Biased Judging Rears Its Ugly Head Again in Figure Skating
Folks, when I turn on the World Figure Skating Championships in any year, I expect to see great competition. I expect to see artistry, athleticism, dynamic performances, and proper, unbiased judging that’s based on what the figure skater in question actually does, rather than whether or not the judges in question like the figure skater.
I don’t always get it.
In 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, United States figure skater Johnny Weir, a three-time U.S. champion, was denied a place on the podium. There was never any explanation given for this, even though Weir arguably skated the best and cleanest program of any of the top male skaters. Other skaters who finished in front of him included Patrick Chan (5th), who fell, Stephane Lambiel (4th), who fell, and Daisuke Takahashi (3rd), who also fell but received the bronze medal anyway. Nobonari Oda, who had a skate lace break, necessitating a break in the action while he went to get a new one and a mandatory deduction taken off his score, finished just behind Weir.
Weir was able to rise above this unfair result, and has become one of the most popular, visible, and undoubtedly flamboyant figure skaters of his era. But he shouldn’t have had to do so.
Instead, he should have won the bronze that night, and be known forever after as an Olympic medalist.
Today, there were two biased and inexplicable judging events at the 2013 Worlds. (Note that Weir, being injured, did not compete in the U.S. Nationals, much less this particular competition. But he did take in the action. More on that later.)
The first problematic judging was seen in Friday afternoon’s pairs event, held in London, Ontario, Canada. German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skated a flawed, yet entertaining program that normally would’ve landed them in fourth or fifth place if the skating alone had been judged. However, they were instead held up by remarkably high program component scores — what used to be called the “artistic presentation” scores — and won the silver medal over two more deserving Canadian pairs, Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford and Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch. The Canadian pairs had to settle for third and fourth place, respectively.
Universal Sports Network’s color commentator, Peter Carruthers (himself a silver medalist at the 1982 Worlds and the 1984 Olympics in pairs), couldn’t believe it. He even said — rare for a commentator — that he felt the PCS scores had been “padded” to help Savchenko and Szolkowy out.
But that, bad as it was, paled compared to tonight’s fiasco in the men’s singles competition.
Denis Ten of Kazakhstan went out and skated the performance of his life in the men’s long program. He was by far the best and most entertaining skater, and — more importantly — he didn’t fall. And Ten won the free skate . . . but somehow still finished second to Patrick Chan of Canada. Despite Chan’s two outright falls, three double-foot landings, and several jumps that looked to the naked eye as if they were under-rotated in Chan’s long program, Chan — just like Savchenko and Szolkowy before him — was “held up” by overly inflated PCS scores.
And what’s so silly about this is that Chan had a very good short program. That gave him a lead of nearly ten points going into tonight’s free skate. Due to Ten’s brilliant program, Chan’s lead would’ve evaporated if he’d been judged fairly. Especially considering all the times Chan fell, double-footed jumps and otherwise looked like he was sleepwalking through his program. Which was pretty much all of the final three minutes and thirty seconds.
Sure, Chan landed two quadruple jumps early on. (Ten, to be fair, did only one.) But other than that, Chan did not look like he deserved to be on the podium tonight, much less win the gold medal.
Much less be what he is right now — a three-time gold medalist at the World Figure Skating Championships, despite falling several times during his 2012 long program as well.
The only way I can reconcile Chan’s standing with the judges compared to what Chan actually does on the ice is this: The judges seem to have a love affair with Patrick Chan. They believe he has superb skating skills — which, to be honest, he does. (Not better than several others in the field tonight, but I’ll grant that he’s among the top five or six in the world among current, competitive “amateur” skaters.) They appreciate his artistry, far more than anyone outside of Canada does, and they reward him for it.
To the detriment of other skaters.
What’s really frustrating about tonight’s judging fiasco is that, lost in the shuffle, Brian Joubert of France skated a powerful, clean program that should’ve landed him in the top five — if not garnered him a place on the podium with a bronze. But the judges put his PCS marks down and did not give him credit for what he actually accomplished — shades of what they did to Weir in Vancouver in 2010.
Which is why Joubert, who skated very well — much better than many others, including Patrick Chan — landed in an undeserved spot, finishing in ninth place.
That’s just not right.
Other than that, Max Aaron of the United States came in seventh — good for him, especially considering tonight’s abhorrent judging — and Ross Miner did not do well at all, finishing in fourteenth place. (The crew at Universal Sports didn’t even show his long program, more or less conceding that it wasn’t very good.) This may have been Miner’s only shot ever to skate at the World Figure Skating Championships, as both Weir and former Olympic, World and U.S. Champion Evan Lysacek plan to compete for the two spots available for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in addition to three-time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott (who finished third at this year’s U.S. Nationals, barely missing a chance to compete at the Worlds) and, of course, reigning men’s champ Aaron.
At any rate, it’s not just me who’s frustrated and upset by the men’s event tonight. Here’s Johnny Weir’s take, from Twitter:
This judging is ridiculous and the only reason people buy it is because it’s in North America. Imagine the outcry if it were Russia+Plush!?
Then Weir posted this:
Earlier in his Twitter feed, Weir also had kind words for Brian Joubert:
Brian Joubert’s performance was the most encouraging of the night. Our generation can still do it. 🇫🇷
Weir wasn’t the only well-known figure skater publicly left scratching his or her head regarding tonight’s judging. Here’s what United States figure skater Christina Gao had to say:
Then, after Ten was inexplicably robbed of his rightful gold medal, she posted this:
So if two really fine figure skaters think there’s something wrong, there probably is.
Clean it up, International Skating Union. Or soon, figure skating as a sport will be considered no better than World Wrestling Entertainment.
Fun to watch, sure. But . . . dare I say it . . . fixed.