Think Olympic Judges are Biased? They Might Be.

Rock2

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I think this piece could have gone further. When you look at Sotnikova for example you yes, discuss how she wasn't a favorite, but also how her results and scores to date had been mediocre but then suddenly her scores (especially PCS) shot up out of nowhere for fairly similar sorts of skates. How does that happen?

Part of that answer goes into the fact that it's not just home country judging because one judge can't drive that whole result. You get into spheres of influence or block judging. They should be looking at the data and mining in groups to see how blocks are operating, if at all. Do Canada, US and other countries like FRA, GB or GER operate as a Western Block? Do CHN, KOR, JPN and other eastern countries operate in a block? Do RUS, LAT, UKR, KAZ, CZE and others operate in a block? That part would be interesting.

It's also important to factor out skaters who are not contenders so maybe you just focus on top 10-15 in world standing. Hypothesis is that judging is more objective for skaters that no one is overly invested in. If you include that data you could be smoothing over some very pointed insights. So I'd take it out.

My guess is that there is still a strong Eastern Euro block driving overall results esp in Olympics whereas other blocks have pretty much dissipated. Dunno. Would like to see the data in that context.
 

Vagabond

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Found an interesting article on NBC News about figure skating judging and bias with limited data research from Dartmouth economics professor Eric Zitzewitz:

https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/w...ys-they-n844886?icid=today_hp_NBCtopheadlines

I also saw this segment on the Today Show this morning:

Figure Skating Judges May Favor Skaters From Their Own Country

Round up the usual suspects! :yawn:

Why not the rule be designed in such a way whereby we prevent two countries having the same head of state also not be on panel, so Australia, Canada and Britain ? :saint:... I would also prefer only one judge from Schengen countries. For me that makes more sense than stopping countries that gained independence from another be not on the panel.
Historically, Australian and British skating judges have had a reputation for fair and honest judging at international competitions. As for their Canadian counterparts.... :saint:
 

Willin

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I don't know of any sport that has a huge budget for officials and yet most of them manage to pay their officials.

I officiate women's lacrosse and a lot of times the payment to the officials breaks down to less than $5 per athlete on the field. So if you think about it in those terms, it's not that much. I think where figure skating does run into a unique challenge is that the competitions are so long.

On a related note, it might be nice to start a different competitive format, call it "Jump, Spin, Skate," where instead of competing with programs, skaters get to compete on specific jumps, optional jumps, spins and compulsory footwork patterns. Maybe this already exists. I wouldn't know because I'm just a fan from my couch.

But I think it would be great at the developmental levels because it would bring the cost of putting a program and a costume together down for parents. It would also create events that are a little shorter in nature. This would make them easier to stage and easier for grandparents and friends and siblings to attend on a Saturday afternoon.
Jump/Spin/Footwork competitions don't only exist at the developmental level. ISI does them at all levels.
At the collegiate and high school team competitions, they also do this. The members of the team perform their own programs and get those results, which are then added up, and then there's skills competitions. Each team chooses a couple members to demonstrate each skill and then the skaters are judged head-to-head. I believe each team is required to demonstrate a jump, a spin, a footwork sequence, and moves in the field (spirals, spread eagles, bauers, etc.). I think that would make for a much more fun Olympic team event - each country having to go head-to-head for one jump (from one skater), one spin, one footwork sequence, one pairs lift, one dance lift, and maybe one spiral sequence. It would be interesting to see how that would go.
 

Coco

Rotating while Russian!
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Yes, yes, yes!!!!

Glad to hear those are already happening.
 

Aussie Willy

Hates both vegemite and peanut butter
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I think nearly all fans know that politics plays a role because having judges is dependent on national federations and volunteers. I for one was not reacting to the idea that there are problems (though I do think there are certainly judges who strive for professionalism nonetheless) but to the idea that all we need to do is look at the problems and solutions will present themselves. Yes and all one needs to do when one needs money is to visualize dollars and voila... etc.
The problem with skating judging is until you come up with a system that can provide an purely objective measure, it is always going to be a subjective judged sport. It relies on administrative controls which are the lowest form of risk management. It is not a sport where someone crosses and line and has the best time. Judges are people who have perceptions, opinions, different types of backgrounds, tastes and knowledge. And people make mistakes which is part of life (because on average people make mistakes at least 6 times a day). When you throw that into the mix, you are actually kind of setting a system for failure, whether that be actual or perceived. Because a skating program is a complex beast which has an incredible number of factors that have to be looked at.

