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Scoring system, Dick and Michelle, Kim Yu-Na and other thoughts

Came home from the final evening of the World Figure Skating Championships late Saturday night and watched my tape of the NBC broadcast. Wished there had been more Dick Button and Michelle Kwan.

Noticed that there didn't seem to be a mention of figure skating on ESPN all week. Maybe I missed it. If so, sorry. But, geez, the world championships are held in the United States, an American man, Evan Lysacek, is the surprise men's gold medalist, and about 18,000 people are brought to their feet in a standing awe-vation over a Korean skater named Kim Yu-Na -- who, if you're an avid watcher of ESPN you've now probably not heard of. It was sports news; it's worth covering the worldwide leader.

And about the skating. It was lovely, it was inspiring, it made this skating fan look forward to the Olympic season. For awhile, especially during the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan and Tara Lipinski-Michelle Kwan-Sarah Hughes years, I covered a lot of figure skating. I first wrote about Naomi Nari Nam and Sasha Cohen here too. I've been more removed from the sport since the new scoring system was installed, but I've heard much about how horrible it is and how it's taking away the artistry and making the sport a robotic, jump-by-numbers snoozefest.

But that's not what I saw this week at Staples. It wouldn't matter if you used numbers, letters or perfect 6's, 10's, 100's or 1,000's, Kim was graceful and athletic, interpreted her music, felt her moves, covered the ice, jumped like Kobe and landed them like a Tiger Woods chip shot: silently and without movement. I don't see how the new scoring system has hindered Kim's development in any way.

Lysacek didn't need a quadruple jump to win a world title. He needed to land his triples, feel his spirals, play on the ice as if he were a gallant 1940s gentleman dancing to Gershwin, which he did, and the scoring system didn't stop Lysacek from playing to his strengths.

And it isn't the scoring system that is keeping the U.S. women behind Kim or Canada's Joannie Rochette or Japan's Mao Asada and Miki Ando. Can Del Mar's Rachael Flatt become a more musical, lyrical skater as she matures? Is Irvine's Caroline Zhang committed to the sport enough to rediscover the spark that made her a junior national champion? Will Arcadia skater Mirai Nagasu's foot heel? Will she be able to corral her talent and growth spurt and become the skater many think could challenge Kim and Asada? What if Cohen, who is living in Corona del Mar, decides to come back? Or Kwan (she teased NBC co-hosts Bob Costas and Button in Saturday's broadcast about whether she might make a comeback)?

What I liked was that even after Kwan saw Kim's ethereal, athletic and dominating winning performance, she was not intimidated. And maybe she shouldn't be. The top female skaters are still only doing five or six triples in their long programs. That's what Kwan was doing up until her injuries forced her from the Turin Games.

Should be a fun skating year leading to Vancouver. And a lot of the skating stories will be coming from Southern California. ESPN is opening its own studio out here next month. Maybe they'll even report on some of them!

-- Diane Pucin

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Comments (9)

It's deceptive to say Yu-na did only 5 triple jumps when she did difficult combinations that alllowed her to attempt 6 triple jumps and 3 double axels. If Yu-na wasn't able to do a 3flip/3toe and a double axel/3toe. She would be limited to 6 triple jumps and 1 double axel. And trust me Yu-na's ability to do those extra double axels are punishing, they get HUGE GOE.

Not to mention the fact that Yu-na does a 3/3 in the short program which gives her a higher base value.

Nowadays, the women are doing more difficult combinations so that they can fit in extra jumps. Neither Sasha or Michelle were known for their ability to do 3/3's so they would be at a huge disadvantage.

Please get your facts straight.

Caroline Zhang was never US Junior Champion. She finished second to Mirai Nagasu. What she did do was win both the 2006 Junior Grand Prix and 2007 World Junior Championships and earn a silver and two bronze medals within the Senior Grand Prix series which is far more impressive. I don't think that Caroline has lost her spark. Caroline is a beautiful skater who continually brings audiences to their feet. I have been an avid fan since I saw her at Nationals in 2006.

What is plaguing Caroline is her faulty toe pick jumps;especially her lutz for which she gets dinged on her wrong edge takeoff and pronounced mule kick. The Technical Controllers have been inordinately hard on her with respect to downgradingmany of her triple triples. Finally, she lacks speed relative to the top skaters today in the world. That being said, she is one of the most exquisite skaters I have seen in a long time and a tremendously fierce competitor.

I can't believe in the above paragraph about the American skaters, you didn't even mention our national champion - Alissa Csizny. Her short program was a catastrophe but her long program was lovely -- not good enough to win -- but she IS our National champion!!!! I cannot believe NBC couldn't show her long performance on their 2 hour show - but CBC Canada had the same two hour show and they showed Alissa's performance. Fans in our own country couldn't even watch OUR national champion's performance. Shame on NBC!!!! And shame on the lousy coverage our networks gave the entire championship -- I found it on Oxygen but only after flipping channels -- it wasn't even mentioned in their website!!!! Thank goodness I live in NW Ohio and could watch CBC's broadcast of the entire championship, including previously watching 4 Continents and Grand Prix events, which our terrific networks decided not to broadcast.

Michelle competed under this new scoring system at the 2005 World Championships. She placed 4th and that was with a long program that really wasn't designed with the new system in mind. If she has smart choreography and is well trained, she can make a successful comeback.

I've thoroughly enjoyed this blog all week! I frequently checked it for updates. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Caroline Zhang did not win the Junior National title, Mirai did. Caroline did fare better than Mirai internationally though and won the Junior World back in 2007. IMHO Caroline probably is the best U.S. hope for a medal in the next Olympic Winter Game.

Evan Lysacek did spirals?

While everybody is going goo-goo over Kim,I am predicting that Michelle Kwan will win the Olympic Gold Medal in the greatest upset in the Olympics since the US Hockey team's "Miracle on ice".

Watching any major sport in the world (and figure skating was not only Winter's number one sport in popularity to watch on TV, it was behind only American football in overall ratings in the U.S.), the audience must know HOW TO KEEP SCORE, even if they don't agree with decisions by the judges, referees or umpires. In fact, lack of agreement and controversy regarding those decisions provide universal appeal and extra excitement.

Since the ISU changed skating's scoring system, literally NO ONE in the general audience (TV or live) understands how to score a performance. Amazing. That simple fact alone nullifies any real chance for skating to regain its universal prominence.

How one speedskater and one committee (Ottavio Cincuanta, the ISU Rules Committee) can practically destroy one of the most incredible sports in history is a tragedy which only a major reversal back to an improved version of the tried-and-true former scoring rules... and a significant changeover in ISU personnel ...will remedy. There were so many other ways to lessen nationalism and corruption of judges--but, in this case, an entire sport was so changed that its popularity with millions of fans consequently plummeted.

For the many less of us who still watch, we admire the skaters' talents and root for our favorites---but we then have to wait to see how unaccountable, unidentified judges will score their routines---while not understanding why or how they did so---and listening to announcers stretch and strain to explain it all. Wow. How terribly sad.

Michael A. Rosenberg
Former Manager of over 100 World, National or Olympic Skating Champions


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