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Skill, French Costume Failure and National Bias Propel Virtue & Moir to Third Olympic Gold

by George Rossano


(21 February) French couple Gabriella Papdakis & Guillame Cizeron, trailing by 1.74 points after the Short Dance, fought back in the free, winning the segment, but not by enough to overtake Canadians Virtue & Moir.  The 0.79 margin of victory brought Virtue & Moir their third Olympic Gold medal (in Team and Dance).  Added to their previous Silver medals, the five-time medalists became the most decorated Olympic figure skaters.  With three Golds they join Gillis Grafstrom, Sonia Henie and Irina Rodnina who all won three consecutive gold medals in their disciplines.

Virtue & Moir skated their dramatic "Moulin Rouge" routine with speed power and confidence while Papadikis & Cizeron skated their lyrical "Moonlight Sonata" routine with great presence and emotion.  As expected, prior to the Olympics, these two top couples were the only serious contenders for the Gold, and are the two great Ice Dance couples of our time.

In the Short Program Papdakis & Cizeron suffered a costume failure when Cizeron broke the strap on Papadakis's dress that was holding it up.  Throughout the full program, the couple was distracted by the possibility of the dress not staying in place and did not skate with their usual fluid freedom of motion.  They missed a level on their Pattern Dance Type step sequence, and received two 1s on their Straight Line lift.  The skaters and their coaches all indicated after the short they felt the costume failure cost then several points.  The level in the step sequence alone was 1.5 points, and the lift GoEs could have accounted for another half point.  There wasn't much room for added points in the components, and even perfect 10s alone would not been enough to make up the 0.79 points the French needed in the event to win.

Whether or not the French couple would have skated better and scored more points without the costume failure in the short, is subjective, and something skating fans can argue about for the rest of time.  The effect of national bias on the results, however, can be objectively tested.  For the Free Dance we entered the scores into the ISU calculation program and tested different scenarios.

In the Free Dance the president of Skate Canada was again on the panel, while France did not have their judge drawn.  So while the Canadian and French judges essential canceled themselves out in the Short Dance, it was not so in the free.  The Canadian judge gave Virtue & Moir nearly perfect scores, and gave Papadakis & Cizeron the lowest scores of the panel in both GoEs and components.

 For our tests we presume the French judge would have played the same game as the Canadian (which was the case in the short) and given marks the reverse of the Canadian judge.  On the panel judges 1, 2 and 4 scored the Canadians higher, judge 3 tied them, and judges 5 through 9 scored the French higher.

If the Canadian judge does not score the event, using the marks from the remaining eight judges, the French win the Gold.

If the French judge replaces the Canadian judge, the French win the Gold.

If the French judge replaces judge 1, the French win the Gold.

If the French judge replaces judge 3, the French win the Gold.

If the French judge replaces judge 4, the French win the Gold.

This would not be the first Olympic event (in all sports) that might have been decided by an equipment failure, and it probably won't be the last.  It's tragic for the French couple, but it's a part of all sport.

 It is even more tragic for the French couple, however, that this Gold was also decided by the luck of the draw of judges in the free dance and the rampant national bias that taints figure skating judging.

Copyright 2018 by George S. Rossano