Until someone develops a system that can evaluate elements and components based on an algorithm, you will not get a perfect system. But if you replaced judges with robots people will still complain.
 

overedge

Mayor of Carrot City
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@gkelly There's certainly an argument to be made for cultural influence on skating/judging in some regions. The influence of the Queen and British culture is so distant now for most of the large Commonwealth countries that I think it would be difficult to argue that British/Commonwealth culture has an influence on judging, or judging preferences, for skaters in those countries.
 

sap5

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As I understand it, skaters get feedback from judges after they compete. What is this feedback like? Are skaters going up to a judge and saying, "I'm not understanding why you gave me a +1 GOE for this lift?" and then getting a detailed, honest answer? Is every skater able to do that with all the judges concerning their protocol sheets?
 

VGThuy

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Gosh, judges could eff with someone's mind so easily if they wanted to. Yeah, that spin you've been doing all season? I suddenly realized it'd be better if you changed it last minute. Oh gosh, I don't like the way you choreographed that three turn in that step sequence, if only you'd change it...
 

MacMadame

Doing all the things
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I know I've said this before, but if the ISU was even semi-serious about punishing misbehaving judges - as in giving meaningful penalties and banning repeat offenders for life - it would get a lot less of this kind of criticisum.
I think the reason this doesn't happen is that ISU judges are part of the club. They came up through the club and by the time they get to that level, they know everyone and everyone knows them. It's hard to fire a friend. Or refuse to give them a second chance.

So it's all part of the same problem. You can't get to be a high-level judge without making friends with everyone else including the people who judge you.

I think that a lot of the solutions that get proposed for these problems are not practical. For example, being an ISU judge can't be a full-time job. There just aren't that many ISU competitions. And, as has been pointed out, there's no money for lower-level judges; they barely get their expenses reimbursed.

I also think we have a rosy view of officials in other sports. I once stayed at a hostel with a bunch of ITU judges and it was eye-opening. They were put in this hostel and not in the same hotel as the rest of the officials and most of them paid their own way to get to the comp. It sounds a lot like being a figure skating judge to me!

The big difference is that they were "employed" by ITU, not each individual NGB. The international body controls everything -- who gets to go to what comps, who gets what educational opportunities, who even gets to be an official to start with. So there is no "national bias" perception and less politics. (But still some politics.)

In other sports, I've read articles that talked about bad refs making bad calls and how not much happens to them. Again, sounds like figure skating. The difference is that they are reffing an "objective" sport so their calls are things like whether a play was interfered with and rarely determine the winner (though once in a while a call will determine the winner so it's 100% pure there either).

I think the most practical suggestions are to make ISU officials be controlled by the ISU and then to be as dead-set on not tolerating corruption of those officials (and the ISU) as they are on keeping PEDs out of the sport. Then also make it cheaper (not a FT job but at least cheaper) to become one so there is a bigger pool. Every other suggestion I've seen is just not going to happen for various reasons.
 

sap5

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Gosh, judges could eff with someone's mind so easily if they wanted to. Yeah, that spin you've been doing all season? I suddenly realized it'd be better if you changed it last minute. Oh gosh, I don't like the way you choreographed that three turn in that step sequence, if only you'd change it...

Well, we've heard that happening before. It happened to VM at 2010 Worlds, where they heard right before they performed their OD that the twist lift they'd been doing at the end all season long would be called illegal, so they just came up with something on the fly. I remember it happened to Brian Joubert as well, though I can't remember the specific details right now.

I think skaters are always walking the line between staying true to their vision and doing what it takes to win.
 

overedge

Mayor of Carrot City
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I also remember stories of a judge "recommending" that a skater change something in their program, the skaters saying they would make the changes and not doing anything, and then the skater performing the "new" (identical) program for the judge and the judge saying "Oh, yeah, it's much better now" ;)

ETA: Interesting that the original story didn't mention that judges are often asked to look at skaters' programs before and during the season, and to give feedback on them. There's no guarantee that the same judge would end up judging that program in competition, but still.....
 

VGThuy

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Well, we've heard that happening before. It happened to VM at 2010 Worlds, where they heard right before they performed their OD that the twist lift they'd been doing at the end all season long would be called illegal, so they just came up with something on the fly. I remember it happened to Brian Joubert as well, though I can't remember the specific details right now.

I think skaters are always walking the line between staying true to their vision and doing what it takes to win.

I admit that made it sort of exciting for me. I really wanted to see what V/M would come up with for the exit and I actually prefer it. That said, crazy that skaters/teams can do something all season long and then all of a sudden it'll be pointed out right before the biggest competition of the season that they may need to fix it. It's better than the alternative though where nobody tells them anything and a few judges decide to mark off for it.
 

sap5

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I admit that made it sort of exciting for me. I really wanted to see what V/M would come up with for the exit and I actually prefer it. That said, crazy that skaters/teams can do something all season long and then all of a sudden it'll be pointed out right before the biggest competition of the season that they may need to fix it. It's better than the alternative though where nobody tells them anything and a few judges decide to mark off for it.

