Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Op-Ed: Evolution

After the Olympics there was all this commentary on how the sport of figure skating has regressed.

In 1998, 2002, and 2006...a guy won the Men's Olympic Title with a quad in his free...in 2010 the guy who won didn't even try it.

For the first time a women successfully completed three triple axels in the ladies competition at the Olympics and finished 23 points behind the winner.

So obviously the sport is heading in the wrong direction, right?

I don't think so.

The international judging system has simply shifted importance from being a good jumper, to being an overall great skater.

Let's take a trip down history lane using the men as our example. In 2002, a knuckle-headed French judge decides to hold-up a Russian Pair in exchange for a favor for a French Ice Dance Team, and we all cried fowl. Four years later we are all gathered in Torino for the Olympics with this new judging system. But it was still business as usual since most of the major players where from the 6.0 era. Things started to change in 2007 however. Brian Joubert won the World Title that year, but he was beat in the free skate by two guys who had figured out how to really begin manipulating the point system, Stéphane Lambiel and Daisuke Takahashi. Next year, the scales finally tipped when Jeffrey Buttle, again with a point manipulating program, actually got ahead of Joubert. In 2009, two skaters, Lysacek and Chan, did it again. No quad, just a solid all-around program.

It's clear that not as many men are trying the quad these days. But I don't feel that means the sport has regressed...it's simply evolved. And I think the programs many men are doing today, even without a quad, are so much harder than they were 4 or 8 years ago.

The "code crackers" as I call them don't get enough credit for what they do. Jeremy Abbott for example...what he does going in and out of his jumps and his transitions are ridiculous and so very hard. It's harder for the casual fan to measure that difficulty because it's so quietly interwoven into the program but that certainly doesn't mean we should ignore it or fail to credit it.

As far as jumping goes, I think the sport hit the ceiling between 2000 and 2003 when you had skaters like Timothy Goebel and Takeshi Honda trying upwards of three quads in a program. That is ridiculous wear-and-tear on the body. By 2006, neither of those guys were able to do quads at their respective national championships and make the Olympic Team. At the Olympics in 2002, Elvis Stojko was a far shadow of his former self who landed quads routinely. In Salt Lake City, he was just happy to land a triple. Alexei Yagudin, who wanted to continue after winning Olympic Gold in 2002 had to leave eligible skating because quads had done his hips in. Even Evgeny Plushenko has had multiple knee injuries because of the jump. The women may not be far behind if the triple axel becomes a mainstay for the women. The technical envelope was pushed a bit far I think in the jumping department.

So instead lots of skaters have worked hard at getting points in other areas. Spins, transitions, footwork. And like I said before, some of what these skaters do...all the different spin features and positions, the deep edges, the turns in both directions, just their creativity in general...very difficult.

That's not regression...that's smart.


Darla said...

I do agree that figure skating is becoming more well-rounded in terms of the emphasis on the artistry. But does anyone else feel that some jumps are being undervalued, particularly the quad and triple-axel?

I know triple-triple jumps are difficult. However it shouldn't only be the total number of revolution that should be accounted for, but also the difficulty of the jumps. There are junior skaters that are doing triple-triple combinations, but how often does one see a quad or a woman doing a triple axel? It makes me wonder why people say it's not worth the RISK. Meaning, these jumps are indeed more difficult, but they are not addressed properly in the new scoring system.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

While I do support more well-rounded skating, I also think the current system discourages skaters from attempting harder jumps because the risks far outweigh the rewards. I think the current system should reward quads and 3A's more so to encourage younger skaters to try these jumps and include them in their routines. A program with quads and axels are just more exciting to watch. This is especially true in a men's competition. Lysacek deserves to win the gold but his program is so underwhelming because of the lack of technical difficulty for a male skater. Yes transitions matter but they shouldn't outweigh jumps, because if FS is a sport, then jumps should remain the most important elements.

Anonymous said...

comparing jumps to combinations is an apples to oranges comparison.

A triple/triple is worth more than a quad by itself, however there is a cap on combination and/or sequences at 3 in a long program; however, the men are allowed 8 jumping passes, 5 have to be solo jumps.

Every skate who is competitive in this era of skating is using up all of their combinations, so there is no clear cut advantage from doing a combo, everyone is gaining those same points.

The quad is valuble because it is always going to replace something of lesser value, not because it will be replacing a combination.

GeoTro said...

This is such a good post and I really agree. Men's skating is more interesting than it ever has been, because of the 'complete' skaters and the system that is inciting them to add the complexity. Before, there were individual skaters who had difficult and engaging programs beyond the jumps, but too often they were not given due credit (Matt Savoie springs to mind).

However, I agree that the value of a quad needs to be raised somewhat, to reward its singular difficulty. Also, a change is needed in how almost-rotated quads (or triple-axels, for women and pairs) are dinged. Downgrading to the next rotation (triple to double) is too severe, and doesn't reflect the skill required even to almost-rotate.

Aaron said...

GeoTro...I couldn't have said it more perfectly!

Anonymous said...

