This is the first of what I hope will be three posts by next week (the others are a sham-focused post, and a look at the ice dance short programs that just had their debut).
Before I get started:
Virtue and Moir's paso doble cd from the 2009 World Championships. This performance placed third, but was enough to keep them on the podium after placing sixth in the od and fourth in the free dance. (The free dance placements in this competition were ridiculous, and Virtue and Moir ought to have been first after the cd.). Look at the incredible edge lean, close feet, precision, unison, and remember the condition of Tessa's legs back then, how recently she'd had her original CES surgery, how her legs were still recovering, and bear in mind the toll cds take on the shins, and how little mileage she had on the ice up to this point. This performance was in my mind's eye when I looked at all those healthy skaters doing the paso pattern this week, and this performance answers any questions about what Virtue and Moir can achieve in very little time (particularly from those who believe Virtue and Moir "need to spend every second" on program drills anytime they have an abbreviated training schedule). Remember that Virtue and Moir skated a different cd in all three events they competed that season. Viennese Waltz at Canadians, the Finnstep at the 4CCs, and paso here.
I decided to google "Figure skating is corrupt" to see if there's anything other than the usual old articles on 2002 and more recent commentary on Slutnikova v. Yuna Kim out there.
Figure Skating is Hopelessly Corrupt
This links to a February 2014 Kevin Drum article in Mother Jones wondering which sport is more corrupt, figure skating or ski jumping. Me, I had no idea there were issues with ski jumping, but that's comforting. Sometimes it's lonely feeling as if all the other sports have actual oversight on the field of play while we're stuck with a sport that does exactly what it wants and fuck the rest of us.
Unsurprisingly, Mother Jones concludes that figure skating is more corrupt than ski jumping:
Normally, my rule of thumb is that the higher up the world ladder you go (local vs. national vs. international) the more corrupt a sport becomes. Thus, I would have guessed that a sport in which the international federation chooses judges would be more corrupt than one in which national federations choose judges. But no!Drum's primary reference is this February 12, 2014 Washington Post article by Eric Zitzewitz:
How ski jumping gets Olympic judging right and figure skating gets it wrong
Ski jumping has its international federation select the judges for competitions like the Olympics, and I find that they select the least biased judges. Figure skating lets its national federations select the judges, and my research showed that they select the most biased judges.
This creates different incentives for judges. Ski jumping judges display less nationalism in lower-level competitions — it appears they keep their nationalism under wraps in less important contests to avoid missing their chance at judging the Olympics. Figure skating judges are actually more biased in the lesser contests; they may actually be more biased than they would like to be due to pressure from their federations.Quoting Drum:
It turns out that ski jumping judges are biased, but the other judges are mostly biased in the other direction, so everything ends up even. Having an American judge doesn't help American jumpers. Figure skating is just the opposite. Not only are national judges biased, the other judges all go along. If an American judge is on the panel, American skaters get higher marks from the American judge and also get higher marks from all the other judgesI appreciate Drum using an American as the example, instead of the usual "Russian" boogeyman, but, unfortunately, neither journalist has bothered to acquire any understanding about the actual skating. Even though Zitzewitz is a legit researcher, he can only, and wrongly, assume 2002 pairs and 2014 ladies are inarguable examples of unfair results. That's always the freaking problem when anyone outside the sport, even an economist/researcher/academic like Zitzewitz, looks at skating. They never feel it's important to understand the actual sport for themselves, nor match a given performance to the protocols FOR THEMSELVES. Drum even has this inane tag to his article:
But corruption can only go so far. That 15-year-old Russian figure skater, Julia Lipnitskaia, is so good that even I could tell how good she was when she skated in the team competition. All the corruption in the world couldn't have robbed her of the top score.Yeah, no. Not that Lipnitskaia wasn't deserving, but Drum obviously has no idea if her jumps were underrotated or prerotated, if she hit all the correct edges in her footwork, nor is he able to assess anything else that connects her skating with her scores. Not to mention that, if he'd shift his gaze over to ice dance, everybody with eyes could see how much better Virtue and Moir were, and all the corruption in the world, literally, robbed them of the top score. Corruption goes all the way.
Turns out even academics think primary research is unneeded when it's time to examine figure skating. That's the ultimate reason figure skating will never ever ever
Still, the institutional behavior patterns Zitzewitz reports are telling:
Of all these results, I am most intrigued by the contrast between the ski jumping judges undoing each other’s biases and the figure skating judges reinforcing them. When we make decisions in a group at work, we often encounter individuals with strong biases — say to hire a particular type of job candidate. When we do, we have a choice. We can act like a ski jumping judge, and resist the bias, in an effort to keep things fair. Or we can act like a figure skating judge and say “hiring this guy really seems important to Joe, I wonder what he’ll give me in return if I go along.” We have probably all seen examples of both in our lives.and
The dysfunctionality of the sport is also revealed by how it reacted to the 2002 judging scandal. The International Skating Union made a couple of sensible reforms, such as increasing the size of the judging panel at least temporarily and making the scoring system more objective although some think they went too far. But most of their response consisted of hiding the evidence of bias. The ISU stopped revealing which judge gave which score, making it much harder for competitors and fans to see whether the judging was fair. The ISU even went back and altered online score sheets from earlier competitions, obfuscating which judge gave which score and even which country each judge represented. They also began randomly dropping scores from three out of 12 judges. As any statistician can tell you, an average of nine out of 12 scores is essentially the average of the 12 scores plus a random number. When Yale statistics professor Jay Emerson noticed that in one case this randomness had altered who won a medal, it appears that the ISU responded by scrambling the order that scores were reported on score sheets. The only plausible purpose of this change was to make it harder to identify cases where randomness had affected results. All this suggests that the focus has been on hiding problems rather than fixing them.Well, no shit, Eric. :)
I believe the above is a fair description of figure skating's culture and mindset, but not a description of what had to have happened to get Davis White Olympic gold. What happened there was a direct order from on high or its equivalent, an edict that dictated how Davis White were scored, how Virtue and Moir were scored, the pattern of attacking Virtue and Moir's highlight elements at the 11th hour, the hosing of Virtue and Moir by their own Fed at their own championships, the purse-mouthed, side-eying, parsimonious Virtue and Moir narrative that contradicted their spectacular achievements on the ice, and getting every single person in every single comment booth singing from the same hymnal, while coaches and skaters joined the chorus. Whether or not it originated with the USFSA and was executed by the ISU, or was a Dore brainstorm, in the end, it was the ISU/Dore that made it happen. Obviously, though, it's useful to look at the sort of breeding ground that makes a Davis White gold medal heist possible.
Unfortunately for all of us, both journalists miss a key problem with figure skating: with this sport, ofttimes accusations, or, more often, insinuations, of corruption are driven by corruption, are aimed towards invalidating a correct, or at least, defensible, result, and represent the advancement of a corrupt agenda. Figure skating is manipulative. We can't trust what the sport says about anything.The only way results will ever truly be verified is if the media and the public decide to educate themselves about the skating, and read the rules, so everyone outside this sport is able to see for themselves if the scores match the skating. The only way. Both journalists treat the 2002 pairs competition and the 2014 ladies result as examples of corruption, because those are the only examples anybody talks about, and because neither journalist is capable of looking at a skating performance and determining its validity for themselves.