Are you talking about the exit for the goose? Because that happened right before the Olympics in that same season. Crazy that it happened to them twice that season!
 

Willin

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As I understand it, skaters get feedback from judges after they compete. What is this feedback like? Are skaters going up to a judge and saying, "I'm not understanding why you gave me a +1 GOE for this lift?" and then getting a detailed, honest answer? Is every skater able to do that with all the judges concerning their protocol sheets?
In the context I've seen it's been the coaches that get the feedback from the judges after their skater competes. I've only seen it happen at non-qualifying/non-National competitions. As far as I know, USFSA does not give formal feedback to skaters after performances at Nationals, but they do request that most skaters of a certain level get "monitoring" - performing in front of a National-level judge before the international or qualifying season starts. Most countries have some sort of test skates or Champs Camp type thing that lets all international skaters get feedback without going out of their way for an extra club competition.

For monitoring or other competition critiques, it goes like this: only certain competitions have monitoring. Competitors who need monitoring per USFSA are given a list of club competitions that have monitoring, and they'll have to go to one of them. For synchro you get your own extra 15-30 minutes of ice time with a judge watching; for singles maybe it's like an extra practice session with 5-6 skaters per monitoring session (I'm not quite sure). During monitoring, the judge will watch you do your program, takes notes, and will ask you to redo certain sections or elements from your program. Some judges will give the skater(s) feedback right then and there, but some will save it all for the coach (I've seen both). If you're at a level that doesn't get monitoring but you want a critique, the critique is based off of your competition performance.
The judges (usually the most experienced one or two from the panel, or for monitoring the National-level judge that watched your session) will give the coach feedback at a specified time in a meeting room. Usually the feedback isn't about GOE or protocol sheet questions - that varies from skate to skate. Instead, they tell you more about ways to maximize points (ie. move a certain element to a different place in the program, add a feature for more points) and mistakes your skater makes that can be corrected in the course of a season (ie. watch the number of rotations for each spin position, make the movement sharper, redo this choreography, edit this section of the music, or change the program entirely). You can also ask questions about your skater (ie. Did you notice this error/should I bother to try to correct it? How close was the edge call on the Lz? Is there any way to gain more points from a particular element?).

I would imagine that skaters and coaches run into judges frequently on their time off at competitions (after all, officials stay at the official hotel) and may ask for feedback, but how much they give and what they say is probably dependent on federation/competition rules and what the judge is comfortable saying. There are some judges that are very good friends with certain skaters or coaches and will give feedback outside of the competition environment, but that's an individual thing. Sometimes you can call up a judge/caller you know from the competition and ask specifics, but other times you have to deal with the protocol sheet yourself or bring in a 3rd party judge to help you understand some things.
 

Twilight1

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B&K were told they were doing the Golden Waltz wrong even though they had Dubova as the coach who designed the Golden Waltz with Klimova & Ponomarenko. Not sure when the steps changed but it was "conveniently" never pointed out to B&K until too late and they had no chance to move to bronze place in Nagano.

As a result they were ranked 5th after the first CD in 1998.
 

snoopy

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The judges (usually the most experienced one or two from the panel, or for monitoring the National-level judge that watched your session) will give the coach feedback at a specified time in a meeting room. Usually the feedback isn't about GOE or protocol sheet questions - that varies from skate to skate. Instead, they tell you more about ways to maximize points (ie. move a certain element to a different place in the program, add a feature for more points) and mistakes your skater makes that can be corrected in the course of a season (ie. watch the number of rotations for each spin position, make the movement sharper, redo this choreography, edit this section of the music, or change the program entirely).

Oy. God bless the skaters.
 

Aussie Willy

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I get asked for feedback by skaters all the time. Usually I try to do it with the coaches but for older and more mature skaters they are quite capable of taking on board what you tell them without needing a coach there. It is usually just minor tweaks and improvements, particularly if the major event is only a couple of weeks ago. There is sometimes no point suggesting major changes as it just confuses the skaters.
 

tony

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I was asked by two different contributors to this article to help out with research and give some background information. None of what they were focusing on with me really seems to have made the article.

I gather from the original interview I had that they were concerned with the judging incident earlier in the season (at the senior B with the judge changing his scores after looking at the judge next to him). They also asked me about Walter Toigo and the small pieces I wrote about him years ago when he was caught copying every single GOE from the judges next to him at a Junior Grand Prix event. They also asked what the likelihood was that this could continue at the Olympics and I pointed to other incidents of the past (toe-tapping at ‘99 Worlds, for example) but added that I think these more recent blatant instances are because the judges either aren’t properly trained to make confident decisions and/or they are afraid to stray too far from the rest of the panel.

