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.