How Many Clowns Can You Fit in a Volkswagen?


You know the trick.  The one at the circus where a seemingly endless parade of clowns emerge from a Volkswagen Beetle.  Well, the current program requirements for skating have reached the point where they are a lot like the clowns in a Volkswagen.  Only the question is not how all those requirements fit in a program, but why.

It has become pretty obvious that skaters cannot keep up with everything they are asked to include in a program.  All those jumps, the spins and sequences (in slow motion now for most skaters) which take too long to complete to achieve the higher levels, the dance lifts that have been extended in time this season and still get "extended lift" deductions, all make today's programs look like so many clowns in a Volkswagen.

To deal with this, proposals are now circulating within the ISU to extend the times allowed for programs.  That certainly is one approach.  But is it the right one?  Are the skaters not exhausted enough at the end of a program now?  Are there not already enough injuries to the skaters?  Are competitions not long enough and expensive enough at is it without making everything take even longer?

Or are there instead, perhaps, too many clown in the Volkswagen?  Far more than one needs to know who is the best skater in a competition?  Would it, perhaps, be a better approach to remove a few of the clowns from the Volkswagen?  Like maybe two of the jump elements?

The eight jump elements in the Men's long program allow (read that, require) the skaters to include 12 jumps in their programs.  Up to 40% of all the points in the long program can come from jumps alone for the elite skaters.  Do we really need 12 jumps to decide who is the best skater?  Do we really need 40% of the score to be decided by jumps?

I think not.

Six jump elements, with 10 jumps total, is plenty to decide who can jump and who is the best skater.  Six jump elements are enough to include all of the triples and a few quads in a program.  Reducing the number of jump elements would give the skaters more time to complete the spins and sequences without extending the time of the programs.  Six jump elements would shift the point balance in the results away from domination by the jumps, and give more importance to spins, sequences and presentation.  Six jump elements would give the skater's bodies a break so they don't all end up as cripples by the time they are 24.

There is a reason why there are so many injuries, and why so few skaters can consistently keep their quads for more than a couple of years.  There is a reason why many skaters compete just a few times a year.  The program requirements are just too brutal on the skaters; and with no justification, it seems, other than some within the ISU appear to think the only way to prove to the world that skating is as sport is to beat the tar out of the competitors.

But no, the ISU will say.  We care!  We have age rules that prevent poor little Mao Asada from competing in the Olympics and hurting herself!  Our sports medicine experts have told us that we have to protect Asada from herself by having these age limits.

But these age limits, in reality, accomplish nothing, other than to keep Asada and other young skaters out of Worlds and the Olympics -- skaters who are beating themselves up physically, age limits or not -- and will continue to do so if nothing is done about it.

The only difference between the Junior and Senior program requirements is one less spin at Junior.  Not less jumps.  One less spin.  A Junior man is expected to do 12 jumps, and a lady 11, just like the Seniors.  The same requirements exist at Junior and Senior for triples and quads.  No break there either.  The ISU claims it is concerned about the health of the young skaters and yet its program requirements say to Junior skaters (who are as young as 13) if you want to win, go out and beat yourself up with 11 or 12 triples and quads.

If anyone really cares about the health of young skaters, then the answer has to be to make the program requirements less brutal.  Reducing the number of jump elements would be a great start.  It would not impair the ability to decide who is the best skater; it would not take the challenge out of competition; it would probably make the programs more interesting so they don't all look like so many clowns in a Volkswagen; and it would be a blessing for the skaters' health and well being.

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Copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano