Sunday, January 27

Nationals Inflation: Was it in Full-Force in the Wagner vs. Gold Battle?

We see it in Russia. We see it in Canada. We see it in a lot of places outside the United States, so this particular phenomenon isn't exclusive to my homeland. Judges will boost up the skaters' grades of executions, element levels, and program components to give them scores they would never achieve in an international competition (and I'm in no way suggesting that all of those judges are completely competent).

Why, though? Well, maybe a Federation has favorites that they want sent to Worlds, or maybe they just want the clear favorites to come away with such a high score that it creates a buzz. Whatever the case, it's not realistic and I can't think of any reason that it benefits any skater aside from the short-living 'high' they may get, only to be placed back on planet Earth come the big competitions.

In comes the 2013 US National Championships and the battle at the top between Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. Wagner, on the official scoresheet, ended up winning the competition by a little over two points. Gold, who came all the way back from 9th in the short program, settled for the silver. Many in the arena and online didn't agree with their placements, so I decided to pull out my trusty calculator and do my own mock judging-- something you've seen me do plenty times before (to your approval or complete disdain, I am sure!)

Let's start with the short programs. First is the element name, second is my grade of execution, and third is the total amount of points earned for the element with my grade of execution.

Gracie Gold
3F/3T -3 6.10
3Lz +2 7.40
1A -3 0.50
FCSp4 +1 3.70
StSq3 +1 3.80
LSp3 +2 3.40
CCoSp4 +1 4.00
Total Element Score = 28.90

A few notes here. The triple flip is done on an outside edge. Combine that with the fall on the latter jump, obvious -3. Single Axel also warrants an automatic -3. I actually had the Lutz a bit higher than the judges, but in the end we were right in line. No arguments so far, as she got 28.74.

Next, the program components. My score is the first number. The number in parenthesis is the average score given by the judges.

Skating Skills 6.50 (6.93)
Transitions 6.25 (6.39)
Performance/Execution 6.25 (6.32)
Choreography 6.25 (6.71)
Interpretation 6.00 (6.57)
Total Components Score = 25.00 (26.34)

I'd have skating skills, choreography, and interpretation all about a half-point lower. She still skates like a junior in this program, and she has a ways to go in her skating skills. Still, not a huge difference considering possible Nationals inflation.

Deductions = -1.00

Total Segment Score = 52.90 (54.08)

1.18 points lower for me.

Ashley Wagner
3F/2T +2 8.00
LSp2 +2 3.70
CCoSp4 +2 4.50
2A +1 4.13
3Lo +1 6.31
StSq3 +1 3.80
FSSp2 0 2.30
Total Element Score = 32.74

The judges seemed to stay +2-happy throughout the program, but I only felt the first few elements were worthy of that accolade. With that in mind, she scored exactly two points lower on my scorecard here. Notice that a clean Wagner with solid GOE's only scored less than four points higher than Gold with the fall and the single Axel. That's the way the system works-- fair?

Program components:

Skating Skills 7.50 (8.00)
Transitions 6.75 (7.86)
Performance/Execution 7.50 (8.43)
Choreography 7.50 (8.29)
Interpretation 7.25 (8.46)
Total Components Score = 29.20 (32.83)

All season long I've scored this program around the same components-wise, but even international judges have been a bit higher. I just don't think it does much to show off Wagner's great strengths, and I feel like she was a bit too 'all business' in this particular go-around. Judges had her 3.63 points higher- a huge difference and too much inflation in my opinion.

Total Segment Score = 61.94 (67.57)

5.63 points lower for me. Big difference.

My Scorecard after the Short Program:
Ashley Wagner 61.94 points
Gracie Gold 52.90 points (9.04 points behind)

Now, let's look at the free skates. Gold had the technical performance of her young career, while Wagner fell on two triples in a row in an uninspired and tentative skate.

Gracie Gold
3Lz/3T +1 10.80
2A/3T +1 8.10
3Lo +1 5.80
LSp4 +2 3.70
FCoSp4 +1 3.50
2A +1 3.80
3Lz +2 7.40
3F/2T/2T -1 7.99
StSq3 +1 3.80
3S +1 5.32
ChSq1 +1 2.70
CCoSp4 +1 4.00
Total Element Score = 66.91

Now, some people might argue with me about my GOE's for the first two combinations (the first of which almost got +3 across the board from the judges). She has incredible height and distance, but the jumps are basically done in isolation. I'd love to see some steps or movements into/out of them, and then they could easily score +3. For now, I think +1 is warranted. The triple flip is done on such an outside edge that even with the two double toes following, I gave -1 for the element. The judges gave a +0.10 GOE. I called the step sequence level 3, the technical panel gave it a 4. With all of that, the judges gave it 71.14 compared to my 66.91.

