Short Program on the Chopping Block?

I was on my Facebook when a skating friend of mine sent me an invite to a group called, “Save the Short Program.” I was a little confused because to date, there has been no scruples against the short program in any way, shape or form. In fact, I’d say that prefer the SP at times because it has a certain amount of predictability but what is always pleasant is when skaters and choreographers combine good skating with choreography that is fresh, unusual and well thought out. (To me, this is a fine example of what I’m talking about.) Either that or the SP is easier to swallow in case the competition turns into a total splatfest.


So, I decided to investigate and according to this article, the rumours are true. And that’s not all. The infamous Octavio Cinquanta (or $peedy as he is known in figure skating circles) wants to…

1. Cut the SP because other sports are not based on two rounds.

Aren’t there several segments of a gymnastics competition? And correct me if I’m wrong but for certain time-based events like the luge, don’t teams get more than 1 run? Then there are events like rowing and other sports where there are heats and final races. In show jumping, there’s a preliminary, final and possible tie-breaker round each with their own jumping courses, designed in varying levels of difficulty and with various time limits. The preliminary round generally separates the front-runners from the rest of the pack, while the final round is generally harder but has a similar time limit. The tie-breaking jump off course is generally short and tests the riders under duress and is used in the event of a tie-breaker (which seems to be often enough when the front-runner ride clean and well).

Similar to show jumping, the segments in figure skating tests the skaters on different things.

The short program is very structured, has very specific jumping passes, spins and step sequences and is meant to test a skater (and choreographer’s) ability to express a coherent theme with very specific elements in a short period of time. The name of the game in the SP is perfection: because of the set number of elements, mistakes are costly. You might not necessarily win a competition with a SP but you can definitely lose one with the SP (as we saw with Mao in Sochi *sob*).

The long program is designed to test the athlete’s stamina and ability to execute all the elements, interwoven in a more complex way. The LP gives skaters a chance to create a more complicated story and show the judges all the big tricks they can do. In singles skating, we can see clearly from the LP which jumps skaters are able to execute. Compared to the SP, the name of the game is doing better than your competitors and not necessarily perfection. If you look at Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan’s performances and results at the Sochi Olympics, you can see what I mean when I say this about both programs.

2. Cinquanta wants to somehow combine both programs together into a super mega ultra uber program?

We’ve heard $peedy tell us that he knows little about figure skating but he seriously can’t be this ignorant… right? (Seriously, we’ve seen this guy at skating competitions, you’d think that by now he’d learn something just by sitting there as a spectator – I mean, does he play Candy Crush on his phone during these things or something?)

Ok, Cinquanta and darling readers, let’s get educated (or at least take a refresher course for those who already know this).

A) The LP equates to a mile of cardiovascular activity.

B) In the LP, skaters can reach up to the maximum heart rate of 209 beats per minute.

C) In some spins, figure skaters can experience the same amount of G-force on their arms as a drag racer or up to 4Gs. In simpler terms, 4g is four times the earth’s gravitational force at sea level pulling at your body. According to this science site, astronauts aboard a space shuttle reach around 3.5Gs.

D) According to this ASAPScience video, a quad requires a skater to reach 350 revolutions per minute in the air while landing with around 7 times their body weight on the ice. Astronauts have been known to pass out in tests in which they spin at 320 revolutions per minute.

E) And let’s just take a moment to remember that especially in pairs and ice dancing, skaters need to do their programs and remain vigilant at all times. They have knives on their feet almost quite literally.

We’ve seen skaters about to keel over on the ice at the end of their programs. I’m not sure if they can handle anything beyond what’s already set out in the LP.

Fellow friend, Ay-sa, doubts that this suggestion would pass by the council within the ISU but it seems as if figure skating fans and specialists are taking a tough stance to this proposed change. Backed by previous champions, a technical specialist and a journalist, this petition is calling on Cinquanta’s resignation. It seems as if the ISU has gone against its constitution to allow Cinquanta to run for president again despite his age ineligibility at the next elections.

What are your thoughts on this petition and $peedy’s proposed SP cut? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside CAfe


Skating 101: Code of Points Basics

Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed my first Skating 101 post on the history behind the Code of Points (CoP) judging system. Here is my second post on the CoP. I hope it’s informative!

