Falling Stars

by Sonia Bianchetti

The 2010 Grand Prix series is over, and I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, wondering what is happening to our sport. I canít remember a season as dreary as this one has been so far. I would define these Grand Prix events as the "fallsí festival".

The year after the Olympic Games is often a disappointment for figure skating, but this one seems to be particularly dull. No doubt there has been the usual drop-off after the Olympic Games in Vancouver and injuries also played a part in this, especially in ice dancing. No returning Olympic Champions and only a few medal winners competed. Still some of the top world skaters did compete!

In all the six Grand Prix events, not one singles skater has distinguished himself or herself by putting together two strong programs. Patrick Chan fell 8 times in two competitions. But Patrick was not the only top skater to fall apart in either the short or free. Daisuke Takahashi, Brian Joubert, Adam Rippon, Jeremy Abbott, Tomas Verner, Mao Asada, Miki Ando, Carolina Kostner, Alissa Czisny, Mirai Nagasu, and Kiira Korpi, just to name a few, fell down several times as well.

Simply appalling, if we consider that all these skaters could contend for a medal either at the European or the World Championships.

The quality and the standard of the sport is going down the tubes, especially because the new judging system rewards failure. Now it is "who is the least bad". And I am afraid that it will only get worse. It looked like the competition was for how many times a skater could fall in a program, not how well a program was performed. The competition is no longer among those who skate a flawless program, but among those who fall more often and better!

In the old 6.0 system, there was a rule which said: "a jump which is taken off or landed on two feet shall not be marked". This no longer exists. Unless skating gets back to "what can I give" instead of "what can I get", the magic will not return. The skaters should be performing for the audience, not the judges! The skaters are being sickened by all these rules and requirements limiting their freedom. There is no time for self-expression and communication with an audience, and as long as the ISU persists in ignoring this, it seems very unlikely that we will get our audiences back in the near future.

Unfortunately, they keep making rules more and more forgiving of the skaters falling down. And there are no firm requirements to set the component scores, so a program can be full of errors and the component marks can still be high, if the judges want to do that. This was more than evident this year.

There must be a new rule somewhere in the ISU Regulations that states that in Program Components, a jump landed directly on the buttock deserves more credit! Otherwise, how can anyone explain marks ranging from 8 to 9 awarded by some judges in Program Components to Chan, for instance, at Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia, with three falls respectively in the Short Program and the Free Skating? Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but in my opinion, three falls just destroy the beauty and the art in any program and negatively affect the performance, the execution, the choreography as well as the interpretation, no matter how great the skater potentially may be. The same applies to Takahashi. What score will these skaters get the day they stay upright? 15? How long will it take for these top skaters to be marked appropriately? What a travesty.

The Program Components marks are only used to "place" the skaters, more or less as it used to be with the Presentation marks in the old 6.0 system. In my opinion, and not only my own, the system is much easier to manipulate now than it was in the past. We all realize that the program component scores as presently constructed do not work, while at the same time they provide a perfect path for crooks to manipulate the results.

Besides having killed creativity and originality, which is undeniable, I do not think that the present judging system is more "objective" or analytical at all.

With that in mind, what can I say about this figure skating season? Just forget it and concentrate our attention and hopes on some new very promising young skaters such as Kanako Murakami of Japan, winner of Skate America; Adelina Sotnikova of Russia, winner of the Junior Grand Prix in Sheffield and Graz; Elizaveta Tuktamisheva of Russia, winner of the Junior Grand Prix in Brasov and Dresden; and the unbelievable pair from China, Wenjing Sui/ Cong Ham, who placed second at the Cup of China and qualified both for the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Final in Beijing next week. I trust they will give us some joys and emotions in the years heading to Sochi.

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