An interview of Alexander Lakernik, chairman of the ISU technical committee: "Going into details, we have gone too far" http://ffkm.ru/images/mf/Figurist_2011_04_24.pdf (page 30) A new judging system was created eight years ago with the idea of more objective assessment of skating. Even estimation of the same features in elements execution changed from positive to negative over the time, and as for the artistic part of figure skating, it never can be assessed unambiguously: one likes, another doesn't. Of course, everybody noticed the subjectivity of judging, but the first one who tried to do something about it was Stanislav Zhuk, who understood that technical aspects of figure skating can be measured, at least the criteria can be found: is it difficult or easy, executed well or poorly. Stanislav Alekseevich was the first one to create the criteria that could be used to evaluate programs more objectively. What was the objectivity? The fact that each element had its own difficulty, and hence its own value, which, depending on the quality of performance could be increased or decreased. His idea was like this: let's say, the element costs 20 points, and if it's done well, then its value increases by 30%, and if not, then the value can be reduced accordingly. When Stanislav Zhuk was still alive, we even held a competition (I think it was the "Olympic Hopes"), where in addition to the main judging panel was another one, which evaluated the skaters according to his system. Then the first marks were compared (the second mark wasn't touched at all), and in some cases they were similar, in some cases different. But maybe because Stanislav Alekseevich had passed away, or because those were difficult times, we never tried to repeat that experiment. Now the more and more I realize how truly great Stanislav Zhuk really was, because he had a systematic view of figure skating, because he had a very clear idea of what he wanted and how he would do it. He was probably a unique coach not only in the world, but in history. I remember how we discussed this idea and I told him that his system was good, but figure skating would never work like that. However, it happened so that it became possible, almost identical system was born and I became one of its developers. Today the idea of a new judging system is ascribed to the ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta. He introduced that idea almost immediately after the 2002 Olympic Games, where results of the pairs-skating event left opinions split. But Cinquanta knew about Zhuk's ideas, he had his schemes before his eyes, because at one time they were translated into English and sent to him. Therefore, we can assume that, one way or another, the Zhuk's system had shifted the thoughts of the ISU President in that direction. However, if it wasn't for the Salt Lake City with its scandals, maybe nothing would happen at all. The fact that Ottavio Cinquanta, who comes not from the figure skating world, but from speed skating, where the outcome is measured by a stopwatch, beat his rival Lawrence Demmy, an ice dancing expert, at the ISU president elections in1994, has also played certain role. If Demmy became a president, the new system would never be accepted. I'm sure of that. Too far So what have we got? We have got a new formal scheme, which in many aspects works better than the previous one. The principle of the judging panel (that determines the quality of performance) remained the same, it is based on the idea that there is a certain number of judges and each of them has their own opinion, and the sum of these opinions forms the opinion of the panel. If we take the work of technical panel (that determines the complexity of the program), it awards the mark based not on an opinion, but strictly following the rules. Teaching technical panels, we strive to make all three persons comprising the panel to have the same look at the elements, and only in borderline situations their opinions may differ, and then the decision is made by a simple majority vote. Therefore, for technical panel all the rules, and all the exceptions, and all the exceptions to the exceptions, are laws, detailing which, in my opinion, we have gone too far. As a chairman of the ISU Technical Committee, I see some kind of the simplification of rules as one of my goals for the next season. And, frankly, this is the first time I set such goal. The ISU authorities support me in this matter and also believe that it is necessary to simplify our approach somehow, because when there are many small requirements, it is easy to miss something and come to completely different results. It is one thing when the technical panel argues if it is level two or level three. And now that we have sometimes arguments whether it's level four or no level, it has become critical. This season, there were already several disputes like that in pair skating events at the Junior and Senior Grand Prix series. Single approach Technical panels determine the levels of elements with sufficient accuracy, except for those borderline situations where there is discussion. Usually, problems with the technical panels arise when the people are quite knowledgeable, but think that their opinion is absolute. Such desire to translate their views into the panel decision no matter what becomes dangerous, especially if other members do not have the strength to withstand this onslaught, even though they should. Another aspect of the technical panel work. For example, if you open the list of the ISU technical specialists in pair skating, there will be a total of 20 names. They are all high-level professionals who judge almost all major international competitions. Since there are so few of them, it means that they work several times internationally and at home. With such a small number of them it's fairly easy to develop common approaches. As for technical specialists in single skating, there are much more of them, therefore, they work less frequently. Thus, many technical specialists have only one international competition per year, and the rest of the work they do in their home country which is not in the ISU jurisdiction. Accordingly, there is much bigger variety of views and interpretations and they are not always correct. So