Friday, February 26, 2010

A Few Random Thoughts On Figure Skating at the 2010 Olympics

A few random thoughts about figure skating at the 2010 Olympics.

Point 1 ... Unbelievable. The skaters put forward by their respective countries was nothing short of exceptional. The caliber of skating and the number of perfect and near-perfect programs with substantial difficulty was simply breathtaking. Television primarily shows the top group of skaters in each category, but that's always been the case, and many times skaters who fell still medaled in past Olympics. Not this time. There were many who did not medal and still skated spectacularly. Case-in-point: Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu. Belbin and Agosto.

Point 2 ... Compulsory or School Figures, for those few who may recall. Most of the skaters in the 2010 Olympics were born in the 1980s and 1990s, thereby missing figures completely, even in their early training. Figures were replaced with Moves in the Field, which emphasize power, carriage, and flow. And the bar was raised on jumps, spins, and footwork.

When Dick Button and Tenley Albright made the US Olympic team for 1952, school figures were 60% of the total score. 60% for slowly, carefully, tracing six patterns skated on both feet on the ice. Back in the day, a skating parent knew that her offspring had potential in the sport if the coach recommended that a skater start learning figures. But let's face it folks, watching figures on television was less exciting than watching curling. Beginning in 1968, the school figures component slowly decreased to 50%, 40%, 30% 20%, and after 1990 they were eliminated from international competitions. The edge, no pun intended, for skills in figures disappeared.

Just a few other fun facts on school figures, while I'm on the topic. Some may recall (oh ... yeah ...) school figures required skates with a duller blade and minimal toe pick, so two pairs of skates were needed ($cha - ching$). Also required, a scribe, sort of like a giant compass like the one you may have used in geometry. With figures commanding 60% of the skating score, all of this made a lot of sense.

Point 3 ... Where was that French judge? After the 2002 Olympics, figure skating underwent a major overhaul in the way scores were awarded. In 2005, the 6.0 judging system, based upon a maximum of 6.0 points for technical merit and artistic impression, was replaced with the ISU judging system, to promote objectivity and discourage abuse. For skaters, it's all about racking up a bigger score with well executed, difficult, and high point garnering components.

An FYI to those who may not know, the 12 judge panel was reduced to 9 in 2008. Since the high and low scores, as well as two random scores in the middle are eliminated, the winners are chosen with only five judges, who now remain anonymous rather than displaying their scores along with their country's flag. Since judges are evaluated on an ongoing basis for the consistency of their scores, this anonymity doesn't bother me so much as it would otherwise. Gone is the practice of allowing judges to "eyeball" whether a jump was cheated or a spin had the right number of revolutions. I admit I was surprised and somewhat disturbed that the judges' rely on only one camera in one single location for the entire ice surface. Two cameras might be a worthwhile expenditure.

Conclusions: I remember as a little girl watching Dorothy Hamill win the gold. And I believe I've watched every winter Olympics since. Numerous times, I recall being frustrated by the judging, the results, medals awarded to figure skaters (especially ice dancers) because they had tenure in the sport, the near sanction of judges from certain parts of the world giving preference to skaters from their geographic region. All of that seems to be gone now and replaced with athleticism, power and grace. And as always, television commentators, at times, can be irritating.

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