Figure skating faces an existential financial problem from three directions; unfortunately, that is being snowed under by current ISU and USFSA political circuses. In the midst of these, an interesting technical issue is being publicly debated between legendary champion Janet Lynn and Jimmy Santee at the Professional Skaters’ Association. That’s rather a lot to consider, but these are all related, as we shall see.
Im the ISU, President Cinquanta asked his minions and other leading figures for ideas for dealing with the ISU’s loss of most of its income, a result of the retreat of TV coverage. He advanced some of his own ideas, one of which is to drop the duplicative short program to reduce costs. That has aroused a planet-girdling internet campaign that entirely ignores the ISU income problem in a mad rush to lynch the President.
In US Figure Skating, th presidency is contested between the Nominating Committee’s choice Sam Auxier and his floor-nominated opponent, Ron Pfenning. Both are experienced and knowledgeable USFSA and ISU officials. While USFSA needs attention for its own loss of income from TV, the Internet message tornado under way is mostly limited to ad hominem propaganda rather than shining light on policy, though Mr. Auxier has written of a need to improve membership retention, especially in lower level skating. Both men have remained very general in their prescriptions and diagnoses as published. And the election will occur shortly in Seattle, at the upcoming meeting of USFSA’s Governing Council.
Janet Lynn on another note, takes issue with the PSA on its technical direction for a skater’s use of edges. The PSA and USFSA judges are directed to favor “ripped” edges; those that as a skater accelerates, can be heard as the crunching of scraped ice under the blade. Ms. Lynn on the other hand, believes this is poor technique; the proficient skater will accelerate silently or with only a “whisper” of displaced ice. We will see why this pertains to the political activity and figure skating finance, shortly.
Ignoring for a moment the personalities, figure skating has only one serious problem: Without more income for first, the rinks; second, the USFSA and finally, the ISU, the sport cannot continue. Since the TV audience no longer pays and the standard of living in so many places is declining, the rinks ad the sport have only one direction to pursue more income: A larger number of participants.These are the only folk remaining who will be willing to pay … If the cost seems to them, reasonable. Mr. Auxier has alluded to this. Mr. Pfenning, from what he has written, is doubtless aware of it.
The debate between Lynn and Santee on edge quality is very germane here. Before Janet Lynn, skaters spent more than half their practices doing now-extinct school figures on small patches of ice. This developed edge control to a fine point and the best skaters achieved the silent, barely whispering flow that Janet Lynn sees as the mark of quality. The louder, ripping sounds of less proficient skaters came from those lower in the rankings. Ms. Lynn is quite correct; simple physics tells us that brute force wasted plowing ice is inferior technique compared to the efficient acquisition of speed without wasted energy. But Mr. Santee’s PSA and the USFSA judges are correct too; if you set a standard of silent edges, there will be a very few if marvelous, skaters. Standards, if this exceedingly difficult sport is to survive, will have to be lowered. If the rinks are to stay in business, more ice has to be sold to more people and at a price they can afford. Perhaps that will require a dual standard; a lower level for US competition and a high level for those willing and able to finance the international game. We shall see.
What is clearly needed now, is leadership that has the vision, patience and concern for the sport to pursue and develop its future under these conditions. We may hang Mr. Cinquanta at the ISU if that will be productive but that does nothing for the finances to which he has now pointed in his request for help. We need a USFSA President aware of and dedicated toward resolving these existential issues. And we need to thank Janet Lynn and Jimmy Santee for their timely and illuminating exposition of standards, a subject that seems likely to be the primary challenge of the upcoming future.