Today I intended to write about something else like more thoughts on ladies skaters, but then certain news called my attention. I wouldn’t normally write about this, but it’s just that this issue made it into international press, so it is already huge enough and talking about it here wouldn’t really change much.
If you don’t know about it, there is a journalist called Monica Friedlander who occasionally wrote apocalyptic articles about figure skating with headlines like “International Skating Union Now Officially a Dictatorship” and “Artistic Heart of Skating Torn Out, Skaters Say”. She also writes on Yahoo groups under a nickname monicaf312.
So, what happened is that apparently she got really angry at the results of the men’s competition at recent World championships and decided to create a petition asking ISU to award a second gold medal to Denis Ten, the same way as it was done in 2002 during the infamous Salt Lake City olympics. I will not link to that petition, but it’s really easy to find anyway, as I’m going to quote certain parts of it.
This is interesting for several reasons – first of all, Chan’s victory is indeed controversial, even though I didn’t mention this in my previous posts, but there are certain parts of the score that aren’t clear enough. I’ll talk about this later in this entry. However, what is also interesting is the contents of the petition itself which are, well, how to put it, pretty much misleading and wrong. So let’s look into what Monica writes in that petition (emphasis is mine):
We believe that predetermined judging robbed a very talented young skater of the gold medal he earned. Denis Ten — the first skater from Kazakhstan to ever break into the ranks of elite skaters — delivered the program of his life on March 15, 2013. His program was not just technically difficult and flawless, but artistically exquisite as well. His scores were high and he won the long program, but by a margin so small that it allowed Patrick Chan, a perennial judges’ favorite, to win the gold yet again after skating a program marred by four major mistakes, including two falls. Any other skater would not have even been within striking distance of the podium with such a skate. Yet the judges deemed Chan't skate to be almost as good as Ten’s, and based on the combined long and short program score, awarded him the gold medal. In fact, Chan's program was also marked higher than that of bronze medalist Javier Fernandez, whose historic achievement (first Spanish skater to medal at Worlds) was overshadowed by the scandal ranging across the world.
It really strikes me that Monica not just says that Patrick shouldn’t have won the gold with such a performance, but she actually says that he shouldn’t have been on podium and she even says that any other skater wouldn’t have been within a striking distance of the podium. This claim is absolutely ridiculous for two reasons… First, Monica clearly doesn’t take into account the short program where Patrick performed absolutely great and which, along with his free skate performance, clearly allows him to be on podium by the combined total of effort. Second, Monica can’t really know whether any other skater would be treated like Chan or not, because there is no one in the world who skates like Patrick Chan at this point of time. His components are clearly superior to everyone else. And yes, I personally don’t care much about his style of skating, but if you don’t recognize his superiority in that department, it’s probably because you are just plainly biased against him.
It is in part because of this kind of judging that the sport of figure skating has seen a catastrophic decline in recent years. Audiences believe that what they watch and what the judges judge are entirely different competitions. It is little wonder that most fans become alienated, refusing to travel to events and patronize a corrupt sport that is quickly losing its last trace of credibility.
My theory on the causes of “decline” is a little bit different. It consists in that the “declining” of figure skating is generally due to the ignorant journalists and the arrogant fan community that turn off the new fans and make it impossible to stick with the sport for long. Anyway, declining of figure skating – where? Is it in North America, where, coincidentally, most of ignorant journalists reside?
What makes Chanflation and other biased judging possible is the very judging system implemented by the ISU after the 2002 Olympic scandal — presumably to make political judging less likely to happen. Instead, it accomplished the exact opposite. The judging is now anonymous, with no one knowing which judge awards which mark to which skater. Moreover, the arbitrary program component scores (PCSs) are entirely subjective. Patrick Chan is constantly awarded PCSs high enough to make up for his technical flaws. In other words, the worse he skates, the higher his PCSs need to be to save him. Under the 6.0 judging system it would have been inconceivable for a skater who made so many errors to get a perfect 6.0 mark for artistic impression. The flaws and falls distract from the artistic value of the performance. Yet Chan received higher scores for program execution than Ten, who was flawless — including an incredible mark of 9.5! What would the judges have awarded Chan had he actually skated a clean program?
Monica seems to be one of those people who confuse PCS with “artistic expression”. In reality, what can be defined as “artistry” accounts, at its best, for only 1/5 of PCS while everything else refers either to technical or choreographic aspects of program. If you also do not understand what PCS is all about, I recommend you to consult my entry on the basics of IJS, as well as my previous entries on program component score.
Then PCS is not entirely subjective… It is subjective, but not significantly more than GOEs are and there are guidelines and, more importantly, statistical evidence to support PCS.
I also don’t think that the person who uses words like “Chanflation” is an example of objectivity, probably she is much less of an example than the actual ISU judges are.
The worst part of this petition is that the scores given to Patrick and Denis are actually controversial, but Monica completely fails to point where that controversy is located. She points at Chan’s free skate program that was actually fairly and consistently scored: Chan received 92.70 for PCS at Rostelecom Cup where he finished 1st, 86.78 at Skate Canada where he finished 2nd and 90.64 at Grand Prix Final where he finished 3rd, so his PCS at Worlds 2013 being 89.28 is rather consistent with his previous scores.
The real controversy lays in short program where I am not sure at all that the gap between Patrick Chan and Denis Ten had to be as wide as almost 7 points. This is the crucial difference that determined that Patrick had to receive gold medal instead of Denis Ten, who surely deserved it, but perhaps judges didn’t give enough credit to his program components for his short program performance. But better I’ll stop here. This issue deserves a more profound analysis than what I can offer right now.
It’s just sad for me that Monica, instead of deeply analyzing this issue and raising some interesting points, had gone for old and tiring trope of “if a skater falls, he can’t be on podium” and typical misunderstanding of PCS and their role in the overall score.