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Skating math: Why Kim Yuna's gold medal glitters more, and post-Olympic worlds don't add up

March 22, 2010 | 10:08 am

As South Korea's Kim Yuna prepares to defend her world figure skating title this week in Turin, Italy, it's worth looking, by the numbers, at both her gold medal Olympic performance and the very idea of a post-Olympic world meet.

Fortunately for my math-challenged brain, a French television journalist, Paul Peret, has done all the heavy lifting and sent it to me in an e-mail over the weekend.

Let's start with Kim.

In a blog written during Skate America -- also prompted by a suggestion from Paul -- I noted that her score would have won the men's short program in an essentially apples-to-apples comparison. (Kim's raw score would have been second among the men, but after taking into account the difference in the way component scores are calculated for the men as opposed to the women, her score topped that of Skate America short program winner Evan Lysacek.)


The numbers for the Olympics are even more impressive.

1. Only eight men topped Kim's overall raw score.

2. In the short program, the men's component scores are factored by 1.0, the women's by .8. (The factoring is designed to account for both the generally higher difficulty of the men's jumps and, in the long program, the additional 30 seconds in the men's program.)

Recalculating to make the factor even, Kim's short program score goes from 78.50 to 86.95, which would have been fourth among the men.

3. In the long program, her raw score of 150.06 would have ranked ninth among the men. Here again, the men's component scores are factored by 25% more. Recalculating to even the factors, Kim winds up with 168 points -- ahead of Olympic men's free skate winner Lysacek (167.37). That is even more stunning given that the men get a chance for more technical points because they do 13 elements in the free skate, compared with 12 for the women.

4. Kim's recalculated total, 254.95, would have won the bronze medal in the men's event.

Maybe the International Skating Union should give Kim the additional medal, given how much her presence this week in Turin is worth to the sponsors and TV networks airing this essentially meaningless world meet.

That income is the only justification for having a worlds in the Olympic year, given that many of the Olympic medalists (five of 12, including two of the four gold medalists) are choosing to skip it.

Such medalist absences became customary soon after the end of compulsory figures (1990) meant the world meet would no longer be an automatic win for the recently crowned Olympic champion. Only following the next Olympics (1992) have all four gold medalists shown up to collect what had been preordained world golds.

Judging slowly became less predictable after 1992, and the implementation of the new judging system (first used at Olympics in 2006) made results even more uncertain. Many Olympic medalists have chosen not to risk tarnishing their new hardware with a less-than-shiny performance at worlds. 

Beginning with 1994, more than half the medalists (32 of 60) have not competed at the ensuing worlds. In 1998 and 2006, none of the gold medalists showed up. This season, four of the top six men from the Olympics will be missing.

That does not necessarily mean the worlds will have no good skating. In 2006, Kimmie Meissner of the United States won the women's title with a brilliant free skate -- but it came in the absence of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa of Japan and bronze medalist Irina Slutskaya of Russia.

It just seems a little silly to have a world championships without half the skaters who had been among the world's best only a month earlier.

More numbers: Shame on the ISU for deleting some on the sly

That is how the international federation corrected the mind-boggling stupidity that allowed the Chinese to have a third pair at the recent World Junior Figure Skating Championships, even though the China had earned only two pairs spots.

In a telephone conversation last week, ISU director-general Fredi Schmid passed off as a "clerical error" the snafu that gave the Chinese three pairs.

I got an e-mail Saturday -- from a skating observer, not anyone in an official capacity -- that said the ISU simply had deleted the third Chinese pair from the results on the federation's website.

A quick check showed only two Chinese pairs still listed and this explanation at the bottom of the results:

Note: Due to a wrong entry the pair -- Xiaoyu Yu / Yang Jin -- from China, placed originally 8th in the final result, had to be deleted. In the corrected versions of each result of segment and Final each of the lower placed couples will move up accordingly. Due to the deletion of the pair Xiaoyu Yu / Yang Jin from China, which was originally qualified for the final Free Skating, only 15 pairs will be listed for the final result as having skated the Free Program.

So I fished around the rest of the ISU website, expecting to find an official statement about the change, which the federation did not announce by e-mail.

And I found nothing.

Which is worse than having made the mistake in the first place.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Kim Yuna carries the South Korean flag as her country's athletes arrive at Seoul's airport after the 2010 Olympics. Credit: Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press