At the 1972 Winter Olympics, Trixi Schuba reigned surpreme and won the Olympic gold medal based on her exemplary compulsory figures. Though certainly competent, her free skate was well below the top five and very arguably did not have the same passion or presentation of her rivals. Figures were simply where she excelled and Schuba's win was made a scapegoat for years as the reason why figures 'HAD to go'. After all, free skating was where it was at, right?
Over twenty years after school figures were last contended at a Winter Olympics, the best free skater (in my opinion) still didn't win. Russia's Adelina Sotnikova skated a medal worthy free skate replete with triple after triple, but in any layman's eyes it was evident her skate lacked in the performance department as compared to silver and bronze medallists Yuna Kim and Carolina Kostner... and many others. The meteoric and suspect rise of her PCS scores in a short interval, the fact she got caught on candid camera hugging a Russian judge married to the Russian federation president after the event was over, the fact that formerly suspended (for cheating) judge Yuri Balkov of the Ukraine was on the panel, the takeoff edges of a couple of Sotnikova's jumps... something smelled like burnt toast, Dr. Penfield.
A petition to the ISU expressing concern with the Olympic ladies free skate judging earned over two million signatures on Change.org (breaking site records) but still it fell on deaf ears, the ISU opting to stand by their thirty minute rule that requires all protests to be submitted within thirty minutes of an event's conclusion instead. Who the bejesus can submit a two million person signature in thirty minutes? That's even a stretch for Twitter. The ISU kept as quiet as possible: Cinquanta expressed surprise at the hint of a scandal and then the ISU kept silent. People pointed a condescending figure at Yuna Kim's legions of Korean fans. "They're the only ones who are freaking out" was the quiet sentiment of some fans. Then the Russian federation opted NOT to send Sotnikova to the World Championships, instead sending a young up and coming skater. Many skating fans expressed concern with this choice, hypothesizing that the decision not to send Sotnikova only reflected on the Olympic Gold Medallist's scoring at the Olympics. If she skated brilliantly and finished off the podium in Japan, how high could people realistically raise their eyebrows?
To some, it didn't matter. There was an explanation... the blindest eye turned. 'The extra triple jump! The levels! The grades of execution! Yes, the judging system was right.' They rewarded the best floor exercise, God love them. I respectfully have to ask these people what event they were watching. If the judging of skating rewards a performance like that over Kostner's or Kim's... You know what? We shouldn't shut up about it just because the ISU has. In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett played the role of Jasmine, a woman who slowly descended further and further until she'd reached rock bottom. At the end of the movie, Jasmine left her sister's apartment to go talk to herself on a park bench. I feel like Jasmine and the ISU have much in common. They've hit that low. Sadly, they both just decided to go with it.
The only three solutions for anything to change appear to be these:
A. For people to have the balls, long after the Change.org petition first circulated, to circulate it again to raise its profile and gain more signatures. If you share it on Facebook or Twitter, tag me in it so I can give you a high five!
B. For people (even audience members) to start protesting results with petitions submitted to ISU judges within thirty minutes of an event's conclusion. Bring your pads and pencils. I'd love to see them have to address an eleven signature handwritten petition submitted within fifteen minutes.
C. For people to continue the dialogue about the judging system. It's interesting, you know. I interview skaters constantly, and I often ask people about the current system of judging. I've had so many intelligent and varying answers, but the fact that people - people who know a thing or 6.0 about skating - believe things need to improve and change is fairly consistent. Skating deserves better, and until we speak up about it and don't let Sotnikova's Schuba win resign itself to the books like Chan's win over Denis Ten at 2013 Worlds did, then we are keeping an important dialogue going. Who says something has to die when the ISU and media drop it? Last I checked, it's over when we decide it's over... which isn't anytime soon.
On a side note, I've got another thing to say about Adelina Sotnikova. She's a really good skater. Most Olympians are. Interestingly, at the same time I wrote "Getting Up And Saying No, Part 2" (you know, the article about bullying skaters that went over famously everywhere but the Figure Skating Universe forum), Mao Asada stood up to her bully and no one flinched and Sotnikova was the target of some of the cruelest shade going. Last I checked she's a teenager and a top international skater. I might not agree with her win, but attacking her personally is insanity. Last I checked all she did wrong was skate well in front of the wrong judges. It's up to the judges to the skaters to skate their best and the judges to do the right thing. Sotnikova kept up her part of the bargain, and if hate speech is your bag, god bless you and your internet pseudonym. I bet it brings all the boys to the yard.
Let's look at the positive though. As much of a head trip as the "IJS" is, next season men's, ladies and pairs skating's rule changes will afford skaters the chance to use lyrics in their programs... which means that whoever chooses "Carmen" with the zillions of new music choices now available deserves an extra bewildered look. I will not rest until I see a senior men's free skate set to a Donna Summer medley that includes "Last Dance", "Dim All The Lights", "Hot Stuff" and "She Works Hard For The Money" with some of that 'u-ah u-ah' Ricki Lake noise business edited in. And a RuPaul medley. That needs to happen too. Why? Because this sister said so.
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