ISU vice-president and other figure skating luminaries discuss future of figure skating
By Liz Leamy
The International Judging System is not exactly a simple scoring method, yet it represents a golden guidebook for skaters looking to rise to the top of the sport.
"You have to work at it and constantly be figuring out what is going on," said David Dore renowned Canadian Olympic and World official and International Skating Union vice president, a presenter at the 2011 International Skating Institute/Professional Skaters Association conference in Dallas last May.
Dore, reputed to be one of the smartest and most profound international officials in competitive figure skating today, urged coaches to play their own game in terms of working with the IJS. "Everybody has an agenda and you have to play your own game," explained Dore.
The IJS was implemented in 2002, has been utilized at world-level events for more than six years. It was created in 1998 and then developed by top world officials and coaches in order to provide skaters in competition with an accurate and detailed method for scoring.
The IJS replaced the former 6.0 system, which had been used in competitions for more than 70 years until the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic judging scandal, when Marie Le Gougne, the infamous French official, had admitted to fixing the marks in the pair event.
Although the IJS is reputed to be a more refined, detail-oriented and accurate method for scoring competitors, some coaches, skaters and even fans indicate it has affected the popularity and excitement of national and world-level events. Further, it is said to be less fan-friendly in terms of its interactive television factor.
"The new system is still indecipherable for civilians," said Christine Brennan, USA Today award-winning columnist and ABC NEWS and National Public Radio commentator. "Viewers don’t feel like they’re as involved in the competition."
According to Brennan, figure skating, along with practically every other sport on television, has experienced a marked decline in terms of its media coverage, especially compared to its cataclysmic heyday during the mid-1990s.
Brennan said the media decline in figure skating has been due to the vast expansion of cable television channels, the fact that the U.S. lacks a current ladies superstar and a lack of understanding by the public sector regarding the IJS.
"These are really difficult times for figure skating in terms of the sports media," said Brennan. "[Coaches and officials] need to think about ways to make it [more] interesting."
Coaches at the Dallas conference also said the current judging system takes up too much television time and that perhaps expediting this process at live events might help more retain viewers. "If we could shorten that [time marking] gap, that would help," said John Nicks, the iconic California-based U.S. World and Olympic coach at the ISI/PSA conference.
According to Patricia St. Peter, U.S. Figure Skating president, the key to growing the sport’s popularity in the media lies at the grassroots level. St. Peter, a high-powered attorney from the Minneapolis, Minnesota area advised coaches to do several things in order to help grow the sport.
First, coaches ought to try to ease parents into skating in terms of the time commitment and money. Second, they should to encourage students to get involved in a bridge program. Lastly, they need to offer their students alternatives other than competitive skating including synch, theatre on ice and field moves, freestyle and ice dance testing.
"We all share a symbiotic relationship and we all need each other," said Peter Martell, ISI Executive Director. "We’ve got to do a better job of retaining the new-growth business so [this sport] is an affordable, enjoyable and non-eliminating thing."
No doubt, the ISU has been taking some serious measures to also help grow the sport from their end.
The ISU is described by Dore as an umbrella for the concept of skating and is responsible for the finances and global activities of the sport. Meanwhile, its national federations handle all program development for their designated countries, so they are the ones who generate the talent as well as the numbers.
According to Dore, the ISU puts approximately 35 million into figure and speed skating on an annual basis. The latter, speed skating, is a self-supporting contingent and receives 50 percent less money compared to figure skating. Over the past several years, the ISU has generated about 34 to 36 million in returns, which has put them at a break-even position in terms of current revenue.
"The figure skating income is not what it used to be," said Dore, who added that the ISU provides host World Championship countries with approximately one million to put on that event.
Meanwhile, the ISU is kicking off two new major figure skating events as a means to help increase its bottom line over the next few years. The first is a team competition, in which a group of world-team skaters will attempt elements in hopes of obtaining the highest score.
The second event is the newly implemented Ice Challenge professional competition, which will be held between the U.S. Nationals in January and Four Continents Championships in February. It will feature many former top Olympic and World champions and medalists and should help bring back a large number of television viewers.
Dore also said that the ISU is working steadfastly on refining and honing the IJS so that more people learn to appreciate and enjoy it. "The technical committee said they’re slowing down with changes, so by 2014 there will be a lid on it," said Dore, adding that he is a big proponent of the IJS.
According to Dore, the ISU technical committee has the right to make any changes to the IJS. Currently, the ISU consists of 76 countries that comprise 118 total votes, 67 of which are for figure skating. At the moment, Europe has the largest percentage of votes in the technical committee, which means it carries most of the power. "Figure skating originated in Europe and is [an old-school] European sport," said Dore.
Like any community, the inner workings of the ISU are complex and sometimes challenging, but it can work if you know how to work with it. "The culture and concept of the ISU is that it’s a team," said Dore, who urged coaches to be smart, innovative and creative in terms of utilizing the IJS.
Ultimately, coaches are the ones who can most affect the future growth of the sport, he said. "Coaches have a huge influence on people, and I hope they understand the changes they can make and influence they have on people," said Dore.
Dore concluded that in order for figure skating to survive, it needs people to be involved with the sport, a message that originates from the coaches. "Coaches are the ones who can encourage skaters to make the sport a part of their life and that is everything," stated Dore.
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