It seems like you posted this in behalf of Patrick Chan!
So why don’t you ghost-write his interview? I can understand what he says, but can’t stand his not even trying to be a little more PC!

Anonymous said...

I agree that figure skating programs these days are becoming more rounded than the past jump centric programs. However, is figure skating more popular now than before? We all know the answer is no. I have to wonder if there is any correlation to the lack of quads these days? And as long as we want to keep this sports alive, then I can't help but think that there is some merit in doing or emphasizing quads over well rounded programs. After all, we can't dispute the fact the number of eyeballs watching figure skating from the past to today is much greater. Numbers don't lie. But if we want to keep these "well rounded programs" alive so that we can sacrifice the popularity of this sports or perhaps encourage the demise of this sports, then what the heck, let's keep on doing these well rounded programs a la Lysacek/ Chan style.

swissmiss said...

Did anyone notice that the only guy who landed 3 quads - not pretty, but landed - AND had all the choreography, transitions, etc. didn't make the Olympic podium?

The base point value of the quad definitely needs to be raised!

Anonymous said...

It seems that you aim to people into thinking that system-fitting skaters always beat jumper-type skaters and that is the evolution, but it's not always true.
In 2007, both Takahashi and Lambiel landed quad. (Lambiel made two quads and a 3A!) On the other hand Joubert clearly played it safe not doing his planned second quad and that made his performance a bit insipid. So it's not simply a victory of system-fitting skaters over a jumper. I think Joubert knew the system as well as Lambiel ('playing it safe' is very system-conscious way of thinking), but his performance was just not enough.
(BTW I don't think that Takahashi utilizes the system very well. He tends to attempt the jumps which a bit beyond his physical strength and he occasionally falls victim to over-jumping combos.)
And in 2009, Joubert tried to play it safe again but the big fall on the last 2A costed him the title. Without that fall, Joubert would have won safely even though Evan and Chan delivered their very point-conscious programs.
In the end, Buttle was the only point manipulator skater who beat Joubert when he did good performance, without any help of Joubert’s fall or power-saving.
It was not an easy achievement for Buttle. His programs were best of best, and his performance was just perfect.

And when comparing Buttle with Evan or Chan, I can’t help but think it is regression.

It’s quite off-topic, but I have something think about you. It hasn’t sunk in yet that you can keep the notion in this post and the opinion in the post ’What do you think about the recent talk of inflated scores?’ or ‘Judging the Judges’ in your mind at the same time. They sound opposite to me.
Have you suddenly changed your mind because your favorite North American skater won? Reading through your recent posts and your retorts to some comments, I feel you are a bit different person now, or acting like this with some purpose.

Anonymous said...

Here here. The post above me stated it eloquently.

"And when comparing Buttle with Evan or Chan, I can’t help but think it is regression."

Talk about skating elegantly, Buttle has both Evan and Chan beat.

K.P. Kincaid said...

I could not agree with you more, Aaron!

sk8mvn said...

I think the current system definitely rewards better-rounded skaters. As someone who has always thought that spins especially are undervalued, I applaud that. I do agree, however, that the risk/reward ratio of the hardest jumps has to be addressed.

Something else that has changed that I find odd is--when did it become acceptable to just not do a certain triple because you find it difficult or don't like it? It happened in isolated cases before (like Kurt Browning not doing the flip) but now it seems to be more common, especially amongst the ladies. Ask Kristi Yamaguchi, girls, and suck it up--she hated the Salchow and did it anyway.

Simone said...

I honestly don’t understand why skaters like Plushenko insist that the others perform the quad as well. If a guy like Patrick Chan, who is already a judges’darling, had better jumps nobody could beat him. The “jumpers” wouldn’t be able to podium anywhere or maintain their spots amongst the elite. So it’s to their advantage that the CoP-friendly skaters don’t have the full package either.

However I must say that the new “well-rounded” skating as promoted lately is a total snoozefest for the viewer. It doesn’t help that the skaters are completely devoid of the charisma that someone like Jeff Buttle had, for instance. Lysacek for example makes me fall asleep- he is a good skater but he is repetitive and boring and just doesn’t have any personality on ice. (And no, I’m not on team Plushenko - I never liked him either.)

Figure skating isn’t just a sport, it’s also about performance. I love to watch the athletic guys do the big jumps, even with a long, transition-less preparation before them- it keeps me on edge: “OMG he’s going to jump a big one! Is he going to make it?” I loved Stephane Lambiel’s artistry. I love some of the Japanese guys who are so energetic and fun and not afraid of taking risks. Viewers don’t understand the CoP and can’t see why skaters who don’t shine in an obvious way are being rewarded medals. All of my skating-loving friends find Patrick Chan overrated and were baffled by his placement above Joubert at this year’s Worlds- even those who usually hate Joubert. Also, I am quite bored of this debate about transitions. To transition means to go from one thing to another- if you’re not doing anything exciting, you don’t need transitions anyway.

Tonichelle said...

what a fantastic post! I completely agree with it!

6.0's across teh board for ya! ;) Season's best, maybe even your personal best.