In its beginning, figure skating – drawing d
iagrams upon ice with skates – wasn’t very interesting to most people. Until an American ballet dancer displayed his art on skates and charmed the capitals of Europe. The resulting sport brought audiences together with a judging problem: Crowning an ice queen is a pretty subjective process. Judges who had served well enough for ranking tracings on the ice were immediately in trouble trying to sort ice ballerinas with an audience looking on. Never mind that most audience members disagreed with each other as often as they disagreed with the judges.
A few years ago, the sport’s managers solved that problem, or said they did. They replaced subjective judging with a convoluted, murky point system that effectively awarded titles to whomever could provide the most revolutions while jumping on a given day. Counting revolutions is much easier to defend than one’s preference for any particular ice ballerina. Problem solved! Unfortunately, it was a solution that also removed much of the incentive for watching skaters. The audience shrank. The sport had shot itself in the skate.
Figure skating officials are elected or appointed by those whom were elected. No such officer can afford to admit a mistake in public and so the success of the wonderful new judging system is still advertised. It continues in the U.S. to be further extended into every corner and crevice of the sport with increasing difficulty (it is expensive, labor intensive and becomes debateable when jumps are not top notch.)
How does one reclaim audience interest without admitting that the judging change was a mistake? Figure skating’s leaders have ordered a reduction in the numbers of points earned by jumps. That naturally will make points earned by spins, footwork, musicality etc. relatively more influential, right? Thus returning the lost entertainment values that used to draw the audience? In theory, yes; in reality, probably not, at least for a while. Judges, in spite of skaters’ secret thoughts, are human and keen to justify themselves under criticism. Criticism in figure skating is a constant. Judges should be expected to manipulate such that defensible jump revolutions continue to prevail. Several iterations of alterations to scoring may be required before much difference is observed, by whomever remains to watch.
Obviously, the sport should have returned to forthrightly – and debateably – picking ice ballerinas as of yore, but that would be an admission of a mistake in dropping it in the first place. So the sport’s gradual fadefrom the public eye seems fated to continue for awhile. That is sad; it has given us lovely moments.