However, as pointed out, this article really says much of what any skating fan already knows or could figure out by common sense. Pretty boring read.
 

misskarne

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Biased towards getting their cheques from Bank of Moscow, maybe.

Oh please, let's not act like every other country is pure as the driven snow, here. Did you see the scores handed out at Canadian Nationals? Especially in dance.
 

misskarne

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You do understand that there is a difference between inflated scores at domestic competitions and biased judging in international competitions, don't you? :unsure:

Whoops, I suppose I should have referenced that Skate Canada when Patrick Chan won after falling on his ass four times.
 

skatingguy

decently
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Whoops, I suppose I should have referenced that Skate Canada when Patrick Chan won after falling on his ass four times.
That was 3 times, and he finished at 2nd at Cup of Russia when he fell 4 times. Just because judges inflate scores at competitions for the home skaters doesn't mean that their aren't judges who are conspiring to fix results. These things are not mutually exclusive.
 

Rock2

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Round up the usual suspects! :yawn:


Historically, Australian and British skating judges have had a reputation for fair and honest judging at international competitions. As for their Canadian counterparts.... :saint:

You can't just point to one thing and draw conclusions, but I do recall the Canadian judge placing Stojko second behind Urmanov in 1994 in an overall close decision for gold. I'm quite sure it's not the only time a Canadian judge played a role in a negative impact to their own medal-contending skater at the Olympics. I wonder what other countries can make this claim of objectivity?
 

Vagabond

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You can't just point to one thing and draw conclusions, but I do recall the Canadian judge placing Stojko second behind Urmanov in 1994 in an overall close decision for gold. I'm quite sure it's not the only time a Canadian judge played a role in a negative impact to their own medal-contending skater at the Olympics. I wonder what other countries can make this claim of objectivity?
You are holding out Jean Senft, who was suspended for collusion, as a beacon of fair judging? :wideeyes:

If you really want to go down that route, let's
Let's take a look at how the judges marked the 1994 Olympic Men's Free Skate.

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/winter/1994/FSK/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_skating_at_the_1994_Winter_Olympics#Men

The judges, numbered 1-9, were from:
ROM RUS BLR JPN FRA DAN USA GBR CAN (respectively)

How they marked the Top Five in the Free Skate:

Urmanov: 2 1 1 1 5 2 1 1 1
Stojko: 3 5 3 3 1 3 2 2 2
Browning: 4 2 2 2 4 5 4 5 3
Petrenko: 1 4 4 4 3 4 5 3 5
Candeloro: 5 3 5 6 2 1 3 4 4

Other than the French judge, who marked Stojko first and Urmanov fifth :rolleyes: :wall:, all of the judges placed Urmanov ahead of Stojko, even the Danish judge who marked Candeloro first. This was not a close decision by any means.

I admire your chutzpah, though. :)

ETA: The Canadian judge was Elizabeth Clark, not Jean Senft. :duh:
 
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VGThuy

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Buzzfeed now has an investigative piece where they provide numbers and data and how home-biased judging benefits the big countries. The piece even name names, including Sharon Rogers. This one also has quotes from officials and judges (of course with Sonia Bianchetti being one of them(

https://www.buzzfeed.com/johntemplon/the-edge?utm_term=.cmbq01bkpn#.lw1R9Xrm02

This one talks specifically about how one judge can change the results of a competition:

Our analysis shows that just one judge can influence the final results. One example: At the men's competition at the Progressive Skate America in October 2016, Russian judge Maira Abasova scored her compatriot Sergei Voronov higher than any judge except for one. Abasova’s score helped boost Voronov into fourth place overall, just 0.20 points ahead of Boyang Jin, a Chinese skater, in the final standings. It’s impossible to know why Abasova gave the scores she did, but replacing her marks with the average of the other judges would have dropped Voronov into fifth — behind Jin.

I do wish when these pieces use competitions and skaters as examples, they provide how each skater skated because I think without context, it makes it seem like one skater was much better than the other and a history of reading Surya Bonaly and Tonya Harding pieces makes me weary of that. I think the above quote takes out the context of how the skaters skater thus weakening the argument.

Anyway, before people respond with a sarcastic remarks that this is obvious, remember this isn't written for us but for the broad audience in general and for a lot of people, including us, it will more than validate what we've suspected. It will also further hurt skating's image with the public. I don't care if skater never moves away from niche sport status (I lie, I do care quite a bit actually) but I do think skating needs to keep an image of being a legitimate and fair sport for a myriad of reasons that include status as an Olympic sport and participation from the beginner levels on.
 

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