Triple Lutz Or Triple Dunce?

15figureskating-chang-505-superJumbo-v2.jpgI am going to branch out a bit in my sports talk and dive into some Olympics. I will be upfront and say that I am in no way and never will be a figure skating expert. The only knowledge I have of artistically moving on ice is when I am trying to keep my balance after slipping on a sidewalk during winter. And I will admit the only time I have ever seen figure skating is every four years during the Olympics. But figure skating is one of the premiere events during Winter Olympics so I feel like I must say something about the outrageousness going on this year. No I am not talking about Johnny Weir’s hairdo, but the scoring.

Watching figure skating this year at the Olympics has me more frustrated than watching the U.S. men’s hockey team. Because I expected nothing from the Americans on ice but when it comes to figure skating it seems I, along with the majority of Americans, are clueless about what is a good program. The fury of the American tv viewers has been prominent on social media all week-long; so much so the tv analysts had to make rounds on news shows and even the Olympic coverage to explain how the scoring system works.

I won’t breakdown the figure skating scoring system (that would take Will Hunting) but just know that it uses percentages, technical scoring, judging, decimals, and deductions. I won’t argue that this isn’t a good system to use even but what I will say is that what you see should count as well. By that I mean when you see someone fall, that should matter.

My frustration reached peak level when I was watching Patrick Chan of Canada perform his program last week. Chan, a darling favorite in search of a gold medal at his last Olympics, was the heavy favorite (whether it was his skill or the nostalgia who knows). But when Chan took the ice for his routine, he literally took the ice. With a flat-out fall, another touch of the ice with his hand, another stumble, and finally cutting a jump short because of another miscue. That was four mistakes that I noticed. Me, the uninformed viewer. Yet when the scores came in he catapulted up to the top, sitting in first place. Huh?

Apparently figure skating awards points based on difficulty of the move. Okay, that makes sense. And then they deduct points if they fall, don’t complete the move, or it doesn’t necessarily look pretty. Again makes sense. The issue is the discrepancy between the difficulty of moves. As noted by

For example, a skater who falls badly on an attempted quad lutz could earn 8.6 points for the failed jump (13.6 base points, minus 4.0 for poor execution, minus 1.0 for falling), while another that perfectly executes a triple lutz would get 8.1 points (6.0 base points, plus 2.1 for execution).

So a skater like Chan actually gets more points for failing to land a move just because he attempted it, over completing a slightly less difficult move. Why is a skater getting so much credit for just attempting a move? Isn’t the idea to perform moves and complete them? Why wouldn’t a skater just go out there and say they are going to do an octuplet lutz (even though from what I understand that is impossible) and then just fall in the middle of it to get the higher points?

You don’t think skaters would cheat the system like that? Then you must have missed another figure skating story regarding the Russian women skaters. The pair of Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitov are the foregone Olympics gold and silver medalists; again how this is a foregone conclusion I do not know. But the pair are locked in a dispute themselves.

As mentioned earlier the scoring system uses percentages. A skater gets a 10-percent bonus for every jump performed in the second-half of their routine. The thinking is that as the skater’s program goes on the more their legs tire and thus jumps are harder. However Zagitova’s routine puts ALL of her jumps in the back half. She saves herself for the back half of the program and doesn’t expend any energy in the first-half; cheating the system to get the 10-percent bonus on each and every one of her seven jumps in the routine.

Figure skating, and really any sport that is judge, is always going to receive critique. But you would think that a basic eye test would mean something. I’ve watched plenty of events in the half-pipe. The judges there will credit the athletes for hard moves but they also penalize them if they fall or even brush their hand on the snow. That is another sport where I don’t know much about but I do know that if I see a skier fall, they aren’t getting a high enough score to win. Shouldn’t it be similar in figure skating? All I know is that figure skating needs to figure it out.


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