For Protecting the Poor Sport of Figure Skating
From Financial Collapse and Further Annoyance of Its Remaining Audience
It is a melancholy object for those who attend to the affairs of patinage artistique or as it is named in English, figure skating, to notice the declines in numbers of those skating and of those watching. Nor can it be said that in either case, less is more in any sense.
Causes are many and begin with the TV over-promotion of skating following the Tonya-Nancy debacle recently reprised for Sochi. International Skating Union (ISU)’s cavalier attitude toward judging scandals has not helped. And the changes in judging that now reward skaters’ bottoms on the ice and devalue artistry have removed masses of paying bottoms from spectator seats. But all is not lost; if one gives it due consideration, the changed judging system has within it, the answer to all these problems.
President Ottavio Cinquanta of the ISU (a speed skater) has provided the far-seeing guidance that the sport now requires if it is to be salvaged; it is only a matter of following the leader’s advice. As is so often so, the President’s keen analysis and cogent prescription seem simple on the surface but the wisdom comes clear with a closer look. In a conversation about the lost artistry accompanying the new judging, Il Presidente said: “Figure Skating is a sport!” He was of course, correct and that can lead to solutions for all the present problems.
Under ISU judging now, points are awarded according to the difficulty of each of a list of prescribed maneuvers. Secondary points are added for accompanying esthetic qualities. In essence, if you perform a quad and no one else does, all else being equal, you win. Music is played during the performances, serving in most instances mainly to hide the scraping sounds from the skates on the ice. And here, the President’s vision comes clear. Why music, in a sport?
It seems much more sensible to imitate figure skatings’ close cousin, gymnastics. Forget the music! Simply line up the contestants while each performs the assigned maneuver in turn, one after another. After performing a given maneuver, the contestant moves to the next line for the next maneuver. That is the way it is done in gymnastics, an acknowledged sport. It is just common sense! Too, it should be appealing to the perhaps smaller but faithful audiences used to gymnastics, track and field sports, etc.
A perennial problem for figure skating has been its expense; this logical move will save a great deal of money. In events, instead of one skater monopolizing the entire surface, it will be efficiently shared, a huge cost reduction. In training, a coach can, as do gymnastic coaches, conduct training classes in the same manner with similar savings from the present. But that is not all; in these circumstances, there will be no place for elaborate costumes, another saving. And the reduction without the cost of music and choreography will not be inconsiderable.
Rink managers too will benefit: Many now prefer to fill the ice with hockey players rather than depend upon a few figure skaters; by recognizing that figure skating is a sport, it will become possible to fill the ice with figure skaters too, recruiting the rinks. President Ciinquanta has presented a gift that will keep on giving…
This falls neatly into the history of figure skating, too. The sport began with competition in figures drawn upon the ice. There was of course, no audience interest then. An American ballet dancer started dancing on skates; that was added to the sport as “free skating,” a big change. The figures were dropped for cost and lack of audience, another big change. Finally, the “free” was replaced by prescribed maneuvers with points attached; whatever it had been, figure skating had become a sport. It just took President Cinquanta’s vision to see it…