ISU Mulling Radical Changes

ISU looking to revamp point values of quads and other technical elements; possibly change the competition format completely in the future.

We already knew some changes were coming after the Olympics, and not some good ones. But now it looks like the International Skating Union may truly be going crazy.

At the beginning of this week, Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU’s Single & Pair Skating Committee, caused quite a stir in the skating world when he talked about some of the rules he thinks might be implemented by the ISU Congress this summer. He mainly discussed two types of possible changes, one of which would go into effect in the post-Olympic season, the other of which would more likely happen after 2022.

The first kind is the more straightforward kind: reducing the value of the hard jumps. During the last season, men’s skating especially became about the hard quadruple jumps, and even those skaters that didn’t have much besides those quads became impossible to beat for those that didn’t have them. That’s obviously reduced the value of everything else that makes the sport good, especially artistry. When rotating quads gives too many points to even those who fall on them, that just makes the whole problem worse.

Therefore, a proposal is on the table to reduce the value of all quads and even the triple axel jump. One decision the ISU has already made, effective next season, is to increase the range of Grade of Execution marks. Currently judges give each technical element a GOE mark that ranges from -3 to +3. That’ll be from -5 to +5. This in theory would help the judges differentiate more between well and poorly done elements. It may not be as easy, however, to get them to actually use this new freedom wisely.

One problem skating’s suffered from the old 6.0 era onwards is judges not really using the marks to reflect what was done on the ice, but marking skaters in a “corridor,” a scoring range that will cause them to finish where they were already expected to finish. Bianchetti may talk about making the presentation scores more value, but what he’s leaving out is that most judges don’t seem to know what they’re even judging for the presentation marks, and so typically fall back on the “corridor.” Particularly bad has been the giving of overly generous presentation scores to skaters who land more quads.

And while Bianchetti talks up making the artistry more valuable, the other big change set to take place undermines that. Starting next season, the men and pairs will going down to four minute free programs, while the men lose a jumping pass. Which would have only taken them five seconds or so, meaning they’ll lose over twenty seconds of choreography. Whatever anyone’s trying to claim, that was almost certainlly only done to make competitions shorter, and the artistry of programs will in fact suffer for it.

The reactions of the skaters to these changes seems to be mixed. They’ve even been debating it with each other on Twitter. But it looks like there may be some Russian opposition to reducing the value of quads. Coaching legends Tatiana Tarasova and Tamara Moskvina both object, as does men’s legend Evgeni Plushenko, who has long complained that he failed to win a second individual men’s gold in 2010 because his quads weren’t valued enough. These three people may not have direct influence over the ISU’s decisions, but enough people from Russia objecting will certainly be an impediment to them making this change.

Bianchetti’s suggestion of what might happen after 2022 is even more radical, although exactly one aspect of it wouldn’t be that bad a thing. He talked also of discarding the current competition format of short and long programs all together, and replacing them with a technical and artistic program, and awarding Olympic medals for both segments and overall. There are a lot of ways that trying to build up new program requirements from scratch could end very badly. He does at least speak of doing test skates on any proposed new type of program, like they did for what would eventually become the short dance back in 2009. But even those tell you only so much. The short dance was an awkward affair in its first year of use.

On the other hand, it would be good for skaters to have two more chances to medal, and completely on their individual merit. Until 2014, while athletes in many other sports had multiple events to compete in and chances to win themselves Olympic medals, all skaters got only one, and only three could succeed. (In the early years of the sport, you did sometimes see skaters medal in both singles and pairs, but that hasn’t happened in the top tier for decades.) In 2014, they introduced the team event, but with three countries impossibly better than the rest, that felt more like medals being handed to those Russian, Canadian, and American skaters lucky enough to skate in said event, some of whom didn’t even skate well in it at all.

A few more skaters bringing themselves and their countries well-earned medals isn’t just good for them, it’s good for the sport. Bianchetti talks about making the sport popular again (ignoring how popular it is now in Asia), but the truth is it’ll likely never reach the heights in once had in the west. The more countries that get interested in skating, the more chance it has of surviving and thriving. Skaters from those countries having tangible successes always helps with that.

Bianchetti does at least note that it’s too early to tell how much of these proposals will even be seriously taken up. Except we’re probably going to be stuck with the shortened programs, if only because the skaters themselves will already be choreographing them when the Congress meets next summer. It may be they decide to leave the rest of it as is.

Although the ISU did make one huge change this week: a complete redesign of their website to supposedly be more fan-friendly. It certainly is engaging to the eyes, but maybe a little too much. Also a lot of links to various ISU pages are now broken, although links to detailed results pages, at least, are not.



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