Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's not the skaters, it's the scoring system

Now that we are a few days into the Vancouver Olympics, and we are a day away from crowning a new (hopefully, as in, not a repeat) Olympic men's champion, I can't let this opportunity go by without giving some of my own colorful opinions to the proceedings. Think of me as a much younger, better looking, and more comprehendable version of Dick Button (without the gold medals and skating experience of course).

In my previous post where I lamented about the absence of Michelle Kwan at these games, I think I may have unfairly snubbed some really talented skaters that are competing this year. But I think there's a reason why skating hasn't moved me in a really long time and it has nothing to do with the lack of heart, talent, and passion these skaters possess and everything to do with the new scoring system.

Don't get me wrong, I was the first person who cried foul in 2002 when Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were robbed of gold only to be given a band-aid remedy of awarding dual gold medals to make up for the corrupt back-alley dealings that had been happening for years in skating. Scores "awarded" under the 6.0 system more often than not had very little to do with what was happening on the ice. So when the system was completely scrapped in favor of a new "code of points" I was hopeful that this new system would give dignity back to this beautiful sport.

But what it gave back in dignity it took away in variety. When I watch skating now, all I can see is a system that has created robots out of skaters. In an attempt to collect the most points possible, every skater is doing the same moves, the same spins, and the same combinations. Nowhere was this more evident than in the men's short program last night. Every program was completely mapped out the same way. EVERY. SINGLE. PROGRAM. Each man jumped three times in a row, did a footwork sequence, a spin, a footwork sequence, then another spin. There was a tad bit of variety in the order of the spins and footwork sequences, but I just couldn't believe how blatantly these men were getting the jumps "out of the way" rather than incorporating them into the program in a place that they were suited to the music. I lost count the number of times I saw men completing their first jump what seemed like before the music had even started. There was no intro to the program. It was "start music, do some crossovers, JUMP!"

So last night's event epitomized for me what's left me feeling cold about figure skating in recent years. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful skaters out there who do a great job with the hand they've been dealt, but on the whole, when the program's over, I'm left feeling nothing about the actual skating. I feel happy, excited, or disappointed for the skater who does well or who falters, but the actual program makes me feel nothing.

There were two exceptions so far in this Olympics though. The Chinese pair of Pang and Tong, who won the silver medal on Monday night and who, if they hadn't been in 4th place after the short program, might have defeated the sentimental favorite of Shen And Zhao due to their PERFECT, heartfelt, and musical routine to "The Impossible Dream." I was absolutely spellbound by this team. They weren't just throwing elements into their program to collect points, they had actually put thought into what moves go with the highs and lows of the music.

The other skater was Daisuke Takahashi's short program last night. It was musical, innovative, and it stood out from the other men.

Going into the long program though, Evan Lysecek is my sentimental favorite being from the U.S. and seeing as how he redeemed himself from the disaster of his short program four years ago in Torino, but at this point, I am rooting for anyone with a name other than Evgeni Pluschenko. Not only is his skating painful to watch (other than what he does in the air), but his bad attitude leaves me wishing for Tonya Harding to be lurking somehwhere nearby. Whether it's Lysacek or Takahashi (who are virtually tied with Pluschenko even WITHOUT a quad/triple combination), nothing would make me happier than to see that smirk wiped off his face.

Even with the flaws of the new scoring system, I have to say, that despite some needed improvements, it has helped the sport. No longer do talented skaters have to "wait their turn" in order to be a champion. Skaters are no longer judged before they even step on the ice, but instead are assessed on each individual performance and each element they complete. If I had my wish though, it would be to find a way to blend the originality of the programs under the 6.0 system with the fairness of the new system. If we could do that, then skating would be a sport worth getting excited about again.

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