Program components:

Skating Skills 6.50 (8.00)
Transitions 5.75 (7.14)
Performance/Execution 7.75 (8.07)
Choreography 6.50 (7.64)
Interpretation 6.25 (7.50)
Total Components Score = 52.40 (61.35)

Insane difference here. Many times, judges correlate program components with the performance level. But we all know skating skills, the choreography of the program, and the transitions aren't going to greatly differ no matter how the elements go (well... the judges don't always seem to know this). There is NO way Gold is at an 8.00 in skating skills, and as you see, all of her other components aside from performance/execution were marked extremely generous in my opinion. The program had no spark or listening to the music until the footwork sequence nearly three minutes in. 8.95 points lower for me.

Total Segment Score = 119.31 (132.49)

Well, I thought for sure I'd give the title to Wagner after I saw how much of a boost Gold seemed to get. Let's move on to her skate, now.

Ashley Wagner
3F/2T/2T 0 7.90
2A/2T 5.10
3S 3.50
FSSp4 3.50
LSp4 3.40
3Lo 6.31
3Lz 4.50
3Lo+SEQ 2.39
StSq3 3.80
3F 5.13
ChSq1 2.70
CCoSp4 4.00
Total Element Score = 52.23

Well, it was clear the inflation was alive and well from the first element. Wagner really had to dig in on the landing of the flip to steady it out, but the judges gave it nearly a +2 average. The Salchow was scored just barely under a 0 GOE, the first loop (sans fall) was a little generous, the step sequence here was called level 4 (as with Gold) while I believe it was level 3, and the final triple flip was again just barely under a 0 GOE with a two-foot. There were just too many cases here of GOE generosity in my opinion. The judges had it at 57.45. I'm 5.22 points lower.

Program components:

Skating Skills 7.50 (8.04)
Transitions 7.00 (8.14)
Performance/Execution 7.00 (8.04)
Choreography 7.50 (8.46)
Interpretation 7.50 (8.46)
Total Components Score = 58.40 (65.82)

Definitely a big boost here (over a point higher than me in transitions and nearly a point in choreography and interpretation). I do think this program is stronger than the short for Wagner, but it was lacking spark on this night.

Deductions = -2.00

Total Segment Score = 108.63 (121.27)

This total segment score is just about as criminal as Mao Asada's three-triple free skate at NHK Trophy in my book. I think the judges wanted to assure that Wagner was safe for the World team (with Nagasu still to skate), and the only way to do it was to boost up her components and some of her GOE's to make sure she stayed ahead of Gold. Hey, it's possible...

Gracie Gold 52.90 + 119.31 = 172.21
Ashley Wagner 61.94 + 108.63 = 170.57

Never thought I'd have the results this way, but I guess that's the good(?!) thing about this scoring system, if (a very BIG if) used fairly.

Coming tomorrow, I'll look at the programs of Mirai Nagasu, Agnes Zawadzki, and Christina Gao and see where they'd fit in the equation. Let me know where you agree or disagree with my scoring, as always!


jumping clapping man said...

Great post!

When you post tomorrow, I'd LOVE to get your perspective on Zhang. She's was the most misunderstood this competition, with 2 clean programs, but still a low placement.

I was moved by both her performances...beautiful artistry. Is speed everything!? Ugh. I'm amazed the judging doesn't kill her spirit. Thankfully she still gives it her all.

Anonymous said...

Hi I disagree with your reasoning about what's called "national inflation." I attribute it to the fact that the range of skaters' skills from the lowest to the highest is much greater at a National event than that at an international event. The very elite skaters receive higher GOEs and PCSs at Nationals than they do at international competitions merely because they are competing against much weaker skaters. Why do you focus only on the top skaters? The event is not only for them, but also for those who may never compete internationally. Judges judge the whole event, not just the super elite ones. Only after you've judged all the skaters in the event, you can draw a conclusion whether judging was inaccurate or not. But you are going to judge only five selected very elite skaters. That's a totally different exercise from what the judges did in this event.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 6.05 - I believe you're missing the main point of the exercise: namely whether the placements were correct or no, hence the concentration on the elite skaters. Though your thoughts on why elite skaters are regularly scored higher on a national versus internation level, are definitely food for thought.


PS @ Tony - the words I have to type to verify my non-robot-ness are not friendly to my visually disabled eyes! Especially the number one is a pain in the eye!

Anonymous said...

