(18 January 2017) Make it to Nationals, win the gold medal, off to Worlds. Not anymore. Beginning this season, winning the gold medal is no guarantee for selection to the U.S. world team.
The complex rules for selection to the world team have their origin in the U.S. Olympic Committee rules for Olympic trials. The USOC owns the rights to all Olympic trials. If selection to the Olympic team is based on order of finish at any U.S. competition, then the USOC owns the rights to that competition, and gets the revenue from that competition. Thus, selection to the Olympic figure skating team has not been based on the order of finish at U.S. Nationals, and the National Championships are never referred to as the Olympic trials by U.S. Figure Skating. This allows U.S. Figure skating to keep control, and the revenue, from the National Championships. Selection to the Olympic Team is, then, based on the skaters results from a basket of competitions of varying importance.
The process for selecting the world team is similar, but up until this season the winner of the senior events was guaranteed a place on the team. Starting at the 2017 National Championships, this is no longer the case. It was decided last summer to align the rules for Olympic and World selection. All world team selections are now based on that basket of competition results. After the conclusion of each senior event, the selections committee will meet in their "smoke filled room" and decide who to place on the team.
So why not just use order of finish for the world team?
The main difference between the Olympics and Worlds (other than prestige) is that the results at Worlds determine the number of entries a country an have at the subsequent World Championships (and in this year, the Olympic Winter Games). The federations, therefore, have a direct interest to send to Worlds the skaters they think will most likely earn the federations the largest number of entries the subsequent year and the Olympics. Many ISU federations do not base their world assignments on their national championships. Some federations use the results of their nationals to select entries to the European championships, and then base their worlds entries in part on the results of their skaters at Europeans.
In the U.S., the selection is done by committee, with each member assessing the recent competition results of the skaters with their own priorities and opinions. Whether this process is sufficiently prescient to reliably select the optimum team is open to question. More importantly, is it fair to the skaters, that after working all season (and many years) to try and reach Nationals and make the World or Olympic team, control is in the hands of a committee, or should it be in the hands of skaters themselves?
In our view, even if selection to the Olympic and World teams is to be based on multiple competition results, the outcome for team selection should still be left in the hands of the skates.
It would not be particularly difficult to construct a ranking method using the skaters' recent competition results, to determine team selection. Throughout the season, skaters would know where they stood in their quest to make the team, and going into Nationals (which would have the highest weighting in any rankings) they would know exactly how well they would have to do to make the team. This approach would allow selection of teams most likely to produce the best results, and still keep control of team selection primarily in the hands of the skaters through an unambiguous quantitative process, and not the qualitative opinions of a committee.