So what would figure-skating give for Katarina in her pomp today?
Probably an across-the-board 6.0 – if the famous old judging system still existed: except it doesn’t.
After the 2002 Olympics debacle, which saw judges accused of blatant cheating in the pairs event, a new calculation was introduced that brought a more systematic approach, but which also placed more emphasis on technical expertise.
From a judge’s point of view, you can see the advantage: a competitor either nails a particular manoeuvre or doesn’t. But it’s that very approach that could make a young Katarina an also-ran if she competed now. And if that isn’t a fatal condemnation of a system, then I don’t know what is.
At its best, skating can make the fuzzy line between sport and art blurrier than almost anything else. The athletic temperament required to perfect the requisite technique balances as precariously as any blade, alongside the grace required to transmit something even greater than the physical to an audience.
But it could be done. At her best Katarina managed it. So did Janet Lynn before her. The sadness now is that the intangible doesn’t seem to be required any more.
Maybe it’s the curse of modern sport. In an age when athleticism and attitude dominate, it’s possibly naive to expect more. Even the current world men’s champion, Patrick Chan, has said skating used to be more “epic”. There was a tangible individuality among the skaters, he argues, something even the uninitiated could twig.
But now the way a routine is measured also determines the way it is performed. There are many coaches who appreciate that, in the way that coaches in most sports appreciate skills that can be taught. But an unfortunate by-product of that is how much of the soul has been removed. Not coincidentally, so has much of skating’s television audience.
By trying to fix the problem of subjective judges, the problem of too much objective performance has been created.
“Figure skating is a different kind of sport,” Katarina has said. “You cannot compare it to swimming, which is about who’s the fastest. Skating is about who touches your heart.”
Kati can still manage that. It’s a lot less certain the sport she adorned can do the same.