Anna McGoldrick's musical tours aren't the only unnerving thing to come out of Ireland recently. When it comes to the push to reform the current state of skating, part of me feels compelled to offer some comment on the recent #CinquantaGate vote at the ISU Council in Dublin to retain anonymous judging. Another part of me just doesn't want to talk about it anymore. I wouldn't say I'm throwing my arms up in the air in exasperation. I'm simply accepting the reality that the governing body of figure skating continues to demonstrate zero desire to change or address the issues that are pissing off the general populace.
JANINE IN APARTMENT 3B
Imagine you lived in an apartment building and the landlord's daughter lived in apartment 3B. We'll call her Janine. After being 'that person' who complained to the landlord ten times about their disruptive daughter making too much noise, nothing happened and nothing was done. When an effort to voice your concerns ultimately is treated with dismissal time after time, a time does come when you have to say 'this isn't going to change. I'm moving on.' Are we even remotely surprised things went down the way they did with the ISU Congress vote on Anonymous judging and the dismissal of the Korean Skating Union's grievance about the ladies results in Sochi? No. Are we surprised that South Korea (the country that submitted the protest against Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva) voted to KEEP anonymous judging? To say that it is perplexing at best is an understatement. We couldn't feign surprise however if we were in the shoes of the tenant packing their belongings in boxes as Janine stayed put in apartment 3B banging on pots and pans at all hours of the morning.
In my opinion, anonymous judging is completely unacceptable and unaccountable. Transparency is really the only fair way to go. I think the cookie cutter choreography, aesthetically craptacular spins and awkward looking footwork sequences IJS has inspired are pretty unpleasant too for the most part. That said, figure skating is not dead though nor is all of the skating coming out of IJS skating poor. All it takes is - for example - watching Jason Brown's free skate at 2014 Nationals to see that all has not 'been lost'. There are a million other examples of skaters who have excelled and skated masterpieces in a judging system that almost seems to work against creativity in choreography. I think with lyrics next season, we are going to see many more. Still with those who flock above the sea of sheep, who's to say if they'll earn enough points with their Riverdance or Bolero or Lilies Of The Valley to finish ahead of a fourteen year old with some kickin' triple/triples flailing their arms around in a complete disconnect to their music?
One part of the solution as I now more clearly see it is not to attempt to lobby these federations and the ISU to reform what they clearly seem to think is just fabulous anymore. Like Janine's mother (the landlord) they don't all really seem to want to hear it, now do they? After all, who are we but the people paying their bills by attending events, keeping figure skating in the public consciousness and paying for subscriptions to sites like IceNetwork, right? What do we know?
As I alluded to though, there is a solution right now and that solution comes from professional skating. If even five to six live professional competitions with none of these IJS rules and judges that are well known former skaters and coaches resurfaced again, we just might be onto something. Why can't the PSA revive the U.S. Open? Where's the next Candid Productions or Michael Burg? Now - let's look at the good once again - YAS, Quest For Creativity, ice theatres, Sun Valley, Stars On Ice, all the great shows in Asia right now... Artistic skating is indeed alive and thriving in various formats and we owe very much to the people who are making that happen. Translate that into a competition model (or a professional Grand Prix type series) without a million rules that allows skaters to prudently and creatively present work that's uncluttered and entertaining while still challenging them technically but not promoting a quad race. Why not? Why not give skaters an alternative? Not a pro-am sanctioned by the ISU, not an adult competition run by the ISU that forces professional skaters to be judged by this system of their own design... But honest to goodness professional competitions that have nothing to do with the ISU or any of its member federations. To prove that an event like this would be successful, I'm going to invent a fictional professional competition.
Let's say someone funded an event similar to the Landover World Professional Championships that survived and thrived for decades. In 2014, who would compete? The possibilities are endless: Alexei Yagudin, Jeffrey Buttle, Stephane Lambiel, Johnny Weir, Evan Lysacek, Shawn Sawyer, Joannie Rochette, Surya Bonaly, Kurt Browning, Shizuka Arakawa, Sasha Cohen, Kimmie Meissner, Sinead and John Kerr, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, Ryan Bradley, Philippe Candeloro, Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis, Zabato Bebe, Adam Blake, Ilia Kulik, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Sarah Meier, Laura Lepisto, Irina Slutskaya, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, Michael Weiss, Elvis Stojko, Alissa Czisny, Takeshi Honda, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski and countless, countless others who are actively performing in shows could easily fill out those rosters. Take many crazy talented skaters who have recently left or are still among the ISU ranks and would easily flourish in a professional format and you have an easier crazier competition... skaters like Jeremy Abbott, Yuna Kim, Carolina Kostner, Patrick Chan, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Akiko Suzuki, Mao Asada, Rachael Flatt, Daisuke Takahashi, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Alena Leonova, Tomas Verner, Brian Joubert, Evgeni Plushenko. I purposely included dozens of skaters here and could have gone and on and on. The fact of the matter is that there is a very real case for professional skating competition in 2014 and no shortage of skaters who could really shine if it came back. The skaters could have complete technical and artistic freedom to include the jumps they wanted to, feature moves like backflips and Detroiters and use props, costuming and lighting that allowed them to fully express their music, skate entertaining programs and draw the audience in. I think we really have to critically think about what we want to SEE in a figure skating competition to realize that professional skating competitions returning are the answer.
