’t know the answer to that or to any of these debates. It will take a far more intelligent and experienced mind than my own to find the answer. But, I am sure that these thoughts are racing through the heads of many other fans like me. And we will never stop talking about it, debating it, or discussing it, because that is after all the center of our favorite sport- subjectivity.
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Reviews, predictions and opinions in the magical, sparkly and dramatic field of figure skating.