Sunday, April 13, 2014

From A Life Lived On The Edge - A Modest Proposal

 "I grant this food may be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children."

Much as Jonathan Swift, who wrote the original essay anonymously in 1759 to mock the heartless attitudes of the hierarchy towards the poor in Ireland, I was going to make this  piece my own form of Juvenalian satire - "contemptuous and abrasive, addressing social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule. This form is often pessimistic, characterized by irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invective, with less emphasis on humor."  Somehow, that wasn't me. I try to be funny, occasionally glib but with a point - you know, the way I have written for so many years when talking of things I feel passionately about in skating. However, events of the past seven weeks have made me rethink my approach. 

You know that I have been a "modest" supporter of IJS. I am a realist. The 6.0 system is gone, so we need to make the best of what has been handed out. Since the original COP-cum-IJS was instituted in 2003, incessant tuning and tweaking has taken our sport to a place I not only strongly disagree with, but I truly feel will ultimately kill it, if it doesn't kill our athletes first. The latest problems became abundantly clear this Olympic season, though they had started to rise from the ashes of 6.0 a long time before. Programs have given way to a battle for points; with a few exceptions, skaters and coaches are being rewarded for being good mathematicians. Music is redundant and, in a majority of cases, seems to be superfluous to the smelly-foot spins, mechanical movements and flailing footwork. I thought this was supposed to be the "art and sport" of figure skating. 

We should have seen this coming. I don't think any of us wanted to believe it.  I was in denial until I saw what was going on, live and in person, from the stands in Sochi. And it wasn't just our skater's epic fall that resounded around the world; it wasn't just watching Plushenko crumble under the weight of his injuries. It wasn't watching mathematics defeat magic, or flailing defeat form. It was ALL those things that came together in one Perfect Storm on the Black Sea. 

I pondered this for a long time afterwards, mostly at 3AM. What insidious thing has taken over since 2003 to bring us to this point? What series of carefully placed monkey wrenches has been thrown into the mechanics? I started looking at programs closely.
"After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points."
  1. Skaters are over-training and injuries are overtaking the sport 
  2. Math appears to be the only prerequisite to doing well
When did this start? Well, of course it began with the new scoring system, but it took a stratospheric leap, so to speak, when one rule was instituted - bonuses after the halfway point in a program. 
"As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation."

If you are one who is only interested in the math, be it a coach or a skater, in my humble opinion a dangerous precedent has been established. Push yourself through. Forget choreography; don't worry about presentation. Break out the abacus and start ticking those little beads from one side to the other. It doesn't matter if you fall. You started with a high base mark. "Calculated" risk is worth taking. Jump...jump...jump, jump, jump. If you need to relate to the judges or the audience, simply exaggerate your arms, point, wink and shake your booty. It doesn't matter because those little boxes are filing up. And a beautiful thing is being lost in the process.
 "I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection."

So, with apologies to Jonathan Swift, here is my "Modest Proposal" to the ISU:
  •  Rescind the rule of bonus points. It is causing skaters to either attempt things they shouldn't be doing, or making them abandon choreography in favor of a higher score which is contrary to what the "art and sport" of skating is all about.
  • Institute a form of the "Zayak Rule" for jumps that limits quads to one in the short program and two in the freeskate. No more. No plus points for having them late in the program. 
  • Make skating to the music worth something. It's supposed to be worth something.
  • Somehow give acknowledgement to clean programs.
  • Stop the practice of submitting program content in advance as it telegraphs a "bias" to the judges and the technical referees before a program is even presented. Score what you see, not what you think you're going to see.
 There you have it. My opinions are mine, as unsophisticated and uneducated as they may be, I firmly believe they are modestly reasonable. 

Of course, if the ISU eliminates the short program all of this will be moot. Because, like a master chef who readies his knife to surgically slice the fresh young meat he's laid upon a slab of ice while administering his final cuts, skating will be poorly served - not as an amuse bouche, but as entrails - the remains of which will be set upon the floor as scraps, to be devoured, spit out and then forgotten.
"A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter."
Food for thought.


  1. Well put.... and who are all the " king and queen" makers... what do they know... and what is their reward..... ? Money under the table?

  2. I agree. I'm worried about all the injuries the skaters are incurring. And goodness knows, the scoring system is massively flawed.

    Let's fix this. (Keep the short program. I like it. But yes, limit the quad jumps. And give more points for artistry. Jeremy Abbott and other skaters like him deserve to get more credit for what they're doing -- making programs beautiful and interesting to watch with some great skating, besides -- and right now, they just aren't.)

    BTW, I'd hoped there would be some reform after Johnny Weir's wonderful performance at the Vancouver Olympics that wasn't rewarded . . . but there hasn't been. (If anything, things have only gotten worse. And that's wrong.)

    Let's *fix* this.


  3. Couldn't agree more! Another result of the new system is that most programs have become boring to watch. Give me a graceful spiral or an Ina Bauer which lasts longer than 2 seconds, a spin with pleasing positions which I have more than 2 revolutions to enjoy and appreciate!!

  4. 1) Make the quad a separate event. What percentage have been landed since Kurt Browning did the first one 25 years ago? Compare that to the success rate of the triple.

    2) No points at all for rotating a jump that ends in a fall.

    3) Adding to the Elaine Zayak rule, I propose a nameless Canadian World Champion rule. For seniors, the first fall should be a 2 point deduction, the second 3, the third minus 5, the fourth 8, etc.

    4) There is scant difference between the short & long programs anymore. Somehow the "free" program needs to be freed from the shackles of the "well balanced program" rules.

    My final point is one I've thought about a lot lately. The reason programs in the past were so much more interesting is the top skaters demonstrated so many different ways a body could move, other than just rotating. In addition to the aforementioned examples, remember Russian split flips & Lutzs, layover camels, one-foot Axels, deliberately slow spins held seemingly forever? No wonder all the programs, today, look the same.

  5. All I know is that after a life long love affair with figure skating, I no longer care to watch the competitions. Doesn't the fact that these events are no longer shown on network TV tell us something about what has been lost?