Figure Skating Needs CPR

The judging system in figure skating is leading to the inevitable demise of our sport.

That’s probably what some people thought after 2013 World Figure Skating Championships.

It won’t die, but it might become one of those sports only watched online because it’s so rarely picked up by a network. I predict the only time it’ll get the attention it deserves is during the Olympics.

For people reading this and shaking their heads, resist the urge to scroll down to the comments section and etch me with a scribe until you read the entire entry.

One of my Twitter followers recently interviewed a well-known figure skating commentator on his blog, and he asked them about the state of figure skating. One issue the commentator touched on was the judging system, and alluded to the fact there are some [fans, etc.] who won’t education themselves about the sport and, in the commentator’s words, it’s [the judging system] not that complicated.

And I agree.

It can be frustrating. It can be maddening. However, most of the time it works.

When viewers watch skating, they might catch the edge calls and under-rotations. Not all viewers count spin rotations and know what a level-four footwork sequence looks like. However, isn’t it irritating to see a low score and not understand why? Or a high score and feel like throwing skate guards at the 42-inch screen?

We should be enjoying figure skating, instead of watching it with a calculator.

This season, to the naked-eye, so many appeared to have flawless performances, yet flopped in the points. And it was because of the GOE, or grade of execution.

Grade of execution – a value assigned to an element based how well it was completed – ranges from -3 to +3. This is combined with the base value. For example, the base value of a triple flip is 5.30. If executed well – such as tight air position and nice landing – it would receive a plus [+] value. If it wasn’t – such a weak landing or slight under-rotation – it would receive a minus [-].  Of course, this is open to the subjectively of the judges. The GOE on a good jump can range from +1 to +3 for the same skater. The reality of a judged sport.

There will always be skaters with excellent performances who aren’t rewarded properly. However, the same could be said for the 6.0. Think back to Elizabeth Manley at the 1988 Worlds in Budapest, or Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympics. Pages could be filled with figure skating injustices under the 6.0.

We need to be open to change and educate ourselves on this system, because it does work the majority of the time. Yes, it’s flawed, but so was the old system.

Why punish the sport and our skaters just because of change? Figures, compulsory dance, vocals. We didn’t see a decrease in registration or audience attendance when these were introduced or abolished.

Why punish skaters when there’s a judging system that rewards them for what they do on the ice instead of based entirely on who they are or where they’re from?

I really wish I had that answer.

[Originally published on the Edmonton Journal website]

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