Saturday, December 1

Grand Prix Final History: 'Super Finals' Mess; Greatest Mens Performances Ever

On my soon-to-be thought out list of stupidest things the ISU has ever done, the format used at the Grand Prix Final competitions from 2000 to 2003 would rank quite high. For those of you newer to the sport or maybe just in need of a quick refresher, I'll give a brief explanation.

The competition had three segments to it: a short program/original dance (which is now the short dance), and then two free skates/free dances. In the 2000 and 2001 Finals, the total factored placements after the first two segments of the competition determined head-to-head match-ups for the 'Super Final' rounds.

In 2000, these Super Finals pitted first vs. second place after the first two rounds for the gold medal and then third vs. fourth place for the bronze medal. The rest of the skaters were out of the competition. In 2001, the pairs and dance disciplines added a sixth entry to qualify to the Final (it was previously five), and with that came a Super Final fifth vs. sixth place competition in addition to the first/second and third/fourth that had been used the prior season. The formula is very reminiscent of a situation Kristi Yamaguchi found herself in during a pro-am competition in the mid-90's, where she competed against herself for third place after a withdrawal and had the best artistic program by far. A normal 6.0 factored placement format would have given her the title in the competition.

In 2002 and 2003, the three-round format remained, but there were no head-to-head battles in the final round. Ottavio Cinquanta (yes, he was still in power back then) thought the idea of a second free skate/dance for these four years would encourage more viewership because skaters could potentially come up with brand new programs to debut at this competition. That didn't really happen for the most part. We saw previous free skates used over and over (I think Maria Butyrskaya used Otonal for four years and also Petrova/Tikhonov used The Four Seasons for four years, if I remember correctly).

The problem with the three rounds of competition was that in many instances, skaters or teams were having to perform two programs in one day-- one in the morning and then one later that night. No other competition (aside from the qualifying round at the World/European Championships) asked for two free skates. I don't think the skaters or their bodies liked the idea too much, and it was done away with starting with the 2003/2004 Grand Prix Final. This was also the first Final to use the IJS scoring method.

Now that my gripe is out of the way, I have to say that I am absolutely amazed at the amount of superior performances we saw from the men in the 6.0 days of the Grand Prix Final (particularly Yagudin and Plushenko). Here are some of the most memorable skates:

Elvis Stojko - 1997 Champions Series Final Free Skate
This includes the first ever quadruple-triple combination done in competition, and he did in front of a home-country audience.

Evgeny Plushenko, 2000 Grand Prix Final Super Final Free Skate
Blew this competition out of the water and looked to be a heavy favorite for the World Championship title before the meltdown in Nice. Four 6.0's and one judge even gave 6.0/6.0.

Evgeny Plushenko vs. Alexei Yagudin, 2001 Grand Prix Final Super Final Free Skate
Two quad toe-triple toe combinations from Plushenko, one with a double loop on the end for good measure. Look what Yagudin followed that up with. We were so spoiled with these two.

Alexei Yagudin vs. Evgeny Plushenko, 2002 Grand Prix Final Second Free Skates
This entire competition was so close between the two leading into the Salt Lake City Olympics. So much excitement and intensity! This is the only time Plushenko skated this particular program, by the way.

Evgeny Plushenko, 2003 Grand Prix Final Second Free Skate
Just when you thought you'd seen enough-- this may be Plushenko's greatest performance of all time.

Which was your favorite?

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