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Impressions: Cup of China 2017 and Backloading Programs

I have a lot to say about Alina Zagitiva’s victory in the ladies event at the 2017 Cup of China, and I’ll go from trivial to serious. Firstly, those tights:

Alina Zagitova

Image Source: The Daily Mail

Either go fully over the boot, or just wear regular tights. Please. This in-between look is messy and distracting.

Another distracting thing? How ridiculously backloaded her long program was. I actually got bored watching the first two minutes, waiting for jumps. Then I checked the time in disbelief, because I couldn’t imagine that she did two minutes without jumps. But she did, which made the second half a jumble of skating from jump to jump, without any transitions or interesting movements. I was watching on YouTube without commentary, though I noticed in watching later on NBC that commentator Tara Lipinski pointed it out at the start of the program and said she liked the buildup. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the requirements of the program components mark is proportion in choreography and composition of the program. How does a program like this fit that criteria? With this judging panel, her scores ranged from 8-9.25 in composition. That’s out of 10. And that’s absolutely ridiculous. Beyond that, you need to have the skating skills of someone with the last name Kwan, Cohen, or Kostner to keep my attention for two minutes without jumps.

Proportion requires a balanced program. That means she needs to jump in the first half, no question. I understand putting a majority of jumps in the second half to take advantage of the bonus points, and they are deserved bonus points in most cases. However, the component marks in the composition category should not have been as high as they were. Sure, give her the bonus on the jumps and contribute to her overall TES score of 76.09, but the imbalance needs to be reflected in the components score.

The ISU is considering all sorts of crazy rule changes, and Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport did an excellent analysis that I highly recommend reading. The changes range from reducing the length of free skates for men and pairs to creating separate artistic and technical programs. They all seem unnecessary and unfounded, and Claire does a great job of explaining why. I’d rather see proposed rule changes that confront issues like this backloading problem, or the fact that people will purposefully rotate and fall on a quad over a clean triple jump, because it gets them more points (More on that from the great Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating). Or maybe the ISU could spend less time on rule changes and more time educating judges and making sure they are handing out marks that reflect the requirements.

The one redeeming quality of Zagitova’s program for me? She included a Charlotte spiral, one of my favorite moves to watch and to do. Here’s the original, performed by Charlotte Oelschlegel, after whom the spiral is named.

charlotte

Image Source: AHistoryBlog.com

Thoughts? Anybody love the backloaded approach and care to share a counterargument?

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The Quad Game

There has been a lot of talk lately about the U.S. men and their quad game (or lack thereof, in some cases).

The Chicago Tribune‘s Philip Hersh expressed concern about Jason Brown’s quadless victory at Nationals. Hersh doesn’t think Brown can be a contender without a quad and was proven right this weekend when Brown only finished in 6th place at Four Continents. All five men ahead of him at least attempted quads, though not all were landed cleanly.

It should be noted that Brown did attempt a quad for the first time in competition in the short program at Four Continents, which was a huge milestone for him. He has been skating internationally as a senior since the fall of 2013 and has yet to even attempt one, so to get the first attempt out there and over with is a hurdle in itself. That being said, it was not the greatest attempt: he came down on two feet and well short of rotation, which makes me wonder how ready he is to include the jump at Worlds.

I read Hersh’s article after Nationals and had similar thoughts of my own, as much as I love Jason Brown’s positive attitude and skating style. Figure skating columnist extraordinaire Christine Brennan summed it up pretty well:

“…when the judges reward a quad-less program with a whopping 93.36 points, as they did Friday night for Brown, they aren’t sending the best message.” —Columnist Christine Brennan in USA Today on 1/24/15

What actually stood out to me the most was the huge difference in scores between Brown’s personal best of 93.36 and ladies champion Ashley Wagner’s personal best of 72.04, despite rather similar elements. I’m about to go down a math rabbit hole, so bear with me.

I understand that the men traditionally have higher scores than the women, what with triple axels, quads, and more triple-triple combinations, and I obviously don’t want to take anything away from either of these superb, personal best performances. But being said, the twenty point difference struck me as a huge discrepancy, especially since Brown’s program didn’t include a quad.

Brown earned his 93.36 with a triple axel, triple flip-triple toe, and a triple lutz, with 44.46 of those points for program components. In comparison, Wagner only had 33.71 for program components. Her elements were a triple lutz-triple toe (a more difficult combination, despite the -1 she got for GOE), double axel, and triple flip. The glaring difference here is clearly the double axel that earned Wagner 4.49 points, while Brown’s triple axel was worth 10.07. But that looks more like 6 points to me, not 20. From where I sit, it seems like Brennan has a point about over-rewarding in the scores. Any other wannabe-mathematicians out there have their own theory?

Brown may be the U.S. national champion, but it was bronze medalist Joshua Farris who made the podium at Four Continents, with a quad in his arsenal. I think he will be the one to watch going in to Worlds. With the likes of Denis Ten, Javier Fernandez, and Yuzuru Hanyu routinely hitting quads, those four revolutions have become the name of the game in the men’s event.