Tuesday, January 29

In Some Not-So-Shocking News...

Narumi Takahashi already has a new partner. One that will be able to fulfill Japan's need of a pairs team (with citizenship) at the team event come Sochi 2014.

Ryuichi Kihara was 10th at the 2011 World Junior Championships and in the top 12 at the Japanese Senior Nationals twice.

As far as qualifying to the individual pairs competition in Sochi, the team will have to grab one of the four additional spots granted in an early-season competition in 2013/2014.

While I am excited to see the potential of the new pair, it seems pretty clear to me that Mervin Tran not being a Japanese citizen absolutely had to do with the break-up of the former team, as I suggested when the initial news broke.

Monday, January 28

What We Didn't See on NBC Today

Alexander Johnson's free skate moved him up to 7th place overall. Thanks to the stupidity of the USFS making the groupings for the men 5-5-5-5. we missed his performance following his 12th-place short program. One of the all-time great choreographers, Sandra Bezic, said it was 'one of the most beautiful free programs' that she had ever seen.

US National Inflation Continues in the Mens Championship: A Rant

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.

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!