The Code of Points judging system is the current judging system that has been in use since 2004. After the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, the International Skating Union decided to create a new judging system that was more objective and could take better into account the difficulty of the elements in a skater’s program. I won’t go too deeply into decoding the nitty gritty of the CoP but hopefully, I’ll give you enough information to better understand the scores that skaters get in Sochi.

For teaching purposes, let’s use this performance and program by Mao Asada as a teaching example:

Let’s start with the fact that skaters are scored in two categories under the new system: Technical Elements Score (TES) and their Program Components Score (PCS).

1. Technical Elements Score (TES)

This season, you may have noticed a little box with numbers at the top left of your screen at skating competitions.

TES box

The box shows the technical elements score of the leader and what the current skater has accumulated so far. So what exactly goes into the TES?

Well, skaters are first given a base mark for the elements from the technical specialist and a grade of execution mark (GOE) ranging from -3 to +3 from the judges.The highest and lowest GOE is dropped and averaged and then added to the score. Using Mao’s program as an example, at 1:29, Mao does her triple axel (3A). From then on, the technical panel has to look at whether or not Mao has done the jump correctly with the right edges and with enough rotations.

For this particular performance, the technical panel seems to have changed their minds after she skated her program (not uncommon, if they decide to review the elements again) since the numbers I have don’t match the ones on the screen. The final judgment on Mao’s 3A was that it was underrotated, giving her a base mark of 6.00. The judging panel gives her mostly 0s and -1s for her GOE which averaged out to -0.43. At that point in the competition, Mao has then acquired 5.57 points (6.00 + -0.43).

For other elements such as spins and step sequences, the technical panel judges the difficulty of these elements by assigning it a level from 1 to 4. The definition of these levels are written by the ISU in the technical guidelines which can be found here. Each level has a base value and the judges also assign a GOE to these elements.

2. Program Components Score (PCS)

Skating is a subjective sport. Even though we want to watch skaters push their body to the limits (and trust me, they do), we also want them to tug at our heartstrings and make it difficult look effortless and beautiful. The PCS is where the judges factor in this particular aspect of the sport. The PCS is broken down into 5 categories: Skating Skills, Transitions/Linking Footwork, Performance and Execution, Composition and Choreography and Interpretation and Timing. Each judge gives a skater a score from 1 to 10 is 0.25 increments. Again, the definition of the 1 to 10 range is given in the guidelines though ultimately, the score is very subjective. The scores of each category is averaged, weighted and added together to get the PCS.

3. Are there other factors to consider in the score?

Good you asked! At every competition there is a referee who is in charge of inputting specific deductions such as time violations, costume failure and interruptions to the program. If any of these violations are invoked, it’ll be marked as a deduction from the final score. (The technical panel also has the power to input deductions for falls, extra elements, illegal elements or overly long lifts.)

Now you have a basic understanding of the CoP. Here are a few other tidbits that could be useful.

Where can I find all the information on the skaters’ scores?

For each event sanctioned by the ISU, there will be an event page that can be found on the ISU website. (For non-ISU events, like National Championships, look for the info on the website of the specific figure skating federation hosting the event.) Each competition segment will have a Starting Order/Detailed Classification page that looks like this:

GPF 2013 ladies details sheet

When that segment of the competition is over, the ISU will also release the skating protocols within half an hour on pdf as well, which is where I got my information on Mao’s 3A for this competition. The protocol lists all the skaters in the order of their rank after that segment of the competition. Here’s a screenshot of Mao’s detailed score to give a sense of what kind of information is there:

GPF 2013 ladies detailed score sheet

As you can see, each element in the program is listed, along with the level (if applicable). For a list of abbreviations, here’s a link. With the levels and the GOE, you can get a sense of how well the skater has done at a competition. So here, I see that Mao has executed 2 triple jumps and a triple loop-double loop and has mostly level 4s for her elements. Along with a positive GOE, I can see that Mao has had a pretty good skate.

