Thursday, February 6, 2014

TRIPLE AXEL TRIPLE LOOP .... TRIPLEAXELTRIPLELOOP! During Olympic season, we always welcome Gretchen's ALOTT5MA Award-winning coverage of the figure skating competition. We may not receive her commentary as often this year, but we are delighted to run it when we can:
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Skating Fans, the day is finally here! Yes, it's time for spangles, nude stockings, triple axels, twizzles, judging scandals, and thrillingly, the Return of Plushenko. There's lots of good stuff to watch for these Olympics, including the new team competition, the ice dance rivalry between Virtue & Moir and Davis & White, Jason Brown and his charismatic Riverdance program, and the lingering questions about whether Ashley Wagner deserves her place on the Olympic team. (For the record, I think she does.)

But today, I'm writing not to celebrate ice skating, but to gripe. As everyone knows, the old 6.0 scoring system was replaced by a code of points after the Salt Lake City vote-trading debacle. Each skating program now earns points on a rubric. If you have the most points, you win. Simple, right?

So why does the media (and skating itself) seem obsessed with the idea that this system is too complicated and "incomprehensible for casual fans"? Indeed, Brian Boitano (et tu, Brian?) just told the New York Times that skating fans yearn for a simpler time, when “they only had to know one number, 6.0, and how close did it come to that and show a close-up of the guy who gave 5.7 and we can hate him.”

Hogwash. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the scoring system in skating. But "complexity" shouldn't be one of them. Figure skating fans may enjoy sparkles and music and artistry. But that doesn't mean that we can't understand the concept that you get more points for executing (and attempting) more elements, particularly when television coverage generally does a decent job of showing the viewer the skater's best scores and the score the skater needs to beat to win. There are plenty of sports with complicated judging or scoring system. Indeed, baseball fans basically make a hobby of learning and citing arcane rules. To lambaste skating for being "too complicated" is patronizing and dismissive, particularly in a context where everyone knows most "casual skating fans" are women. Skating fans deserve better. Clean up the anonymous scoring, the ties between the national federations and the judges, and the lack of meaningful qualifications for judges. But stop patting figure skating fans on the head and telling us that we yearn for the good old days, where we only had to know one itty bitty number. We're smarter than that.


  1. Randy2:43 PM

    Yes, this. A million times this.

    Also: the scoring details are available almost immediately to any fan with internet access, so you can easily see how each individual element was scored. My *biggest* complaint about the old system is that just having one number didn't actually provide you with ANY useful information.

    Similar complaints about complicated calculations are often heard in sports like golf and tennis too, where (the quite straightforward) calculations for world rankings often send commentators into histrionics.

  2. The Pathetic Earthling2:51 PM

    Diving also switched a while back and I've never heard the Olympic commentariat complain about that...

  3. Christy in Philly3:44 PM

    Commentators say the same thing about gymnastics scoring. Oh, to go back to the perfect 10! It's gone. Get over it! I agree with you-- we are smart enough to know which number is the biggest!

  4. Marsha4:57 PM

    The commentators during the broadcast don't seem to have an issue with it, and they're the ones I care about - they're the ones who explain to me WHY a particular jump lost points or was textbook perfect, and they're the ones who explain to me what's compulsory, when the bonus kicks in etc. Perhaps most important, they explain to me (very much the casual viewer) why the things that the skaters make look effortless are so hard. That footwork never looks like something that should be worth a lot of points, precisely because they make it look so easy. So someone has to tell me. And for all that Scott Hamilton can be annoying, he's fantastic at explaining that stuff. He's the Mary Murphy of figure skating.(OK, she's worse. But still.)

    So bring on the skating, and bring on the Gretchen! I'm very excited for the team competition...but, as always, not as excited as I am for curling.

  5. gretchen2:10 PM

    I don't think that's it - and indeed, under the old system, I believe that they discarded the score from the skater's home country. Under the current system, I think that the high and low scores are discarded, which largely has the same effect. But in general, I think it's a legacy of the way the sport developed. It would be interesting to compare it to gymnastics, which is also a sport where the national federations have a lot of sway.