Up until now I have stayed away from the subject of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Up until now that is. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share my delight following last night’s Men’s figure skating competition, both skating and judging. While no system can be perfect, the ‘new’ one that has evolved since the 2002 Olympic Pair’s judging scandal, has gone a long way to restoring faith in the justness of the results.
Not everyone agrees of course; most notably the man who finished second. 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko has said, “Some people might say that we should do other things, but in my opinion not doing the quad will be going backwards in time.” I do see his point in some ways, since after Kurt Browning landed the first quad at the World Championships back in 1988, the four revolutions jump increased in both quantity and quality among the top male skaters. The sport has evolved and gotten progressively more technically difficult over the years, moving from a time of double jumps, then triples, then quadruples. But it did seem that more and more skaters were injuring themselves with the advent and advance of quads. I remember hearing speculation that perhaps they had reached the limit of what the body could take.
Fewer skaters do the quad now than when Plushenko was winning gold, but that does not mean the sport has stopped evolving. Under the new system with its code of points, other aspects of skating like spins, footwork, and transitions between the different elements, are given more weight. Never before have footwork sequences been so difficult and complex as they are now with the best skaters. We hear more talk of the ‘complete package.’ Hopefully gone are the days when it was almost just a jumping competition. Obviously the jumps are thrilling and very important, but not to the exclusion of the other elements.
Plushenko thought he had won, and vocally disagreed with the results. “If Olympic champion doesn’t know how to jump quad, I don’t know. Now it’s not men’s figure skating, now it’s dancing.” Aside from the facetiousness of the dancing remark, I guess my comment would be the same about an Olympic champion who doesn’t know how to do the needed transitions and footwork that skaters like Lysacek do. I found it rather illuminating when I heard that Plushenko’s people had tried a number of times, to get Kurt Browning’s help with Plushenko’s programs. Kurt, a true master of footwork and all the ‘in betweens’, refused, saying he didn’t know what to do with him and wasn’t the right person to help.
Though I think the final result was just, I agree with Sandra Bezic that the tie in the component marks of the top two skaters was wrong. How could they tie when one was sorely lacking the transitions and complex footwork of the other? But that result does set up for an interesting observation. For all of Plushenko’s talk of how it’s the technical side that matter most, that’s the very side that he lost it on. For example, the normally flawless and really impressive jumper had some wobbly landings that Lysacek did not. Plushenko lost little bits of marks here and there for ‘grade of execution’ as Scott Hamilton pointed out. He was not as technically good as Lysacek last night.
While he is not my favourite skater, Evan Lysacek really impressed me this Olympics. I was definitely rooting for him to win given all he put out there. He has said, “I think if you asked a speed skater if one stroke was more important than the next, they would say no. So, for me, each stroke I take, each jump, each step, each spin is equally important.” I think the right person absolutely won. I was fearful that pre-competition press, and comments from some camps would lead to the same old political judging issues. As 2002 Olympic Pair’s champion David Pelletier commented, after the results were announced last night, “Well done judges.” I couldn’t agree more. The complete package on ice. It is called skating after all, not jumping.