Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Olympics Controversy in Figure Skating Again as Sotnikova “Wins” Gold over Kim, Kostner

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Folks, I have rarely been as upset about a result in Olympic figure skating as I am right now.

In fact, the last time I was this upset, it was over Johnny Weir’s brilliant skate in the 2010 Vancouver games being marked too low for him to medal (he started in sixth after the short and stayed there despite his brilliant long program).

But this time, it’s because one skater — Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova — was given marks that were far, far too high, allowing her to “win” the gold medal over two far superior skaters — South Korea’s Yuna Kim, and Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

This is a controversy of major proportions for two reasons: One, Kim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, skated a clean, challenging program, but was not rewarded to the same level as Sotnikova. And two, Carolina Kostner’s program was perhaps even better than Kim’s and Sotnikova’s from an artistic perspective, yet she, too, was undermarked.

Here are just a few articles talking about the controversy:

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel says:

(Sotnikova’s) score was through the roof, 5.76 points higher than what Kim was given on another flawless-looking program and 7.34 above what Kostner received for her own tremendous program.

The judging, because of the size of the gap between the scores, is likely to be analyzed and criticized for years to come. In fact, American Ashley Wagner wasted no time, saying “people need to be accountable.”

The Age, an Australian newspaper, was much more blunt in its assessment:

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova rode a powerful wave of national emotion to win a controversial Olympic figure skating title on Thursday as the Sochi Games felt shockwaves from Ukraine’s bloody civil unrest.

Sotnikova, 17, captured Russia’s first ever women’s individual gold as defending champion and red-hot favourite Kim Yu-Na was dumped into the silver medal position.

The Age also points out that Sotnikova made at least one obvious error — double-footing a combination jump (this is when both feet come down at the same time, and is unmistakable) — when both Kim and Kostner made zero errors in their respective programs.

Kostner was gracious, being quoted by the Age as saying, “I just have faith that the judges made the right decision.”

CBS Sports quoted American Ashley Wagner, who alone among the three American women skated an error-free program to finish in seventh place, as saying:

“People don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” she said. “It’s confusing and we need to make it clear for people.

“People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”

Note that Wagner may be complaining more about the fact that Gold, who fell, was placed ahead of Wagner in the standings than the current controversy. But her point is still well-taken; if Kim and Kostner both skated difficult and clean programs, why did Sotnikova, who skated a difficult program but did not skate clean, get rewarded?

My own assessment is this: Sotnikova deserved a medal. Bronze.

Kostner should’ve won the gold, to my mind, but I’d have been OK with her winning silver and Kim winning gold because both skated clean programs with lyricism and heart.

I watched Sotnikova’s program several times. She actually double-footed two jumps (the last two) in her three-jump combo, and she also had a slight double-foot on one other triple jump. Those all should’ve had negative grade of execution scores that should’ve been reflected in her overall scores . . . but weren’t.

And while I enjoyed commentator Johnny Weir’s assessment immensely on NBCsn’s coverage — he did a fantastic job with every event alongside Tara Lipinski and Terry Gannon — I do not agree with him or Lipinski that Sotnikova deserved gold.

A few other final thoughts about the women’s figure skating event:

  1. Mao Asada had by far the most impressive skate in the long program, landing at least one triple axel cleanly and skating with a buoyancy I hadn’t been expecting after her disastrous short program. It’s truly a shame that she wasn’t able to get some sort of combination into her program yesterday, as she might well have medaled despite the bad fall had she done so. She ended her competitive career with grace and dignity; it was an honor to watch her skate for so many years.
  2. Ashley Wagner’s skate was clean; she had one under-rotation and one wrong-edge entry deduction (this is really tough to spot, but it’s when a figure skater starts the jump on the wrong edge and switches over just before making the jump in order to make it a little easier to perform), but these things happen. She looked good and validated her entry into the Olympics.
  3. Polina Edmunds had a fall in her long program and didn’t skate as well as she did at the U.S. Nationals, finishing in ninth place. (This is who should’ve been replaced by Wagner; Mirai Nagasu should’ve gone instead as I believe she’d have placed above Edmunds.)
  4. Gracie Gold had one fall that looked almost like a somersault on the ice (as she got up so quickly, you almost didn’t notice it was there). She’s a rising star.
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia had a nice free skate with one fall and was placed about where she should be in fifth place due to her incredibly difficult spins. Ashley Wagner is not happy about it (see this article by Yahoo Sports writer Martin Rogers), but Lipnitskaia’s marks were not anywhere near as wildly inflated as Sotnikova’s.

Ultimately, Sotnikova’s “gold” medal is yet another black eye for figure skating. And while I was sure as of last night that the judges would not do something like this — as they had to know a protest would ensue (Italy is not likely to protest, but South Korea sounded to me as if they’re strongly considering it) — the judges have exceeded my expectations . . . in a bad way.

Don’t be surprised if the IOC overrules this one and gives Kim a gold medal along with Sotnikova.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] As I said yesterday, I believe Ms. Sotnikova should’ve been on the podium — but in the bronze position. Both Carolina Kostner (the official bronze medalist) and Yuna Kim outskated her. […]

  2. […] As I said yesterday, I believe Ms. Sotnikova should’ve been on the podium — but in the bronze position. Both Carolina Kostner (the official bronze medalist) and Yuna Kim outskated her. […]


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