when we increase the number of specialists, we have to give more clear instructions, or to expect different responses. All the coaches like to say: my competitor did the same thing two weeks ago, and the protocol was different. Well, first of all, he did not make the same thing a priori, because you cannot enter the same river twice, and it means that he did something a little differently - and this is one of the reasons. But the reason may be that he was judged by different people. Hence in pair skating the danger that this factor will change the results is a little smaller than in single skating. Regulations When we prepare the requirements for getting levels, we have to make sure that high levels can be achieved with skill. But if the requirements are too tough, no one will get there, and if they are too easy, then there will be everyone, and that is wrong again. And to find the requirements that are right from both technical and aesthetic point of view is very difficult. Here's an example: several years ago, we added difficult variation for the lady as a death spiral feature, and all the ladies started to do the catchfoot. As a result, death spiral was no longer a death spiral, and the last Olympic Games have passed under the sign of that awful back out death spiral. Now this feature was removed since we realized that that was a road to nowhere. For figure skating to continue to grow, there must be a variety of elements. Today, the coaches know that to do something out of the box is a big risk, but many have learned to invent something new even in these strict limits (for example, this season, Tatiana Volosozhar - Maxim Trankov and their coaches have come up with three new lifts). But this is rather an exception, because the new system offers a coach to follow the rules, therefore, the rules specify which elements are performed by athletes at the event. At one time, the "illusion spin" cost nothing, and everyone stopped doing it. We made it a level feature, and it's back again. Now the Euler jump has become an element of certain value. It was done before as a connecting jump, and including it in the jump sequence was regarded as a sequence of jumps. The idea of giving it its own value was a sensible way to increase the variety of jump combinations. Now, if there is an Euler, without stepping on the other foot, and the second jump is a Salchow or flip, then it is not a jump sequence, it's jump combination, which costs a little bit more than sequence. Some people like this innovation, some are against it, but only practice will show whether it is good or bad. Until after a certain number of competitions, it is difficult to understand where any innovation leads. So it's trial and error. The complexity and quality Another sad fact is that there is no harmonious interaction judging and technical panels. For example, recently we made performing of half of the step sequence on one leg a level feature. And immediately coaches made the athletes perform one leg step sequence, even those who can barely stand on two legs. And so they are sweating, swinging from side to side, crawling completely out of the music and so on. Many people now ask me to remove this feature, because it is impossible to look at. This example clearly shows that, unfortunately, the interaction between the two panels is very limited. What does technical panel evaluate? Complexity. What does judging panel evaluate? Quality. If the skater performs half of the step sequence on one leg, technical panel has to award this feature, and the step sequence level will be increased. But if it is performed poorly, GOE should drop. And the coach has to understand that everything they gain in levels, they will lose in quality. And then this feature will be included only by those who really can do it nicely and easily. And what we have in reality: technical panel awards the right level, because they have clearly defined rules, and judges, instead of negative GOE, give GOE 0 or even positive. And the coach comes to the conclusion that the element should be initially set to the highest level: technical panel will definitely take that into account, and the judges would probably just overlook it. And often they do, even though they should not. About 70-80% of the athletes perform half a step sequence on one leg! The level pursuit is also due to the fact that the judges are still afraid to award the highest GOE, even when they are evident. And the coach understands that even a brilliant execution of a simple element is unlikely to be awarded by +2 +3 GOE, so it is better not to risk it and go for levels. So I think that for now the judges perform their tasks less effectively than technical panels. In my opinion, it is important that the coach understands that if the technical skill of the young athlete does not allow to perform the level 4 element, then they shouldn't set such goal. Leave it at level 2-3, there is a reason why the international rules do not allow novice skaters to get for any element more that level 2 or 3, depending on the category. This restriction is also due to the fact that pursuing levels can lead to injury. Injuries can be explicit (bruises, fractures, sprains) and hidden (deformation of the joints, fatigue fractures, etc.). For example, the Biellmann was found dangerous precisely because of the negative impact on the spine. We had to limit the number of Biellmanns in the programs not only because we see a lot of them, but also because if everyone would try to do it, then what will happen to their backs? In this connection I would like to say that the coach should not mindlessly chase levels and then blame the system, but understand what is allowed and what is not, which direction it makes sense to go and which is not. Second mark As for the second mark, to be quite honest, we're almost at the same place: it is still subjective. It was decided that since the new principle of judging is splitting the entire program to the elements, then second mark should also be fractured into components. However, this is not new. In times of 6.0 system, at the training seminars for judges the second mark was divided not into five, but into seven parts, but in the end, it was combined into one. It was different for each judge