First Russian Skater, Whose Name I Cannot Remember: He frontloaded the program with jumps, and despite what Sandra Bezic called the "intensity"of it, I thought it was boring. Jumping alone is not particularly interesting. And I was entertained that at least one Russian skater hadn't given up the gloves. It's always interesting when skaters fallout of what look like basic positions or trip on their footwork-he lost his balance while cantilevered, and just went splat. It just goes to show how difficult the fluid and artsy moves can be, even when you're not leaping into the air and spinning four times.
Kevin Van Der Perren, the EXIT skater, is back! His outfit is, yet again, terrible. He's skating to Pirates of the Caribbean and has a big splash of red on his left thigh, representing a bloody leg wound, and a fake sword scabbard. Oh, I love this guy. He's clearly committed to the program-check out the "I'm imitating Johnny Depp imitating Keith Richards" face before he launched into his swordfighting-footwork sequence. And his jumps, especially those triple lutzes, are huge and powerful.
NBC is running yet another semi-incomprehensible analysis of the new judging system. One of the things that is intriguing to me is that in most of the world, when you have corruption problems, you expose them to the light with transparency and accountability. But in figure skating, they respond to corruption problems by eliminating the accountability and the transparency. You can't tell who is doing what! You don't know which judge is gaming the system! And the problem is that the program component scores judge things like musicality and artistic expression, which is inherently subjective. So basically, we haven't eliminated the corruption problems-we've made it incrementally harder for judges to cheat, because they might have the scores that are tossed out, but we've made it easier for them to get away with it.
Angela Nikodinov is coaching Ivan Dinev, a Bulgarian skater. She was a beautiful and lyrical skater in her time, and suffered a tragic loss when her mom died en route to US nationals. The commentators said that she might be back, which would be a great thing for US skating. She is a very different skater from the current US women's crop. Ivan is fun to watch because of his long lines, but his height almost seems like it's a problem for him-he can't quite get down to the ice in his spins, and his lanky body fell out of the triple axel. It's always sad to see a skater fall apart like he did, but in some ways, it's good to see it on TV--it helps remind you of the difficulty of this sport and gives you a baseline for the rest of the skaters.
* * *
The new figure skating Code of Points uses a panel of 12 anonymous judges. The computer randomly eliminates three of the judges for each skater. As a result, the scores from nine judges remain. For each element, the high and low scores are deleted, and the remainder of the scores are averaged for the final mark.
The goal? Deter corruption. Debra Pitz Gataz, the ISU spokeswoman, told the Wall Street Journal that the random procedure is intended to deter corruption, since no one knows whether a judge's score will count.
But there are several key problems with this. The most important statistical problem, as Yale statistician Jay Emerson says, is that in close competitions, the medal results can be dramatically different depending on which judges are randomly eliminated from scoring the event. There are 220 possible judge panels, depending on which judges are selected. Using the 2006 European Championships, Emerson found that after the ladies’ short program, only 50 of the 220 possible panels would have resulted in the same ordering of the top five women. While each panel put Irina Slutskaya on top, Swiss skater Sarah Meier lucked out; more than half of the possible panels would have put her in 4th or 5th. Instead, she placed 3rd. Even Italian Carolina Kostner, in 5th place, would have been ranked 2nd or 3rd by about one-third of the panels. Basically, the skaters in second through fifth place could have been in ANY order, depending on which judging panels were selected.
But, you say, this isn’t a big deal. After all, this was just the short program results. Since the scores in the short are lower already, they are bound to be more clustered. The free skate is longer and scores are higher. That will sort it out.
That was true at the European Championships for the ladies. But it wasn’t true for the ice dancing competition, where the silver and bronze medalists were separated by a mere .55 points. It’s likely that at this Olympics, the ice dancing champions will be chosen by a computer. In the pairs competition, 1/8 of the possible judging panels would have put Pang and Tong in the bronze medal position instead of Shen and Zhao.
Finally, in most of the world, when you have corruption problems, you expose them to the light with transparency and accountability. But in figure skating, they respond to corruption problems by eliminating the accountability and the transparency. You can’t tell who is doing what! You don’t know which judge is gaming the system! And the problem is that the program component scores judge things like musicality and artistic expression, which is inherently subjective. So basically, we haven’t eliminated the corruption problems—we’ve made it incrementally harder for judges to cheat, because they might have the scores that are tossed out, but we’ve made it easier for them to get away with it.
* * *
Evan Lycasek looks infinitely better tonight. He has a great sit spin, his jumps are on, and those landings are clean and elegant. I’m not sure I understand the red ribbon tied around his hand. Is it supposed to be blood? I think he’s skating to Carmen, so that would make sense, sort of. I am a huge footwork fan—I think Michelle Kwan did this best, but when it’s timed to a big crescendo in the music, great footwork, more than jumps, can inspire the crowd. His is great, not necessarily for the quality of the footwork but for the choreographic integrity. I’m so happy for him. After his really disappointing short skate, this must be tremendously gratifying. It’s a beautiful, inspiring, clean Olympic skate.
