Disclaimer: I am completely thrilled with Max Aaron's win today. I think he came out with a fire in his eyes, and he was totally dedicated to going for every single one of his jumps in a very ambitious program set-up. I respect that a tremendous amount, and I believe he will be a great, refreshing personality in the sport. This post is about the judging system and the way it is used, not bashing Aaron in any way.
Now that I have that out of the way, let's talk this IJS system. Remember back in the days of 6.0 where skaters would get presentation marks relative to their technical performance in the free skate? What I mean by that is if a skater would have a really excellent skate technically but wouldn't be known as much for their presentation, the mark would still likely be within a tenth or two of the first mark. And the exact opposite was true, too. A not-so-great performance and the presentation mark wouldn't likely rise that much.
The IJS and the idea of components scores are to mark skaters against what a 2.00 and 6.50 would mean on a 10.00 scale, and so on. What the components scores should not be (and the judges still, nearly ten years into this system, do not understand) is a way of comparing skaters against one another. It also should not be used as a way to either boost or lower scores drastically based on quality of performance. As we all should likely know, skating skills, transitions, and choreography do not significantly change overnight-- yet we saw Gracie Gold's skating skills mark in the ladies competition go from below a 7.00 in the short program to an 8.00 after her amazing free skate. Are the judges saying her skating skills went up an entire point in two days? Well, you can try to tell me that happened--- but it didn't.
Now, bring in Max Aaron. He has done interviews this year saying flat-out that he knows he is relying heavily on his jump elements for all of his points and that he will eventually need to work very hard on the second set of marks to be competitive. He sounds like a realistic young man with a good understanding of where his skating level is at currently.
Throw all of that out the window at the US Championships.
The judges gave him an 8.07 for skating skills, a 7.25 for transitions, a 7.96 for choreography, and an 8.07 for interpretation in his technical clinic of a free skate earlier today.
Let's compare that to his short program marks two days ago. I actually think his short program is better-suited to the style of Max's skating, but the judges went with a 7.04 for skating skills (1.03 points lower), a 5.93 for transitions (1.32 points lower!), 6.75 for choreography (1.24 points lower), and 6.96 for interpretation (1.11 points lower). Drastic differences, and the thing is that his short program was extremely well-skated technically aside from a glitch on his final spin. It wasn't as if he had a lackluster skate... he performed a successful quad combination!
So how can judges, who are supposedly trained and tested to make sure they are competent about how this system works, continuously get away with this practice and not have to give any explanations? I'm still trying to find the answer, but I know I will never get one.
The second part to this situation is that I have to question what good boosting up these scores so high really does for the skaters. Yes, it is great to have a 'moment' in your home country and score a personal best point total, but in two months, Max Aaron will not be receiving an 8.00-average in components, no matter how he skates. He probably won't even hit a 7.00 average. If the judges are reasonable, he might not even hit a 6.50 average. But what is this doing for their confidence when they get put back on 'planet Earth', so-to-speak after the high of the US National Championships?
In 2011, Ryan Bradley (another great personality in the sport) won the National title and many people questioned whether Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner (who finished 2nd and 3rd and were relative 'newbies') should be sent to Worlds with Bradley over 4th-place finisher Jeremy Abbott. What ended up happening? Bradley actually ended up the lowest of the three men, in 13th place. His components were sent straight back down into more realistic levels.
As figure skating is clearly a dying (or everything but dead?) sport in the United States, I can understand that Nationals is one of the few things left for the casual viewer to see on television. I also understand that unless a fan is much more than a 'casual' viewer, they will have no idea how the total points are added up and why one skater that might make a mistake or two might finish over another skater that has a solid, crowd-engaging program but might lack refinement and difficulty in choreography. Aaron's program to any casual viewer was probably a total run-away today. But why the judges are being sucked into this whole mentality of amazing technical performances having a huge correlation with the components scores is beyond me.
For what it's worth (if you are truly interested), I scored Max Aaron's free skate to be worth 143.55 points total. He earned 175.87 points from the judges today. There was a 10-point difference in the technical scores and a 22+ point difference in the components. 22 points. While I went lower than what the ISU judges would even likely go, I feel like I was extremely fair in my scoring.
I plan to attend Worlds in March, and I will be rooting for Max Aaron to do extremely well. However, my disappointment comes from the fact that a system that is going on nearly ten years of existence still cannot be used in anywhere near a correct manner.