Last year, I wrote a three part article called Return To Open Pro Competitions (part one, part two, part three) that took a very in depth look at the U.S. Open, Jaca World Professional Championships and American Open. In putting these articles together, I heard so many wonderful arguments for just why OPEN professional competitions would work in this day and age as well:
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
When asked what figure skating is missing by not having open professional competitions like the U.S. Open and Jaca World Pro available to skaters of the current generation when writing these articles, the answers were RESOUNDING. Author and CBC Sports commentator P.J. Kwong explained that "the thing that I always liked about the old pro-ams and even just the pro competitions is that it gives us a way to see our favourite skaters perform in a way that isn’t simply show skating. I think that bringing a legitimate pro competition to life would give skaters the chance to train with a goal in mind without having to commit for additional seasons. Good for the skaters who want to do it and great for the fans (like us) who would love one more chance to see them compete.” Debi Gold said "There are a lot of chorus and understudy skaters in Disney On Ice and Holiday On Ice that would love to do competitions like this. It would only help lift them to higher ranks in their touring companies. They have only their amateur laurels to rest on. Touring companies could send scouts to check out the competitions for new talent! Plus, having application only (rather than invitation only) pro competitions gives other pro skaters (not just high level pros) a chance to compete again - especially when they are medium-size fishes in small ponds like I was." Anita Hartshorn, who with partner Frank Sweiding won the pairs title at the 1988 U.S. Open and 1990 Jaca event, said "in my opinion, the lack of pro competitions has really hurt the popularity of our sport. Most of the skaters who are ready to leave the 'eligible ranks' but still would like to compete have nowhere to go. All professional skaters have less possibilities to expand their untapped potential of theatrically slanted competitive programs. Now that the ISU has approved the pro-am Japan Open, there is at least one competition for the audience to see their favorite skaters like Kurt Browning and Surya Bonaly compete. It doesn't matter how many shows you do, the feeling of doing a competition is different and everyone prepares harder for an event where you get judged." Former Jaca and U.S. Open competitor Craig Heath said, "I think there is a huge void. I was so fortunate to be able to participate. I have some of the best memories of my life from these competitions. I feel sad that the current skaters are not able to have that experience." Former Jaca competitor and U.S. Open Challenge Cup champion Doug Mattis said of professional competitions, "Absolutely there should be more pro skating competitions! I would love to see more that are specifically focused on artistic achievement... as well as some that would be specifically about jumps — like a skating version of golf’s "skins game." You land that triple axel the most times? You get the money. I think that kind of format would be fun—back-to-back with an artistic event."... And the message continued to come through loud and clear from every skater I've asked this question of. The figure skating world is ready for professional figure skating competitions to make a comeback and you're crazy if people think otherwise.
YEAH, WELL WHO'S GOING TO DO IT? HUH?
So you're sitting there reading this thinking "well, this is all well and good but who's going to put these competitions together? You didn't think about that, did you?" For years, the Professional Skaters Guild Of America and later the Professional Skaters Association financed the U.S. Open competition. Television stations like FOX and CBS could potentially be receptive to broadcasting events such as these that provide great entertainment and are relatively low cost to produce as compared to high budget series, reality shows and sporting events. They did for years and years before. The game's changed with the internet now too. There's no reason at all professional competitions couldn't live stream from a website... and viewers could even have a live vote like on the Great Skate Debate and in YAS. Touring companies like Holiday On Ice or Disney On Ice or even Stars On Ice could put something like this on. There's Scott Hamilton. He tried to get something going as well. I think the ticket is not trying to co-operate with the ISU to make these events happen, it's just accepting that there's always going to be frustrations when it comes to anything Cinquanta has his hands in and like a true autocrat, he has no intentions of going anywhere until he's good and ready. If the prize money was minimal and an event like this was minimal to start with, I don't think it would cost a fortune. If you'll excuse me I guess I'm going to have to scare up a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel who wants to 'save figure skating'. I'm not sleeping with him though. One of you guys is going to have to do it.
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