Thoughts On Figure Skating

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As we all know, I’m a die-hard figure skating fan. I have been a casual fan since I was a child but became a ‘watch every event I can’ fan probably about a decade ago now. For some reason my favorite discipline has always been men’s skating. For the time that I’ve been a big fan, for the most part, ladies skating has been very technical and less artistic than men’s skating. It sounds like it would be the opposite, but in watching skating I always observed that men’s skating seemed to have more choreography, more diverse music, and in a lot of cases, more interesting composition. After the change came to allow songs with lyrics, this changed some and ladies skating started to have more choreography and musical diversity, so it has been evening out. However because men’s skating was already my favorite discipline, I stayed set in my ways.

The past few years, however, a lot has changed about that and I find myself getting to the point where my beloved men’s skating isn’t my favorite anymore because of one thing: quads.

Don’t get me wrong, quads have been a thing in men’s skating since I have been watching. I’ll never forget Evgeni Plushenko’s giant quad jumps and the power in those beauties. I love watching skaters jump quads, because there’s something so amazing about the height and rate of speed at which they spin. I don’t even dislike quads now that they’re so overwhelmingly prevalent, because they’re still amazingly impressive feats that you can’t help be wowed by.

My issue with quads is that over the past four years or so it’s become all about the quads. Men’s skating always appealed to me because it was more artistic to watch of the skating disciplines (apart from Ice Dance, which is still my very favorite of them all) and you had artists of the ice who delivered sweeping, beautiful, emotional, happy, fun, entertaining performances that had the fans clapping along and engrossed in the charm or emotions of the skater on the ice. These days, though those performances still exist, skaters are moving away from the performance to focus on the quads. Of the top ten men, it’s a pretty even split on who is entertaining to watch and who jumps the highest and spins the fastest. Some of the best jumpers are the best performers, sure, but a fair few of the best jumpers don’t really bother giving a performance and telling a story in between their jumping passes.

Though I will not deride any skater, because they’re all very talented in their own ways, as a fan, I want to see a performance. Figure skating is ballet on ice, not gymnastics on ice. I get even more upset when some skaters are clearly capable of delivering a great performance as demonstrated by their exhibition skates but sacrifice that charm and emotion to get more revolutions in the air during competition. They skate programs they clearly don’t care about and don’t pretend to care about that make them appear bored out of their minds just because they can win with it because they’re very bouncy and spinny

Some of the best skaters in the world may never win a major medal. Some of them go their entire career never being at the top. A skater that comes to mind as one of these skaters, though he did manage his first Grand Prix Medal in the 2017 GP season, is Misha Ge. Misha Ge is easily one of the most beautiful skaters to ever skate. His performances are far more enjoyable to watch than any of the top five men in the world apart from Yuzuru Hanyu* and yet because he has no quads, he has never had half the success of men who are infinitely less pleasing to watch skate.

*Yuzuru Hanyu is the best figure skater, in my opinion, to ever grace the sport with his presence. He is exempt from basically everything I have to say about men’s skating. If there is ever a skater in the future who even comes close to the ability of Yuzuru Hanyu, I will be beyond stunned.

And it isn’t just the fact that someone who has no quads can’t do well. I’m bothered by the fact that so many skaters who have vastly superior artistic skills, not just in the visible artistry but in the details (edges, pacing, speed, ice coverage, consistency, choreography, ect.) only the trained eye can spot have no chance at ever amounting to what someone who can skate around, do some big jumps, and fulfill the basic element requirements can. But most of all, what bothers me with the quads is that an ugly quad with a fall still gets higher points than a perfect triple. I’m aware that the difficulty is exponentially higher, but it’s just absolutely frustrating to a spectator that someone with a perfect triple with +3 GOE can be outscored by a crappy quad.

I won’t bore you with all the details but an example would be how the base value for the triple salchow is 4.4 points, and a +3 GOE, which means it was absolutely perfect in every way would add a value of 2.1 points, for a total jump point value of 6.5 points. The base value for a quad salchow is 10.5 points. Even with -3 GOE, which deducts 4.0 points, that means the jump still has the value of 6.5 points. With this example, it’s worth noting that a +3 GOE is incredibly rare. Some of the most well executed jumps are in the +1 and +2 range.

The conclusion drawn is that, realistically, a bad 4S is worth more than a near-perfect 3S. And this will never not upset me.

However there is some hope for the future. There are talks about crazy changes in scoring for the future of the ISU in order to encourage more artistic skating than there is lately. I’m pretty iffy on the idea of an artistic skate and an athletic skate instead of short and free programs. I might go so far as to say I’m not just iffy, I kind of hate that idea. The most likely to be considered suggested fix is to lower base values of jumps in a way that makes the quads more fairly valued. The example scale shows that the value of the jumps in my example above would be 4.3 for the 3S and 9.7 for the 4S.

The changes already approved by the ISU for the next figure skating season are hit or miss.

The ISU already has approved changes that will impact the TES totals in men’s singles and pairs beginning with the 2018-19 season: reducing the free skate time by 30 seconds, to four minutes, and eliminating one of the men’s eight jumping passes. Because there is not a finite TES maximum like there is with PCS, removing one major element should bring the scores closer together.

The ISU also has already signed off on another scoring change for 2018-19, increasing the number of Grade of Execution (GOE) scores from seven (+3 through -3, including 0) to 11 (+5 through -5, also including 0). The interval between the scores would be set at 10 percent of the base value, as opposed to the current system, which has no standardized relationship to the base value.

I personally don’t see how that’s going to solve much of anything. If anything, taking away 30 seconds and only 1 jumping pass sounds like it will hurt the artistry of the skate more than the athleticism. The GOE changes make sense to level the athleticism playing field, but I don’t see how any of this is supposed to a help the artistic side of the sport at all. It actually increases the percentage value of GOE for quads vs triples that way.

At the end of the day, my biggest hope for figure skating as a sport is to find something that brings back the artistry in men’s skating to the level it was when I began loving figure skating. I would personally suggest limiting the number of quads that can be performed in each program. So many quads just endangers the skaters, takes the focus away from the beauty of skating, lowers the necessity to have good performance scores to win, and frustrates fans who see beautiful, moving, entertaining skates end up below stiff, boring, jump-fest programs on the leader board.

Until that day, thankfully, ladies skating has really become far more artistic and entertaining to watch in the past three or four years, and ice dance is always wonderful. So in closing, let’s just admire some beautiful ice dancing from my favorite US Ice Dance pair without the burden of worrying about quads, triples, or any jumps at all!

Author: J. Chelsea Williford

Movie addict, reader, writer, pop culture lover.

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