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."
- Skaters are over-training and injuries are overtaking the sport
- Math appears to be the only prerequisite to doing well
"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.
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.
Food for thought."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."