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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
3F/2T/2T 0 7.90
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.
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!