Here are some suggestions I have for changes in figures skating, changes that I think will improve the sport and keep it evolving in a credible and competitive direction. Many of these things have already been discussed by figure skating insiders and fans, but I wanted to add my own thoughts, just in case there is a hand count. However, I have an idea or two of mine which I would like to put out there. (Also read my posting on the team event.)
(1) Back loaded programs – There has been a lot of discussion of back loaded programs, particularly in terms of the women’s competition, where Alina Zagitova back loaded like a trooper and walked away with the gold. There have been many complaints that it leads to unbalanced and (potentially) boring programs. And of course, there is the question of the quality of the jumps. Are these good jumps? How do they compare with jumps by other skaters? Do they really deserve to be earning so much more in base value? I think another concern is the ability of a back loaded program to completely outstrip program components. The bonuses accumulated with dictated the winner. May I make two suggestions?
Short program: no bonuses in the short program. It is a short program. There shouldn’t be a bonus for placing jumps in the second half of the program. Why should a jump placed a minute and thirty seconds deserve a ten per cent bonus? It doesn’t merit. Also, the short program is about completing and comparing designated technical components. The short dance has the pattern; the singles must do axels; the pairs cannot do quads. Bonuses don’t have a place in the short program. It’s about who technically does the jump (spin, etc.) better.
Free program: introduce limits. I don’t have a problem with a bonus for jumps in the second half of the program. A jump in the second half clearly is demanding and at least with the incentive in place we don’t see the front loading now that we used to. However, I don’t think that how the bonuses are used now reflect the original intention and like any nice loop hole are being manipulated. And so, along with the other reasons I stated above, I think there needs to be either clear limits or clear expectations set out about what constitutes an ideal free program. This could be done in a couple ways without being excessively prescriptive. There could be a simple rule that only X number of jumping passes in the second may receive a bonus. The other approach would be to clearly include program balance as part of the program components for composition and programs without balance take a hit in the PCs. The only problem with this last approach is that I don’t entirely trust the judges to mark accordingly…
(2) Arms-over-the-head jumps – Let’s just get rid of this bonus altogether. It encourages some ugly jumping and gives some skaters a competitive edge where their jumping doesn’t necessarily merit it (I’m looking at you Maria. I mean how weird is it – “Well, that’s 10% for your arms above the head but minus 30 % for the clear under-rotation.”) Especially with the the new +5 to -5 GOE marking scale coming in, judges can simply factor arms-up jumping into the GOE they award, based on the execution, good or bad. Really, you don’t need to get a double bump, in terms of GOE and a bonus. This would (hopefully) encourage skaters to jump with their arms aloft when they do it well, securely and attractively, and not just all the time.
(3) Costume changes – Another thing I would like to see the ISU crack down on is the recent trend for costume changes mid-program. This is just silly and unnecessary. If a skater can convey a story, concept, mood, or theme through music, choreography, expression, and one costume then there is a problem. Besides which, I haven’t seen a single change that isn’t awkward or a single changed costume that doesn’t look a little odd and distracting. It really isn’t doing anyone any favours. Get a better program or develop a different concept… or just do it better.
(4) Program Component Marking – This drives me nuts! I don’t know if there answer is thorough and continued education for the judges, or discipline, or both, but there has to be more focus put on how PCs is awarded. It is not a blanket mark; it is five separate marks that are totaled. And while there may be some overlap, each category is still fairly distinct. Does the skater demonstrate good skating skills? Does the skater include transitions of quality? Does the skater perform to the audience? Is there program well composed? Do they interpret the music? I think it would be logical to understand that it would be rare to find an individual equally gifted in each of these five areas but the marks don’t often reflect this. The judges needed to be encouraged to differentiate, to move away from the corridor marking we are seeing. This also connects to the reputation judging that we see. There is no longer a ranking like there was with the 6.0 system. It shouldn’t matter what flight you skate in or how long you’ve been on the seen (or not) or what kind mark they receive for their technical elements. A skater deserves to be rewarded for the things they do well and needs to be encouraged to improve the things that they do not, which means individual component scores and not blanket PCs.
(5) Wardrobe Malfunctions – give an automatic deduction for a wardrobe malfunction. Let’s define this as when a costume fastening comes undone for the time being. Who knew that we would see so many (two!) in one Olympic games? This, admittedly, doesn’t happen very often. But it does happen and I think there needs to be two considerations in how they are handled. First of all, no skater should have to choose between exposing themselves in public and taking a deduction. So, let’s give them an automatic deduction but this will also come with an allowance of some time in which to stop the program, fix the costume, and the resume. I think an automatic deduction is fair. The malfunction is distracting, as well as a potentially hazard, and the costume, like the equipment (skates), music and program, is part of the skater’s responsibility. And I hate to see a situation where a skater feels they have no choice but to continue a program in a compromising state in order to avoid a negative consequence.
(6) Wild cards – introduce another way for teams to qualify. This is a pet idea of mine and I think it’s a good one! The idea behind this is to improve the depth of the field at competitions like Worlds, or the Olympics. No, not everyone can compete or should be able to, but in some cases the qualification limits that are imposed by country can leave out some of the top teams from major competitions. Why should teams that are able to compete at a higher level than some of the teams present be left at home? I think one or two wild card slots should be available for each discipline for these major competitions (or at least the Worlds). They could be determined through a points system or an additional qualifying competition, which could be really exciting! This would be for skaters that otherwise do not quality within the limit of skaters allotted to their country. The top two qualifiers, say, would be given wild card berths whose placement would not count toward their country’s points for the next Worlds. So, they would be able to compete, gain experience and develop, but it would not be an unfair advantage to a country to have an additional skater or team present. It could add another layer of excitement and interest to qualification and improve the depth of field in the competition.
(7) Pairs – Talking about depth of field! Pairs has been increasing in depth of field over the past few years, with the number and quality of teams competing a major international competitions increasing. It’s time to think about increasing the number of pairs competing and/or the number of pairs qualifying for the free program. Teams that are equal quality and performance on the night are being left out but ultimately, it can only help develop the sport to have (some of) them included.