I wasn’t going to wade into the Olympic figure skating judging thing again today, but certain comments just kept coming back to me. Two very different sources, but both sharing similar sentiments, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Canadian skater Elvis Stojko have each had things to say about the Men’s figure skating results. Stojko’s in particular surprised me in their aggressiveness.
Beginning with Putin however, upon congratulating Plushenko, he said, “Your silver is worth gold.” Something tells me he would not have said that to Lysacek if the situation were reversed. Putin also wrote, “You were able to overcome all the obstacles in your brave comeback and performed the most accomplished programme on the Vancouver ice.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it’s a good thing to be vigilant that judging is fair, but to come out and say the judges got it wrong when you are in such a position of authority, may be another story. Especially when contrary to some assertions, ‘your’ skater lost on technical grounds not artistic, as discussed more below.
National pride may account for much of Putin’s comments, and while it’s good to support your own, it still sounds more like sour grapes. Maybe it’s also a reaction to the great Russian pair eight years ago, who after much public outcry at the initial judging results, had to share the gold medal with a North American (Canadian) pair. And it was that very scandal that was the catalyst for this new judging system. Maybe it’s impossible to hope for zero political bias.
Plushenko has said “Just doing nice transitions and being artistic is not enough because figure skating is a sport, not a show…In the free programme I was the last to skate, did everything clean and still didn’t get the marks.” He seems to forget that he left out his typical 3rd jump in one combination, that his jumps were very tilted in the air, and there were also some wobbly landings. That’s not clean, nor is it typical Plushenko, normally his jumps are better than that. He only lost by 1.31 points; in all likelihood if he had skated at his best, he would have won gold.
Stojko has gone even further in his condemnation of the results, writing a commentary entitled, “The night they killed figure skating.” In it he wrote, “If you’re going to take the quad out, why not take out another triple axel and just have more of the other stuff so the International Skating Union can make it more into an “art” recital…the judges’ scoring was ridiculous.” Talk about overreactions and hyperbole. I think his statement speaks for itself.
I’m not actually surprised by which side of this he’s come out on. His potential bias is understandable given he was often criticized himself, for being mainly a jumper who lacked artistic style and attention to the details now more recognized by the judging system. I am however surprised and disappointed by the degree of vitriol.
He goes on to say, “And the figure skating community wants to control who wins and who loses. And what it does is it makes the component score more valid than the jumps so it can control whatever it wants. And that’s exactly what happened Thursday night at Pacific Coliseum.” This seems a ridiculous and inaccurate statement. Just how can he say they made “the component score more valid than the jumps” when the two skaters tied in their component scores, each receiving 82.80? Plushenko lost on the technical mark not the component (artistic) mark.
The extreme nature of his commentary title may be forgiven as an attention getter, but inside it Stojko continued, saying, “And the judges’ scoring probably killed figure skating because kids now are going to see this and say, “Oh, I don’t need a quad. I can just do great footwork for presentation marks and do a couple of nice spins and make it to Olympic champion.” With that type of scoring, you don’t have to risk it. You can play it safe and win gold.” Again, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that they tied for presentation marks, and that was not what determined the Olympic champion this week. And as for complex footwork and transitions etc.? Never before have so many skaters fallen during these elements as they do now. Does that not show just how difficult these other moves are? How much they are advancing the sport?
I can’t help but think that if all the elements that now make figure skating like ‘dancing’(Plushenko) or like an “art recital’ (Elvis) were so easy, then why the heck didn’t Plushenko do them all himself? He was trying to win the gold again. He knew what the ‘new’ system required, whether or not he agreed with it. He knew that it rewards all the elements and in between movements, and does not just focus on the jumps. Maybe it’s because those other elements, done as Lysacek did them, require different conditioning and technical ability from that of Plushenko.
Perhaps Evan Lysacek said it best. “If it was a jumping competition, they’d give you 10 seconds to go do your best jump. But it’s about 4 minutes and 40 seconds of skating and performing from start to finish.”