Figure Skating: From the Boards

Quiz: Figure skating history September 28, 2010

I’ve been promising a video blog for weeks now. And I will admit, I could have had it up before now. But last week wasn’t ideal for, well, being on camera, so it kept getting pushed back more and more! But I’m nearly healthy again, and I ended up with the day off, so I had no excuse not to get something done and up for you all today. Little did I know when I came up with the idea for the video how involved it would be. Nevertheless, it is filmed and in the process of being edited together as I type.

The video, as you will see soon enough, is an interactive quiz, testing your knowledge of figure skating trivia. I won’t pretend that I knew all the answers to the questions you’ll find below, but searching for them made me realize how much skating surely has changed since its early days. And that got me thinking about how much skating has changed just in the less-than-a-decade that I’ve been a die-hard fan.

Just after I became skating crazy, the 6.0 system came under scrutiny at the 2002 Olympics. What a mess that was! That next season, the “New Judging System” called the “Code of Points” was born. International events didn’t make the complete change until 2005 – the first World Championship to use the new system.

Since then, changes have been made to the system, to the requirements, and to how it works in “real life” each year.

I had a very interesting conversation the other day with someone about the new scoring system, which is undoubtedly the largest, most influential change of my time in skating. I will admit, as I did in this conversation, I’ve been highly critical of the Code of Points system, because some of the requirements make skating so inspiration-free. When every lady has to hold a spiral in 3 different positions for 3 seconds each, there are only so many ways to do that and make it unique. When spins stop being about quality centering and speed and become about how gumby-like you can be without toppling over, you lose some of the solidity things like a good, old-fashioned, one-position sit spin can bring. I even posted on a fan forum one time a post entitled “How Michelle (Kwan) made me hate COP.” Want to know how? Her sit spin. The back position, the centering, the speedy, the steadiness…all things I haven’t seen in a lady’s sit spin since then.

And yet, writing for this blog and analyzing the skaters who will be competing this season, as well as talking with my COP savvy friend, I’ve noticed even another change – COP is getting better with age.

Sure, it’s not perfect. There are still things I don’t like about it. But if we’re going for judging that is at least closer to fair, well, this certainly helps. It at least quantifies elements based on the difficulty and the quality – something 6.0 couldn’t ever do.

Skaters now are on level footing entering a competition; the favorites can’t be as easily held up because of their past successes. This is, perhaps, most notable in ice dance – a discipline rich in tradition, so much so that North American skaters weren’t even on the map until Bourne and Kraatz, Belbin and Agosto and the introduction of COP. Now, it’s anyone’s game. Or at least more so than ever before.

The system also forced skaters to become more well rounded. Take a Patrick Chan or and Evan Lysacek vs. an Evgeyni Plushenko or a Brian Joubert. It’s not enough to throw the big tricks. If you don’t have the transitions, the footwork, and the spins, the technical advantage the later two may have had under 6.0 is eliminated in favor of the complete skaters like Chan and Lysacek.

This I like.

My biggest concern has always been the fact that a program skated beautifully both technically and artistically seems to present a difficult situation – how do you quantify spark? Magic? Passion? How do you add in points for a skater who skates as though the music is coming from within? What “base mark” can you come up with to apply when a skater has a “skate of their life” moment where the entire arena is on its feet, wrapped in the emotion that comes with witnessing history? That emotion is such a part of skating’s past…how can COP make it a part of the sport’s future?

And yet, I may have recently discovered that, as with most things in life, there’s a pretty serious learning curve within this system. One that, once mastered, may make way for such memorable performances as Michelle Kwan’s 1998 Nationals Lyra Angelica, Torvill and Dean’s “Bolero,” or the teenage miracles of Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes.

See, while the technical demands are greater and the point values tend to overtake the creativity, it’s skaters like Patrick Chan that give me hope – he moves me. He’s pretty close to a “COP baby,” growing up in skating under this new system. And he’s comfortable enough with it, that you don’t see him counting rotations or numbers of turns – you see him connecting with the music, the movement, and the crowd. There may not be a mark for that, but as long as it doesn’t go away entirely, I think I can find it in my heart to appreciate the value of the Code of Points.

Afterall, nothing’s perfect. But people who have the passion to skate will find a way to always, always, always express that passion on the ice.

Changes will come, but that fact remains the same. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

So what about you? What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your years of skating fandom?

Plus, are you confident in your skating trivia skills? Test them out with the video below! Good luck!

