A Figure Skating Scandal A-Brewing?

The Sochi Olympics has been entertaining so far in so many ways. From Russia’s terrible anti-gay laws to the #SochiProblems reported in the Twitterverse to the terrorist attacks, I’ve nicknamed this Olympics the Clusterf$ck Olympics because so much had gone wrong even before the games even started. Now, there are allegations of another storm to pass by the Olympics in figure skating.

In a French article by l’Equipe (forgive me for the lack of accent), alleges that Russia and the U.S. have struck a deal so that the U.S. will help the Russians win the team event while the Russians will help the American ice dance team, Meryl Davis & Charlie White to win gold in the individual event. Even before the team event started, there was talk that the results of the team event would be Russia, Canada and the U.S. in first, second and third respectively while Davis and White would win the gold with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir getting the silver in the individual event. So far, the prediction for the team event has come true and apparently the Canadian skaters have been subjected to what may be an unusual number of anti-doping tests right before the competition.

Olympics team event 2014

A reader has asked me what my take on this whole situation and well, here we go.

1. I don’t know if there is a vote swapping deal but if there is, I wouldn’t be surprised. Politicking has always been a part of the sport and these days a clean skate + reputation will get you some ridiculous sores. All the major figure skating countries have had what we can call “controversial” results (i.e. Patrick Chan’s gold at 2012 Worlds, Alena Leonova’s silver at 2012 Worlds, Meryl Davis & Charlie White’s gold at GPF 2009) and the thing is: they happen all the time. It just so happens that this story gets really hot because people are paying attention to figure skating during the Olympics. Part of what figure skaters call “building momentum” is actually building a reputation for being excellent. Sometimes, that reputation comes from good skates, sometimes it comes from who your coach is (or in the case of a few ladies, whether or not you’re dating Nikolai Morozov) and sometimes, it comes from being the “it” skater with all the endorsements.

For Meryl Davis & Charlie White, they tick all three of the boxes. They have been consistent all season, they have the famous Marina Zueva behind them and they are getting a heck of a lot of endorsements this season compared to their last Olympic games. From what I have seen so far, I’d say that the competition between the two ice dance rivals should be a little closer than it is scored right now. I would’ve put Davis & White 2nd in the SD at the GPF and I don’t think that their FD from the team event deserves a world record score. There were definitely some mistakes (unsynchronized twizzles and a possible bobble on the footwork) and this was not their best skate. However, I am not a judge and I have no power to change anything. Other than that, in terms of the Olympics, I would say that Davis & White deserved their win in the SD because Virtue & Moir did make a huge mistake on the twizzles in that portion of the competition.

Overall, I think that the ISU needs to make sure that their judges take the criteria in the GOEs and PCS to heart. The subjectivity of the new judging system was supposed to be minimized because all the parts where subjectivity was a big factor (in other words the Grade of Execution mark and the Program Components Score) was very structured. Each score for these marks have corresponding criteria very carefully spelt out in the guidebook and I think it’s about time the judges follow their own guidebook.

2. Another concern I have is the director of Skate Canada, Mike Slipchuk’s, response to all of this. He says that he is unconcerned and believes that the judges will be fair. You could take that comment in face-value but I have a different interpretation. In a subjective sport like figure skating, the judges can to a certain extent play around with the rankings. There is an unspoken rule in figure skating circles that one country cannot win gold in two disciplines at the Olympics. For this Olympics, Canada had a good shot at the gold in the men’s and ice dance competition; the only difference is, Canada has never won the men’s gold while ice dance gold was clinched in Vancouver. If anything, my interpretation of Slipchuk’s stance is that he’s ok with this vote fixing, as long as it doesn’t hurt Canada’s chances in the men’s competition. If Patrick Chan doesn’t win gold, we may see Skate Canada kick up a fuss over this alleged vote fixing as we did see in 2002.

3. The Caveat: the vote fixing scandal has only been conjecture up to this point and there’s one thing that might put a wrench in the whole conspiracy theory – the fact that Russia probably didn’t need help to win the team event. Here were the scores overall for the top 3 teams:

1. Russia – 75
2. Canada – 65
3. USA – 60

There were a few somewhat unusual results in my opinion in the team event and here they are:

A) Julia Lipnitskaia won over Carolina Kostner’s brilliant and elegant skate in the SP. I would have placed Carolina in first purely on the PCS. (Change in scores: Russia -1, Italy +1)

B) Evgeni Plushenko was definitely overscored  in the men’s LP considering he had no transitions. I would have placed him 3rd overall. (Change in scores: Russia: -2, Canada: +1, Japan: +1)

Even if the above rankings did occur, Russia would’ve still won, just with a smaller margin. All the other members of the team were solid with little controversy over their placements.

As for the overall rankings that were correctly predicted even before the event started, I’d have to say that the predictions are somewhat of a no brainer once the competitors were announced. The three countries on the podium are the only countries with well-rounded figure skating programs in almost all disciplines. Japan’s success in the ISU team event, the World Team Trophy (WTT), has only been because that competition is heavily weighted on the success of its singles skaters, in which Japan is very successful at. (At the WTT, 2 men, 2 ladies, 1 pair and 1 ice dance team compete vs. Olympics 1 skater/team of each discipline.)

Once Plushenko had proven that he still has “it,” it was clear that Russia had the most well-rounded team. Canada’s only weakness was Katelyn Osmond (and possibly Kevin Reynolds if he had skated poorly) who was more in the middle of the pack. The U.S. and Japan had 2 weak flanks each: the pairs and ice dance for Japan and the man and the pairs team for the U.S. However, Japan’s weaker members were very weak while the U.S.’ weak teammates were more in the middle of the pack. Half of Team Italy was in the middle of the pack with 1 very good female skater and 1 very very weak male skater.

So, is there a controversy? I don’t know. There has yet to be concrete evidence but that won’t stop people from wondering. I think the ISU really needs some sort of transparency or a system of checks and balances so that we don’t get another scandal again. I don’t think the sport needs another scandal.

What’s your take on the possible scandal? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. msisobel
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 15:47:00

    This claim lost its credibility when it had Pechalat & Bourzat as the third team on the podium potentially put ahead of Virtue & Moir. I cannot believe any ice dance competition with Russia rigging the judging wouldn’t have Bobrova & Soloviev there instead

    Reply

  2. Craig
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 16:16:23

    Overblown rumour made by people who don’t understand how figure skating works. Just another example of anti-Russia reporting for these Games.

    I do agree with your idea of momentum and how it affects judging but for people to cry foul after every event when their favourite entrant doesn’t win is ridiculous. An outright judging scandal would be near impossible since it would have to involve so many people.

    I’m also with Slipchuk in response to all of this who had a similar response to Carol Lane and Kurt Browning.

    Now as for the doping issue, I also consider it just a matter of bad timing. Until we learn the testing schedules of all teams we can’t really complain. I know several athletes from all sports that face this all the time, especially in major events.

    Reply

  3. uggochi
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 08:09:22

    Reply

  4. suppiechan369
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 02:27:00

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post! I wonder what’s going to happen now that Yuzuru won gold instead of Patrick…

    Reply

  5. suppiechan369
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 20:55:41

    I have to admit that I’m rather heartbroken after the ice dance results today, being a long-time fan of Virtue & Moir…I would feel better if we could only be sure the judging was fair, but I guess that’s something we’ll never really know. Anyways, can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the ice dance results!

    Reply

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