Whew, somehow it is 2020 and National Championships season in the world of figure skating. Japan and Russia kicked it off at the end of December, and Canada and the U.S. are up next, in terms of the major players. As we look at the season so far, I’ve got some observations about the current skating landscape, and some suggestions, because I can’t help myself. Here’s what we’ve learned so far this season:
Fire Power in the Short is Tough to Beat
A clean triple axel in the short program can overpower a multi-quad long program. Alena Kostornia’s superb triple axels are putting her so far ahead in short programs that she isn’t at a huge disadvantage without a quad in the free skate. It’s how she won the Grand Prix Final, and her two Grand Prix events this season. She was second to Anna Shcherbakova at Russian Nationals this year, so it isn’t an infallible strategy, but with three triple axels and her superior skating skills, it is possible to top the quad jumpers among her fellow Russians. Now, this advantage will disappear quickly if the ISU votes to allow quadruple jumps in the women’s short program, which I believe will be up for vote at the 2020 ISU Congress.
Balanced Skating is Still Rewarded (But Not Enough)
I’m going to turn to the Russian ladies again in this example. Kostornia gets in the high 8s and low 9s for her program component scores, while Alexandra Trusova is averaging in the low 8s. Kostornia’s higher marks are completely deserved – she has better flow across the ice, and more extension and toe point in her strokes and pushes, whereas at times it seems like Trusova does a series of pumps to get speed and then launches into her jumps.
But almost across the board in singles, I keep noticing major gaps between the technical element score and the PCS score. A skater like Trusova, who relies on her jump content, can have a 20-30 point difference in the TES vs. PCS, with the TES much higher because of how the scoring system factors each segment into the total score. But even Nathan Chen, who has been lauded for his artistic strides in recent years, had a huge difference in his TES and PCS scores in his Grand Prix Final victory. Because of his incredible quad content (five at that event), his TES was 33.36 points higher than his PCS, which were all high 9s (out of a possible 10). There needs to be a change in the way that PCS are weighted in the final score, because the current setup does not give equal weight to technical and artistic feats. And since this is figure skating and not jump skating, both need to be given equal importance. Notice that I am not saying to de-value quadruple jumps (which are incredibly difficult and should be rewarded as such). I just think we need to balance out the scales a bit here by increasing the value of high PCS scores in the overall total.
I also think this would be more effective than an age limit in terms of the current controversy over young skaters doing multiple quads and how that may or may not affect their future health. There definitely needs to be more study on that point, because we really only know things anecdotally now. Until that can be done and an age limit proven as a way to support the future health of skaters, I think fixing the IJS (again) could help. Plus, it avoids a scenario where people can complain that a skater was held back by an age limit during his or her prime. This type of change would give them incentive to work on having a complete package over jumps alone, which could also help with the toll that quad jumps take on the body by limiting repetition a bit.
10s Should Be Rare (And They’re Not)
In citing all those PCS marks above, and just looking at judges’ scores throughout the season, what kept jumping out at me was how willingly and frequently judges are handing out high 9s and 10s in the PCS. To me, those types of marks should be rare and well-deserved, for the likes of a Kwan or a Gordeeva/Grinkov, a bit like the old 6.0 perfect mark. Not handed out because a skater landed multiple quads, or is competing in his or her home country. Clean quadruple jumps also shouldn’t automatically lead to a 9.75 in skating skills. Sure, they can go towards the performance segment of the PCS mark, because a clean skate certainly elevates the performance quality, or composition, because a program that is well-crafted but includes multiple falls should be docked a bit, just as a clean program gives a more well-composed overall picture. But, judges, let’s save the 10s for historic moments, like Virtue/Moir at the Olympics, or true excellence, like Hanyu’s transitions.
Now it’s time to get down off my soapbox and go watch episode four of Netflix’s figure skating series, Spinning Out. I’ve got some thoughts on the show coming for a later post…stay tuned!
All score research compiled via SkatingScores.com, an excellent resource for skating fans and followers who want to get into the details of the scoring system and event scores.
Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported that Kostornia was 3rd at Russian Nationals in 2020 and the post has since been updated to reflect her 2nd place finish.