No downgrades for Wagner?

Tony said...

I was watching on DVR so it's hard to slo-mo everything, but I didn't think anything looked more than .25 short. What did you think?

Also, re: only scoring the top skaters. Last time I checked, the skaters are not getting scored components-wise against one another. That's the whole point of this system. They are being scored against pre-defined measures, or that's how it should be. You can't just give 8's and 9's to the top skaters here. What we should see, in my opinion, is the skaters' PCS scores just packed closer together. An 8.00 for Gracie Gold in skating skills for the free skate was magically a 6.93 in the short program. Did she gain over a point improvement in the quality of her skating skills in the course of two days? Absolutely not.

Remember the Ryan Bradley 2011 incident? Nice guy or not, most of us knew that he'd be the lowest-placing finisher of the three men sent to Worlds, yet everyone was complaining about how much of a gamble it was to send Dornbush and Miner. Bradley got a huge boost on his GOE and PCS, and it was never going to happen internationally. Just doesn't make sense strategically at all to give them these marks, only to have them shot down at Worlds or other internationals.

Of course, just my opinion on all accounts.

Anonymous said...

Tony- thanks for doing this. The whole ladies event felt _meh_ to me. While watching, I thought Gracie was significantly overscored, and felt that Ashley was also overscored to keep her in line with Gracie for the world team, but I would have put her ahead of Gracie because of Gracie's lack of skating skills in comparison. I appreciate your analysis and look forward to seeing how Mirai, Agnes and Christina come out.

Anonymous said...

Both of the jumps she fell on look URed to me.

Anonymous said...

A spot-on analysis. I attended over 20 Nationals in a row until I grew weary of UFSFA shenanigans, and donating my hard-earned money to their coffers. I've been to Europeans more than Nationals in the last decade.

But I digress. Back in the 6.0 days, it was always a pet peeve of mine that a skater who had no idea what music was playing but could land evey jump in the book would get 5.8 / 5.8 Why not 5.8 / 4.6? You NEVER saw that happen? Or how about the wonderfully elegant, lyrical skater who could barely land a double toe? Would you see 4.6 / 5.8? No, it was always 4.6 / 4.7.

As much as Ottavio's IJS was supposed to miraculously "fix" skating, it has only served to make it more of the same, with the added bonus of alienating the viewer who, used to 6.0 from decades of watching, now can't understand how the scores are achieved.

Not the point of this particular piece by you, but we should have stayed with 6.0 and fixed it, rather than reinvent the wheel.

Tony said...

To the last poster- it is hilarious that you bring up and question why we didn't see fluctuation in the 6.0 marks. Check out my latest post that I wrote last night having to do with the men. I mention that exact same phenomenon!

Anonymous said...

Yes!!! "Great minds....." @judgemoose

sk8maven said...

Interesting piece. I agree that Gold's not quite to the +3 level yet on her jumps due to lack of entrance and exit transitions, but I would give her a +2. The fact that you don't have to worry about her being short of rotation because her rotation is finished so high above the ice has to warrant higher than a +1, IMO of course :)

Tony said...

I see where you are coming from, and if there was a +1.5, I'd probably give it to her on most of her jumps :)

I just am bothered by her jumps really looking like they are done in isolation-- essentially it looks like she's in a practice session where she is just focusing on one jumping pass. Compare that to some of the other ladies who have footwork right into/out of their jumps, and that's why I decided on the +1. Now, in the short, I had no problem with a +2 for that Lutz (and the judges seemed to be lower on their GOE than me!)

Ms. Chun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bluesky85 said...

thanks for ur detailed analysis! i wish u did that more often with other competitions. im still new to watching figure skating and such detailed score analysis helps me in my feeble attempts to evaluate skaters. could u maybe also do similar analysis for other skaters like mao asada at the nationals or grand prix final, carolina kostner at nationals, tuktamisheva, sotnikova, radionova at nationals and yuna kim at nrw or nationals?

also, my question is... is it only the top skaters' scores that get inflated at nationals or does this phenomenon apply to other skaters like courtney hicks or yasmin siraj?

lastly, i would like to hear ur perspectives on the recent european nationals, especially the ladies event (the three medalists).

i would appreciate any answers or insights. thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

Five judges gave Gold +3 for her 3Z-3T and everyone gave her +2 for her 2A-3T.

Possible bullets that I think of may have been applied to GG's 3Z-3T:

3) delay in rotation

4) good height and distance (as you mentioned)

5) good extension on landing

6) good flow from entry to exit including jump combinations

7) effortless throughout

8) element matched to the musical structure