Matt Savoie, dressed as Robin Hood. Or possibly a peasant. Oh wait! It’s the soundtrack from The Mission. This is some of my favorite music, so again, I’m already biased in favor of Matt. Awesome triple axel as his second jumping pass. He creates incredibly lovely angles against the ice with his body, leaning into spins and really working the edges. In some ways, he reminds me of an ice dancer; you’ll see in the ice dancing that part of what they do is work their spins and spirals very low to the ice, which requires tremendous control. Matt does some of that too, in a really lovely and elegant way.
Emmanuel Sandhu is skating to original music, which is really interesting. The choice of music is one of the most essential decisions that an elite skater can make. Good music can create life and character and artistry in a program; it can also inspire an audience to their feet. But good music is hard to find, and even harder to edit together into a 4.5 minute suite. For example, Evan Lysacek’s first program this year was to music from Grease. According to the NBC Olympics site, he found a Los Angeles music studio whose owner had played in the orchestra pit for the Broadway production of "Grease" for several years; that musician created an original arrangement of the music and then recorded and produced the medley for Lysacek's free skate
As a result, you hear skaters use the same music over and over—Carmen, Tosca, Romeo and Juliet. Using original music is an interesting bypass of all the old familiar melodies. Too bad his program didn’t live up to his potential, his reputation, or his musical inventiveness.
Plushenko is skating now.
Best line of the night by Dick Button, commenting on Plushenko’s tendency to do arm flailing instead of actual choreography: “He divides the program: first jumps, then arm movements, then jumps, them arm movements.”
Most mysterious comment of the night, by Scott Hamilton: “[Plushenko] has made every one of the judges his friend. He makes them smart, and they reward him.” What does that mean?
I think that this long program was solid, but not particularly inspiring. The music was fast, but never really soared. I love the arm flailing, but it was a little egregious in this program—there was no choreographic intent.
Ultimately, the thing that you can say about Plushy is that he is tremendous athlete and a smart one; he’s learned how to work the COP very effectively, and perhaps faster than the other skaters. The system works for him and he works it. Some call this code-whoring; I think it’s smart. But it doesn’t result in particularly lovely or inspiring skating. (And just wait until Irina Slutskaya in the ladies’ program; she’s even more guilty of this than Plushy is.)
Lambiel was dressed like a sunburned zebra and is skating to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. One of my pet peeves about the NBC coverage is their refusal to tell us what music the skaters are using. You can sometimes figure it out from the internet or familiar melodies, but I wish they’d make it easy on us. And if Stephane had a vision behind his costume choice and music choice, I couldn’t figure it out.
My fun fact is that Stephane and Carolina Kostner, the Italian skater who carried the flag at the Opening Ceremonies, used to date.
Another quirk of the COP is that skaters get points for jumps even when they fall, as long as they complete the rotations. Overall, I just don’t think the COP penalizes you enough for falling (and oh, Lambiel just had two really bad ones.)
Johnny Weir looks really nervous. He changed his long program mid-season, and is now using an old program, Otonal. Johnny has a beautiful presence on the ice; you want to watch him. This music is perfect—meditative and very moody. It’s an interesting performance—he never fell, but he left out a jump and had to struggle on some others. He would have been smarter to do something—anything—to get that eighth jump into the program, even if he threw it in at the end—because without it, he was missing an automatic five or six points. And as I talked about earlier, even if he had fallen, he would have still earned more points than he lost by not doing it at all. My fiancé declares that he’s the Michelle Kwan of the men—choking at the Olympics.
One thing that always surprises me about skating is how many of the skaters succumb to killer fatigue. Yes, it’s four and a half minutes, but this is what they DO. It’s what they train for. And it’s not like it’s unexpectedly longer than normal.
Daisuke Takahashi had a terrific program in the short. But his first jump, a quad attempt, crashed and burned. And the rest of the program had moments of elegance, but seemed sloppy to me.
You know, this last group of skaters has been really disappointing. The really memorable programs of the evening, in my book, were Evan Lysacek and Matt Savoie, and Shawn Sawyer (the uber-flexible Canadian.) But the rest of them—especially Emmanuel Sandhu, Brian Joubert, and Jeffrey Buttle, were really disappointing. These are great skaters, but none of them had great performances tonight. I can live with the standings, but the fight for the silver and bronze medals finished with a big thud instead of a bang.
One final question: under the old system, would Evan Lysacek’s beautiful performance tonight have gotten him onto the medal stand? I think it might be possible. In the old system, the short program was worth one third of the total score. Looking at the point totals, it looks like under the COP, the points from the short program comprise more like 40% of the total score.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
KISS AND CRY: Back to Gretchen for the men's free skate:
Posted by Adam at 10:42 PM