It will be one year in May since the ISU first announced that it was studying the potential use of instant replay in the judging of the short program. When first announced only a few sketchy details were available, and depending who you spoke to, vastly different ideas of how this might work were expressed. ISU President, Ottavio Cinquanta, has been the prime mover in this initiative with the relevant technical committee following his lead. Over the past year we have discussed the use of instant replay with officials, skaters and coaches. Most officials we have spoken to view this as a potentially useful development, although a significant minority are skeptical or are sitting on the fence. Skaters and coaches, on the other hand, seem strongly in favor of it. The ISU technical representative researching this project, Robert Moier, has been studying two systems that might be used in a test program this fall. The details of this program - as we currently understand them - and related issues are outlined below in question and answer format.
How would the system be set up?
A single video camera in the vicinity of the judges' stand would be used to record the short program performances. The video signal from this camera would be digitized and stored on a computer. For each short program performance an operator would isolate each element as a video clip. The judges would be able to view these video clips at the end of each performance.
How would the judges select and view the short program elements?
Each judge would have a video monitor at their desk and a control panel with eight buttons - one for each element. At the end of each performance the judges would push the buttons to view the video clips for the elements.
How many elements would the judges be allowed to view?
As currently described to us, there would be no hardware limit to the number of elements, or the number of times, a judge could view each video clip. In this system it would be the responsibility of the Referee to see that the judges do not take up too much time viewing the video clips. Basically, the judges could view the video clips until the Referee lost his patience.
Won't this take up a lot of time and slow down the judging of the events?
In principle it could. In practice it would be up to the event Referees to see that too much time isn't wasted. Note also that in Lausanne this year, all of the short programs were broadcast on TV, and the amount of time scheduled between performances was nearly long enough to allow the judges to view a complete replay of each performance in full, had one been available. Yes - this did make the short program events incredibly tedious at time.
How will the system operator isolate the elements?
Just like the judges, the operator will view each performance and start recording of each element when he thinks one has begun, and stop recording when he thinks it is ended. The qualifications and training of the operators have yet to be determined.
Since the judges sometimes have difficulty identifying the beginning and end of an element, what will be done to insure the operators do a better job of it than the judges?
Nothing that we know of.
What if the operator misses all or part of an element?
The judges are out of luck.
What if the operator misidentifies an element?
The judges are out of luck
What if a judge wants to view a replay of a possible extra element or illegal move?
The judges are out of luck.
Will the judges be able to view only part of an element or will they have to view the entire element?
The current system appears to offer the judges only the elements in their entirety - as isolated by the system operator.
Will the judges be able to view the elements in slow motion?
That does not appear to be the case at this time.
When will this system be put into use?
If the right hardware can be found, testing might begin this coming season. If test are successful, a system could be put into limited use for the 1998/99 season. Use of instant replay in ISU events would have to be approved by an ISU Congress. (The next ISU congress is in June 1998.)
In which competitions would the system be used?
Initially, at ISU Championships, and perhaps Champions series events. Potentially at the Winter Olympics also, but only after the system is well proven at ISU events.
What about at National events?
That would be up to individual countries' skating associations. Any country that wanted to use a replay system would have to acquire their own system and train their own staff to maintain operate it, at considerable expense. In the US, officials seem more skeptical than elsewhere and we do not think such a system would be used in the US until after it has been used in ISU events for a few years.
Is this really going to happen?
The commitment and finances for a test appear to be there. After testing, politics takes over and we will all have to wait and watch. There is no doubt in our mind that this is technically feasible - although we view the current system level concept as ill-conceived and poorly engineered. We will keep you up to date as events unfold.
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