Experts are enthralled by nuances of the sport of figure skating
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Olympic figure skaters make their sport look effortless.
The grace they exude when gliding, jumping and spinning could fool some viewers into thinking it's easy. Some might assume the same is true when it comes to judging. But those tasked with determining scores have a complicated responsibility that might not be clear to the casual viewer.
“It's very confusing to the public, to the fan base of skating,” said Bob Mock, master figure skating coach and vice president of Ice and Blades of Western Pennsylvania.
The International Judging System was implemented in 2004 after accusations that French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne cheated during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. At the time, judges looked for mistakes and deducted points accordingly.
Conversely, the current system is based on accumulation of points. A five-member technical team assigns a difficulty level and corresponding score to each move.
A panel of nine judges then evaluates the skating skill, interpretation of music, timing, choreography, transitions and overall execution, and awards a component score.
The technical element score and component score are added together to create a segment score. The short program segment plus the long program segment equals the final score.
“The new judging system is so technical,” said Elena Valova, world and Olympic pairs skating champion from Russia who coaches at Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. Valova and partner Oleg Vasiliev took gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.
“It's difficult for the audience to see mistakes,” Valova said.
Obvious things such as falling out of a jump or failing to complete the required rotations in a spin can hurt a score.
Flips, somersault jumps and laying or kneeling on the ice for too long are not permitted. Mock said it's also important to watch the footwork between big moves, which shows precision and dexterity. Skaters also have to use the entire ice during their performance.
Beth Sutton, skating director at Island Sports Center, said coaches watch figure skating differently than the casual viewer.
“It's all about the subtle things, even down to the costumes,” she said.
“This is one sport that does a great job of making it look effortless. But to people who say that, I say, ‘Go run and jump up and down for four and a half minutes and do it while looking glamorous and beautiful.' ”
The trickiest moves for men are quads and jump combinations. For ladies, it's the triple axel. When it comes to spins, more points are awarded for features, such as sitting and positioning of the free leg and arms.
In pairs, it's all about the twizzle, a multirotational one-foot turn. Clasping their hands behind their backs increases the difficulty level.
Mock calls this year's Olympics “really interesting,” and is excited to watch the “red-hot” U.S. ice dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
“They are very well matched and extremely strong,” he said. The “more artistic” Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also has his attention.
For the ladies, he's excited to see Yuna Kim from South Korea — “When she's on, she's incredible” — as well as Japanese figure skater Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner of Italy and the U.S. team of Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds.
Wagner caused a stir when she qualified for the team despite executing a problematic performance at the U.S. championships. Judges opted to consider her entire body of work rather than one poor showing and advanced her over Mirai Nagasu.
Valova said while she feels bad for Nagasu, she understands the rational of putting Wagner on the team.
“The decision about the Olympic team is not based on the results of Nationals but over the whole season,” she said.
On the men's side, Mock is watching Canada's Patrick Chan, Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Daisuke Takahashi and the U.S.'s Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown. For pairs, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia are the frontrunners, along with Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
Valova said she “can't wait to see what happens” at this year's event. While she knows all about the pressure that comes with performing, watching doesn't have to be that stressful.
“Just enjoy,” she said.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Roundup: Wealth gap largest on record, Pew study shows; McDonald’s in Japan limits orders of fries; more
- Starkey: Pederson had to go at Pitt
- Pederson’s 2nd tenure as the athletic director at Pitt comes to abrupt end
- Chryst returns home, named football coach at Wisconsin
- Philly DA says no affidavits claimed by AG Kane in bribery case existed
- Steelers, young and old, thirst for opportunity to reach the postseason
- Demolition project at Oliver’s Pourhouse in Greensburg moves forward
- QB Smith is chief concern for Steelers’ defense
- Home of LeNature’s exec up for sale
- Rice Energy spin-off priced below expected range
- Penguins continue to thrive, despite spate of ailments