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Tara Lipinski on the scoring system: Skaters who go for it are the ones to watch

March 28, 2009 | 11:30 am

Editor's note: All week, Ticket to Vancouver has been featuring posts from past skating champions. On Thursday it was Olympic gold medalist and 1997 world champion Tara Lipinski, who recalled her own victory at worlds and "being in the zone." She is back today, the day of the ladies free skate, to talk about the scoring system.

Tara LipinskiSkating has progressed through the years, and it's about time judging evolved as well. The international judging system, or IJS, is intended to be fair and unbiased. In essence, each stroke a skater takes is analyzed by the panel. 

Programs are dissected and every aspect of an element is accounted for. You will never have to worry that any facet of a skater’s program is going unnoticed -- a great attribute of the system. 

Skaters are well-informed of the criteria necessary to maximize their scoring potential. The elements that comprise an individual’s score do allow the audience and, more importantly, the judges to know the caliber of a program. 

In a way, it is a little like the degree of difficulty in diving or gymnastics. Maybe it’s not as "simple" as the old six-point system, and a common complaint is that the audience can’t figure it out. Could the audience truly figure out how a program was judged under the six-point system? I don’t think so. It’s just that 5.9 seems like an easier number to work with rather than 70.23 (or whatever the score may be).

It may seem confusing, but with the right explanation everyone should know exactly what to watch for and know when we might see a 70-point-plus performance in a short program like we did Friday from Kim Yu-Na. Audiences appreciate good skating whether the skater scored 5.8/5.8 or 68.95.
Some other questions arise. Under the IJS will skaters really go for it and take the risk of pushing the technical envelope? I would like to think the answer is yes. The IJS separates the skaters that have the confidence and ability to attempt more difficult elements from those who do not. Our elite female skaters continue to raise the bar, attempting triple axels, triple lutz-triple loop combinations, beautiful spiral variations and difficult spin positions, knowing the rules will recognize and reward. 

At the same time, this is exactly where the system has its faults. A skater may choose to increase the number of less demanding moves in a program in place of fewer moves that have higher scoring potential. By doing this, a program can score at the same point level but with less risk of execution.

The skaters that I take pleasure in watching are the ones who do go for it. These are the skaters who will reach new heights and push boundaries. They are the ones who will make the sport grow and evolve. 

I realize some competitors are adding up the points they could lose by taking chances and it can be scary -- but, after all, it is competition.  I knew that I had to land triple triples to make the podium. Under the old system I never added points but I definitely knew where a fall would land me. I skated on the offensive. When I returned from a competition, I worked on new jumps, new combos, anything that might set me apart.

I always wanted to try something new that would distinguish me from my competitors. With that said, consistency is paramount. I can't imagine that today's skaters feel any different than I did.

On Friday, Yu-Na, Joannie Rochette and Mao Asada found a beautiful balance of artistry and technicality. The best skaters will always differentiate themselves by executing unique programs with a mix of difficulty and balletic qualities.

If there was ever a time to educate the general public on what to look for when a skater performs it is now. I think as a group we have been divided on the judging system and we are doing neither the sport nor our audience any favors. 

Vancouver is right around the corner, and I want to do my part to encourage the fans to get excited.  This has the makings of a great pre-Olympic year!

-- Tara Lipinski