Changes Urged For Olympic Skating

Canada's Jamie Sale (right, front) and David Pelletier (right, rear) alongside Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, show off their gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2002. The gold medal was also awarded to the Canadian pair following a controversy in the judging of the competiton. AP

Acting quickly to reform the judging that scandalized the Olympics, the head of the figure skating union proposed a revolutionary point system to reduce the chance of vote-swapping.

The plan outlined Monday would eliminate the traditional 6.0 system and replace it with a far simpler way of grading jumps, spins, footwork and other elements based on their difficulty, similar to how diving is scored.

The proposal also calls for 14 judges, rather than the current nine, but only the scores from seven of them would count. Judges wouldn't know whose marks would be used, limiting the possibility of a repeat of the improprieties that rocked the Salt Lake City Games.

Ottavio Cinquanta, the head of the International Skating Union, called the proposals "a total revolution."

"But more importantly, I promise this system will reduce to a minimum the prospect of bloc judging," he said.

The plan would also eliminate perfection — and the magic that comes with it. For more than 100 years, a 6.0 has been universally known as the mark of perfection, just as a 10.0 is in gymnastics.

It's a mark rarely attained, but when it is, it's like a grand slam, hole-in-one and 300 in bowling put together. One of the enduring memories of the Sarajevo Olympics was the string of 6.0s running across the bottom of the scoreboard for Torvill and Dean's "Bolero" free dance.

All nine judges gave them 6.0s for presentation, a mark that hasn't been matched since — and would never be possible again if Cinquanta's proposal is approved.

Still, when he presented his reform proposal to the ISU's council Monday morning, he said there was a "consensus" to approve them.

"Great! Hooray! We're finally putting something together that may make us all feel will benefit figure skating judging," said Claire Ferguson, the U.S. member of the skating federation's council.

"It will take a while for everyone to learn the various aspects of it, because it is very technical. But I think it has wonderful potential"

The plan would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of all member federations, but Cinquanta said he wasn't sure it would be ready for the agenda at the next ISU Congress in Kyoto, Japan, in June.

The ISU first has to hold workshops to explain the proposals, and allow judges and committee members to make suggestions to fine-tune the reforms, Ferguson said.

"I think most of us want it to move quickly," she said.

Figure skating's subjective judging system has long been criticized because it leaves room for improprieties. Skaters start with a base mark of 6.0, and deductions are made for mistakes and missed elements. Skaters also can be marked down simply for the aesthetics of their programs.

Under Cinquanta's proposal, every technical element, such as jumps and spins, would have a certain point value. A double axel, for example, could be worth two points and a more difficult jump, such as a triple axel, could be worth three.

Skaters woud get points for those required elements, as well as for execution. All of the judges' scores would be added up and the winner would be determined by total points, similar to the way other subjective sports are scored.

"The judging system was possibly a bit archaic ... but we've all learned to live with it one way or another," said Robin Wagner, Sarah Hughes' coach.

But the scandal over the judging of the pairs final Feb. 11 is proof change is needed, Cinquanta said.

"It is time to find out something new," Cinquanta said.

"We are very proud of this, very proud to have tried to deliver a system for all of the sport."

Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the slimmest of margins, defeating Jamie Sale and David Pelletier despite an obvious technical error. But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day that she'd been pressured to put the Russians first, implicating her federation.

After an outcry — and accusations of vote-swapping among ice skating judges — the ISU and International Olympic Committee awarded the Canadians their own gold medals. Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely.

"In an Olympics, which is so important, all of us want to see the right result," Wagner said. "So it certainly brought some things on the table, some things that need to be addressed. If it helps, I'm all for it.

"I'm not sure if it'll ever be perfect. But if it can be better, that's a step ahead."


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  • Allison Reilly

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