As for Mao, she and her coaches can benefit from reading this sheet. In my last post, I mentioned how in the 6.0 judging system, skaters could get a specific score like 5.6 for completely different reasons? And worse, they don’t know exactly for what reasons? In this new judging system, Mao can now see that she needs to work on her triple axel (3A) to make sure it’s fully rotated next time. Her combination spin with change of foot (CCoSp) was marked as level 3 and therefore, she has to look back at the footage and see what she can do to receive a level 4. Mao could also think about seeing her choreographer to change elements to bolster her transitions/linking footwork PCS. In other words, one of the benefits of the new judging system is that skaters can now find out exactly which part of their program they need to improve on.

Some other advantages to the CoP:

1. Skaters are better credited for the content of their programs.

2. The need to “wait one’s turn” is lessened to not completely gone. New skaters are more able to make their mark and rank highly under the new system if they can skate well and garner high TES. This season, we’ve seen Julia Lipnitskaia take out former World Champion, Carolina Kostner, and win gold at a Grand Prix event solely based on TES. In the 6.0 system, a lesser known skater can skate well but the judges can more easily put veterans on the podium since the score does not necessarily tell you the ordinal or ranking a skater was given.

3. The system encourages skaters to push themselves and the sport to its limits. A skater can always try to push ahead of the pack by putting more difficult content in their program, which innovates the sport. At the last Olympics, Mao Asada was the first lady to do 3 triple axels (the maximum you can do in an entire competition for both men and women) in competition. In the ladies’ short program, all ladies were required to do a double axel as well as a triple jump and combination jump. As a result of Mao’s achievement, the Japanese Skating Federation pushed and successfully had the rule changed so that ladies can do either a double or a triple axel in the short program.

4. Although the sport is inherently subjective, the subjectivity is more clearly delineated and limited. Although the technical panel can possibly overlook some details in their calls (which there have been some claims/accusations of), the judges subjectivity is mostly in the GOE and PCS. The subjectivity in the GOE is limited by dropping the highest and lowest scores, meaning that the most common score will likely come through in the averaging of the GOE. As for the PCS, there are guidelines as to what each score out of 10 means and we hope that the judges can follow these guidelines.

A few disadvantages of the new scoring system:

1. There is still a lot of subjectivity involved, especially in the PCS portion of the score which has been used to bolster or lower skaters’ scores and consequently, rankings.

2. There’s a lot of debate about the base values of elements like the quad and the triple axel. There’s a lot of tweaking to be done with the system as it is relatively new.

3. Now that skaters are aiming to gain points, it’s a lot more difficult for coaches and choreographers to create programs that have emotional impact throughout the entire program and don’t look the same or have elements that look terrible but get a lot of points. I think I can point to Nikolai Morozov as an example of a choreographer who’s struggling a bit with this system. Although occasionally (once in a blue moon perhaps), he comes up with a gem.

4. Judges scores are anonymous which makes them less accountable for their scores. This move was supposedly done so that judges would be allowed to give scores freely without the threat of being sanctioned by their skating federation if they didn’t comply with politicking pressures/deals as seen in Salt Lake City. For figure skating fans, we know that politicking will always happen and judges will likely give in to pressure from their skating federations anyways.

5.The media seems to hate this new scoring system for having so much math. Which I think is really silly considering a similar judging system is used in gymnastics and diving. Also, perpetuating math hate and fear is not cool. Math is a language that takes practice and patience. Overall, though I think the fear is that viewers are a little confused as to what the scores mean. I mean, is 72.36 a good score? Well, yes though it’s hard to say because scores can be inflated for skaters at the top tier for a variety of reasons.

The scores at the last Olympics looked a little higher overall in the top echelon of skaters compared to the scores of the other competitions that season. Of course, we could introduce the statistical concept of the z-score but I think the media will have a hissy fit if we do. For me, sometimes, I get a sense of how good the score is by comparing it to the world record score for that segment of the competition. Being close to that score is always a good sign although, there will always be competitions where everyone skates terribly but let’s not hope for that, shall we?

This has been a very long post. If you have any questions about the CoP, please ask them in the comments! I’ll add it to the post and answer everything to the best of my ability!

For the ISU’s official summary of the judging system, check out this link.

~The Rinkside Cafe

Other Skating 101 posts:

History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System

The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System

Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics

Figure Skating Jumps

Figure Skating Spins

Pairs Skating Elements

Ice Dance