Skating tests another judging system

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

Another week, yet another new judging system for figure skating.

With skaters and fans still trying to digest the new, anonymous scoring system, the International Skating Union is taking steps toward even more radical reform this week at Skate Canada.

Officials are running a test of a revolutionary project that replaces the century-old 6.0 with an X-games style points system complete with high-tech, touch-screen computer technology. The 6.0 scale will still determine the winners at Skate Canada, so the test won't affect this competition. But the test will help determine where -- or if -- the project fits in skating's future.

''This project is a work in progress and will be developed over time,'' said Ted Barton, a consultant hired to help the ISU develop the new scoring system.

''The foundation has been built and we're very confident in the foundation,'' he said. ''But there is a lot of input to come from a variety of places.''

Results of the test won't be made public.

''I don't think it's a matter of hiding it,'' ISU vice president David Dore said. ''We need to see if this thing works.''

Desperate to avoid more scandals like the one that rocked the Salt Lake City Olympics, the ISU seeks a scoring system that will prevent cheating and bloc judging. For now, a computer randomly and secretly selects judges, and no one -- not the skaters or even the judges themselves -- know whose marks are used.

But with little accountability, the system might be more flawed than the old one. While protecting judges from outside pressure, the anonymity can also give shady judges a license to cheat. It's also confusing, with no way to know if that 5.8 Michelle Kwan got meant anything.

''It's like watching 'The Discovery Channel' of an unknown world,'' Olympic gold medalist Alexei Yagudin said at last weekend's Skate America, where the system was used for the first time. ''I just want to say, on behalf of all the skaters, I think it's a huge mistake what they're doing.''

It also doesn't address figure skating's subjectivity, long a target of critics.

Skaters start with a base mark of 6.0, and deductions are made for mistakes and missed elements. Skaters also can be marked down for the aesthetics of their programs.

''We're going to have subjectivity, and there's nothing wrong with that,'' said Don Laws, a longtime coach who's helping develop the new scoring system. ''But it has to be put in its proper place.''

Under the proposed points system, every element has an established value from one to 10 based on its difficulty. A triple salchow could be worth 4.9, for example, while a quadruple toe loop could be worth 8.0. The elements in each skater's program are entered into a computer, and judges grade their execution on a scale of plus-3 to minus-3 as each element is completed.

Skaters also would get marks, valued from 1 to 10, for skating technique and for how they linked the elements in their programs. All of those marks would then be added together for the technical score.

For artistry marks, scores for performance, choreography and interpretation of the program, also on a 1 to 10 scale, are added together. Then the artistic and technical marks are added to get one final score.

''The focus now will be on what skaters do and how well they do it, so you turn the sport back to the athletes,'' Barton said.

But critics worry artistry is being sacrificed and the sport will become nothing more than a jumping contest. Developers say that's not true.

There will be a limit to how many jumps and combinations skaters can do in a program. Skaters will be marked down if their program is a bunch of jumps with nothing in between.

''I know you need time to test this, but don't write it off yet,'' Barton said. ''When this is all done ... we'll have a sport more popular than it is.''

There's concern about doing away with the 6.0, too. For more than 100 years, it's been universally known as the mark of perfection, just as a 10.0 is in gymnastics.

''In my life, I always wanted to get a 6.0,'' Yagudin said. ''Now they want to get rid of that. That's another ridiculous thing.''

But others don't mind. With a points system, figure skating could have personal bests and world records, just like other sports.

''I think it has tremendous potential,'' said Tom Zakrajsek, coach of American Ann Patrice McDonough, the world junior champion last season. ''All my friends who are non-skaters kind of rip on skating because it doesn't have any statistics like football or baseball.''

The points system has the full support of ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta, so most assume it's simply a matter of time before it's in place for good. But Dore said there are no guarantees.

''There's a lot of work to do here,'' Dore said. ''It sounds like a fait accompli, but there's a lot of work to do.''

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