Plushenko at the Grand Prix Final

What happened to Evgeni Plushenko at the Grand Prix Final?  Many in the arena thought he had outskated Emanuel Sandhu in the free skate, but Plushenko ended up losing the free skate by 5.8 points and the competition overall by 3.1 points.

The short answer is that Plushenko improvised a combination on his second jump element, which was to have been a solo quad toe loop.  This rendered his third jump element (a triple Axel combination) an uncounted extra element.  Further, he omitted a triple Salchow planned in the last section of the program.  With two less elements than Sandhu, he was dead meat under the CoP system.

There is more to the story than that, and the details of the two programs illustrate many of the characteristics and weakness of the CoP system that have been written about over the past year.

At the most basic level these results at the GPF confirm some of the advise given at the PSA convention in May.  Under CoP skaters must be extremely cautious about improvising in a performance.  CoP is such a complex system that in the heat of battle it is too too easy to make a small modification to a program that has catastrophic results by rendering later elements unscored.  Second, skaters must leave no points on the table.  Every possible allowed element must be attempted with some content, no matter how lame.  Had Plushenko done even a nice double loop instead of the triple Salchow he would have won.

The match up between Sandhu and Plushenko also proves the lie that this system rewards all aspects of skating and that CoP is not a jumping contest.

Of 19 possible scoring chances (characteristics), Plushenko was rated superior to Sandhu in 11 and weaker in 6 (12 to 5 if one uses the marks from all the judges and not just the five used in the official results).  No comparison is possible for the two he did not get credit for or attempt.  Bottom line,   Plushenko beat Sandhu approx. two to one in the number of superior characteristics of skating, and yet he loses.

Plushenko was rated higher on the program components that rate presentation, higher on the program components that rate basic skating and connecting moves, equal on sequences, and higher on spins, and yet he loses.  Why?  Because Sandhu was rated higher on jumps, and only on jumps.  Sandhu wins because it is a jumping contest.

Worse yet, on a jump per jump basis, Plushenko still beat Sandhu in jumps.  The average score per jump for Plushenko's six jump elements was greater than the average per jump for Sandhu.  Sandhu wins in jumps not because he was a better jumper, but because he did two more jump elements than Plushenko.  Not only is it a jumping contest, it is a jumping contest where quantity trumps quality.  This is a fundamental characteristic of CoP.  If the skaters do not execute the same number of elements, quantity will generally trump quality.

The discounting of Plushenko's "extra" element and the scoring of Sandhu's quad toe loop combination also illustrate the inconsistent and unreasonable way CoP handles jump errors.  In the past, an extra element received a deduction of 0.1.  Many would argue that Plushenko beat Sandhu by more than 0.1 on other aspects of skating.  In the past he would have won, under CoP he is crucified.  In addition, both skaters executed quad toe loop - triple toe loop combinations, but while Plushenko executed two clean jumps Sandhu had a poor quad toe loop and stepped out of the triple toe loop.  In the past Sandhu would have lost credit for failing to hold the landing of the second jump.  Under CoP he gets base mark credit for the triple toe loop and no penalty for the serious error, since only the quality of the most difficult jump is scored.  Plushenko, however, gets no quality credit for having the clean triple toe loop.  Bottom line is, Sandhu's combination is over-scored and Plushenko's is under-scored, costing Plushenko the victory because of the mindless way CoP handles jump errors and extra elements, and scores combinations.

The ISU says it is not a jumping contest, but about 40% of Sandhu's points came from jumps and about 30% came from the three program components that rate presentation.  In the past presentation was 50% of the score, and jumps perhaps 25%.  If CoP had been constructed to maintain the well established past balance among skating skills (and did not discount spins, sequences and presentation) Plushenko wins using the actual judges marks and revised weights for each element type.

So why did Plushenko lose?

He lost because he improvised when he shouldn't have.

He also lost because punishment for some errors is unduly harsh while other errors are completely ignored.  He lost because combinations are not scored in a fair and reasonable way.  He lost because he only got credit for 12 elements vs. 14 for Sandhu, in which case quantity trumps quality.  He lost because CoP is a jumping contest that does not adequately rewards all aspects of skating in a fair and balanced way.

He lost because there are fundamental defects in the CoP point model that need to be fixed.

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Copyright 2003 by George S. Rossano