due to the fact judges had different preferences. One paid more attention to the interpretation of the music, another to the choreography, etc. Now, in general, little has changed. Of course, we're trying to teach judges to be more versatile, encourage them not to make all five marks the same, really punish the bad and reward the good, but the judges are still not very good at that. Being an optimist in this matter, I still cannot say 100% that goals are attainable because the solution of such problems requires from judges the knowledge and skills greater than they have so far. All the more so that judges have completely different points of view. And when you listen to what people say about ice dancing, it makes your head spin. You can hear judges saying about the same team that they are perfect and they are awful. For me as a skater, the main thing is the quality of basic skating. If it's poor, then everything else is of little importance. By the way, the Shpilband and Zueva's school's main advantage is that their athletes have a very good basic skating skills, and there is nothing to say. There aren't many people now who can teach to skate like that, so the impression is that some fly on the ice, while others crawl on it. Few words about dance As for the ice dancing, since I'm not an expert here, I can only express my amateur point of view. First of all, dance is an art that is a priori subjective. But since we have the ice dancing competitions, that means that there must be elements that can be compared. Such elements appeared in dancing before any new system of judging. Then the new rules listed the required elements for each dance, so it can be evaluated. The obvious advantage is that the skill of dancers can be measured, obvious disadvantage is that the requirements make all the programs look alike. Judging what we see In general, I believe that the working under the new rules for a good coach cannot be a problem because eight years is enough time to get into it. We already have a generation of children who know the system very well. In the U.S., as far as I know, novice competitions are judged under 6.0 system, and we, although we started later, already switched to the new system at all levels. Early in the season we have test skates (which is a very good idea), so that coaches and athletes can listen to the judges and fix all the problems. But often, even after all the disputes, an athlete goes to the next event and repeats the same mistakes, that is, falls into the same trap again. Or some new points come out. According to the rules, athletes must provide the content of their program before the competition. Content - it is just a plan, sometimes we even call it a "dream list", because often there are dreams written down, not reality. But it is a mandatory requirement, which is not always fulfilled, especially at domestic competitions, and I personally think that in these cases, athletes should not be allowed to skate at the event. In competitions an athlete can change the written elements and to do others, it is not punishable. Of course, for the technical panel it is more convenient, when there is this list and they know what will happen next, so that nothing is missed. But none of the decisions can be made based on that sheet, because we judge what we see. Pair skaters and ice dancers rarely change the content of their program, but single skaters do that often, and not always do it thoughtfully. At the World Championships in Moscow in 2011 two skaters - Nobunari Oda and Ksenia Makarova - dropped down one place, and Nobunari even lost the medal, because in the free program he did the fourth jump combination (which in this case has zero value). It would seem that one should learn on such mistakes, but just now, at Rostelecom Cup, Konstantin Menshov again did four combos. At the Junior Grand Prix event, Artur Dmitriev had an opening combination of triple flip - triple loop in the short program, and the landing on triple flip was not very clean, but he still landed it! And instead of doing at least a double loop, he just went on. And when it came to the required element Lutz from the steps, instead he made a combination triple Lutz - triple toe. The result was: combination without a jump, that is, the value of triple flip with GOE -3, and Lutz from the steps was not counted at all. In sum, Artur lost about ten points, as it turned out, that was the price of the Grand Prix final for him. I once asked Ilya Klimkin why he did an extra triple toe loop when he had to to do a Salchow, and he said: I was going into this element and could not remember what I did before. To avoid such mistakes, coaches need to carefully prepare the athletes, because the steress makes it difficult to think clearly. Striving for balance The new system has been active for eight years. Now it's clear that there are problems, which I once thought myself would be the reason why to introduce this system won't be easy, because human factor cannot be assessed objectively. What does any formal scheme do? It leaves out some details, chops off the ends, because they don't fit in. But it's figure skating, it is not a mathematical problem. And at some point it becomes clear that the discarded elements are important, and then we begin to build another scheme, which includes these "ends", but leaves out something else. And then again this need occurs, etc. As I already mentioned, we have gone too far now, because there are so many fine details, especially in the technical panels work, that people are starting to get lost. We have now one text in the rules that no one can understand, something just became unreadable. And if the coach and the judge do not understand the rules, it means you should change something. As a chairman of the Technical Committee, I set the next goal (and we are currently preparing proposals for regulations to be discussed at the Congress in June 2012) to try to simplify the whole scheme a little bit, try to make more uniform, more clear, without unnecessary detail. And if we go back to the beginning of the conversation, then we can say that the system has had positive results, but now we come to some philosophical problems, the realization of which will make it clear where we go from here.