Until then…

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2 Responses to “Quiz: Figure skating history”

  1. Y Says:

    Hi. I had a conversation with you here re COP too. To continue from a different angle, I liken it to the metric system, which the Americans are highly resistant to for no other reason than the resistance to change. However, as Americans are actually used to the metric system in their currency (the Dollar), they would probably consider changing to a currency such as the British Pound absurd and insane. Clearly it would be crazy to design a new currency based on a model like the British Pound. Similarly, if a scoring system for skating were to be designed from scratch with no previous models, would the 6.0 system be even conceivable? Yes, let’s not give skaters marks except in relation to one another. Let’s use numbers within a tight range as placeholders for such rankings, even if we are supposed to not know where 30 or so competing skaters should eventually place. And let’s use a number out of all possible numbers as the maximum/perfection and make it, ah, well, how about 6.0? Why? Erh…because.

    Talents, artistry, and excellence prevail under all systems and environtments. Always have and always will. Do you not think the great ones from the 6.0, e.g. Yagudin, Browning, and Kwan, to name just a few, would not excel under the COP system? Their success was not a product of 6.0 system and cannot be credited to the scoring system. There were poor and robotic skaters under the 6.0 too. And then there were misfits like Gary Beacon and Toller Cranston whose genius shone despite the system. So romanticizing the crazy and subjective 6.0 as the nurturer of past excellence is sentimental but misguided. Let’s give the kudos to the great skaters themselves. Like the metric system, COP makes a lot more sense and actually offers room for modifications and improvements as the sport progresses. As for necessary calculations and strategies in designing a program, well, they are done where and when they should be done – during the designing, choreographing and training, by the team, not on the ice by the skaters. The skaters on the ice perform as athletes and express themselves as artists. Under any system.

    BTW, HD videos of ATS have been put up almost immediately after the streaming.

    • Again, well said! Just wanted to clarify, in case it wasn’t clear in the actual post, that I fully appreciate the benefits COP brings to skating – the equality it brings to the sport, the heightened demand for all-around skaters, the drama it brings to competition, never knowing how things will end up, and the understandable quantification for elements which makes skaters, coaches and choreographers able to (and responsible to) create and perform programs that live up to certain standards in order to compete at the highest level.

      I admit, I have a tendency to be nostalgic simply because of the memories associated with any one thing, in this case, the 6.0 system. But that’s not to say I think it’s the system that made skaters great. I fully believe that Browning and Kwan could make magic under COP the same way they did with the 6.0 system, however the system was not built in a way that rewarded “magic.” It inadvertently does, because typically a skater who creates that moment that seems to stop time creates it while skating the program of their life technically and artistically and is, therefore, rewarded. I suppose what I felt was missing from the system initially is, in fact, the simplicity that 6.0 allowed for, in some ways. This system gave skaters and choreographers the ability to determine creativity and difficulty instead of doing it for them by adding complexity to just about every element. A simple, one-position sit spin with excellent speed, quality extension and the ironing board-straight back like Kwan achieved is often more beautiful – and in some ways more difficult – than some of the gumby positions that show off flexibility and sometimes speed, but not the centering of Browning or Hamiltion. And in some ways, I sometimes find all the constant position changes distracting.

      That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the difficulty, the skill, or the artistry that it can create. And as you said, there were “cookie-cutter” skaters under the old system as well. And yet again, while I’m outlining the reasons I haven’t liked COP in the past, I also saw more this past season that made me believe it’s only a matter of time before I’m once again emotionally involved in programs that work the system, but also tell a story, move an audience, and, in those rare, history-making moments, stop time long enough for the world to take notice of the genius that just took place. It’s happening, I imagine in the same way as people who believed in the value of figures. I imagine there were people hesitant to let that part of skating’s past go because of the value it brought to the quality of skating. And there were struggles with skaters who didn’t have that foundation not having the edge quality of the past greats. And yet, Patrick Chan – as we have mentioned often! – is a child of the COP system (about as far removed from the days of figures as you can be!) and he has some of the best, smoothest, deepest edges I’ve ever seen. It’s an evolution of sorts, I believe, and it’s taken a bit of time for me to see the fruits of the changes. But they are there, and I’m pleasantly surprised with the transition skaters have made to adapt to the new system while still finding room for originality, creativity and passion.

      So while I’ve had my issues with acceptance, at least I’m willing to admit it as well as to move on from my nostalgic ideas of what was to the reality of what is and, perhaps even more exciting, what will be. There will never be another Michelle Kwan or Kurt Browning, but that’s not the system’s fault. This generation of skaters will create its own legends and when they’re 30 years old and skating in shows I’m sure there will be someone (myself, even) saying the same thing about them.

      As you said, excellence will always prevail. Wonderful, isn’t it? 🙂

      (And thanks for the heads up about the ATS videos…I’ve seen most of them, and in fact, that is the basis for today’s blog coming in just a bit!)


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