Tag Archives: Sochi

“A good judge is better than an unbiased one”…?

Russian judge Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist... demonstration of independence?
Russian judge Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist… demonstration of independence?

In case you couldn’t tell by the number of figure skating posts I have written earlier, I follow the sport very closely as a judge.

At this year’s Sochi Olympics, the Ladies Free Skating event was filled with public backlash and drama. This is because reigning Olympic champion, Yuna Kim (or Queen Yuna as some of us like to call her) skated two flawless programs and won this year’s silver medal, missing the gold by a large margin to Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova.

Fueling the outrage was the apparent lack of independence of the judges and officials of the event, most notably Alla Shekhovtseva of Russia and Yuri Blakov of Ukraine. The former judge is married to the head of the Russian figure skating organization and was the judge seen and photographed hugging the gold medal winner moments after the competition. The latter was formally suspended for trying to fix a result during the 1998 Olympics and allegedly has ties to Moscow.

The Korean Olympic Committee has decided this week to file a complaint to the International Skating Union about an alleged breach of the code of ethics during the ladies competition. The KOC and Korean Skating Union are asking for a thorough investigation for the judging composition and whether it was biased toward Russian gold medalist Sotnikova.

The ISU does prohibit judges from judging in competitive events where they have a conflict of interest, a conflict of interest being defined as:

The term “family” as used in this Rule shall be understood as including all persons, who, due to their relationships, may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing Skater, ineligible person or remunerated Coach.

It could be argued that marital ties to the Russian skating federation falls under this definition, calling into question her independence.

As we all know and can appreciate as accountants, independence is one of the core principles of auditing. A statement attesting to the validity of a company’s financial statements means nothing without some reasonable level of independence. Part of the reason this scandal fascinates me so much is how important the concept of independence can be seen (and ignored apparently) in so many areas of the world, most notably in sports.

With the accounting perception in mind, read the following quote made by ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta to the Chicago Tribune the day after the ladies Olympic champion was announced:

“Would you rather have an idiot acting as a judge than a good one who is a relative of the manager of a federation?…It is far more important to have a good judge than a possible conflict of interest.”

Ummm…what? The auditor training in me is cringing. Imagine if a corporation said this about it’s auditors?

To even become entry-level staff on an audit engagement requires a masters degree and a CPA certification, meaning that there will not be any idiots touching your financial statements. Without independence and people believing your attestation is valid and unbiased, there’s no point. It can’t be relied on.

Figure Skating Scoring: A Crash Course

gracie sochiThe judging system of figure skating is always criticized when the world focuses its eyes on our sport at the Winter Olympics. This year, an article on NPR has already popped up about a judging scandal in the team event. The article essentially is saying that judges colluded backstage on the team event. Articles like this continue to arise, despite the fact the judging system for skating has been completely redefined and any and all opportunities for one judge to change the outcome of an event have been removed.

The fact articles like this keep popping up is most likely due to how confusing and complicated the system currently is. The best way to diffuse people thinking judges are these evil, malevolent beings that have all the control is to teach people how the system works. Due to my experience judging skating competitions, I understand the rules and how the changes impact the sport. So, let me shed a little light on things.

Skating always historically used the 6.0 judging system, where judges would award a score from 0.0 – 6.0 for each skaters technical and artistic mark. If you watched the greats like Michelle Kwan (my personal favorite), this is the scoring system you are used to. This judging system was very easy to understand (and therefore spectator friendly), but made the sport 100% subjective to the judges on the stand. Having skated and judged under this system, the 6.0 system is rich with history, but posed a lot of challenges to judges and skaters alike.

In 2002, with the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics (read the article for more details), the judging system came under fire. What resulted was the new International Judging System (IJS). IJS is incredibly complicated, but is a lot more fair to the skaters and actually works in their benefit. The IJS system moves judging from being 100% subjective, to 60% subjective, 40% objective.

Here are the basics of the judging system to get you through the Olympics:

There are two panels on the ice: the judging panel and the technical panel.

The technical panel is responsible for assessing what the skaters do on the ice so the appropriate amount of base points can be assigned to the skater. Each jump has a base point value, and spins and footwork sequence have different levels with base points that skaters attain based on the level of difficulty performed. In the pursuit of assigning the correct amount of base points and properly assessing what the skater performed that day on the ice, the technical panel has the ability to watch videos of each and every element performed in slow motion to make sure they are fair. Three officials determine what the skaters do on the tech panel, and in the event technical specialists disagree with a call, they take a vote. This is what makes up the objective portion of the figure skaters score.

The judging panel is responsible with two tasks: 1) assessing the level of quality of the technical elements performed and 2) assigning the components marks, which are the marks based on the skaters skating skills, choreography, and overall program performance.

When a skater performs an element, the tech panel gives the base value, but the skater isn’t guaranteed the base value of points. The judges assign grades of execution (GOEs) to each element performed that range from a -3 to +3, and the grade of execution by the majority of judges is used as a factor that’s ultimately multiplied by the base value of the jump.

The best way to describe this is to use an example. Let’s say two different skaters perform a triple lutz jump. One skater falls on the jump, and the other lands the most beautiful jump you have ever seen. Ot doesn’t seem very fair that the two skaters receive the same base point value. The GOEs make it so skaters are rewarded (or penalized) for the quality of elements they perform.

The components score is made up of five different categories, with each category receiving a score from 0.00-10.00 from each judge. The categories include skating skills, transitions (how difficult and intricate the elements are weaved to each other and to the program music), performance and execution (how well the skater projects to the audience), choreography (how well he movements match the music and phrasing of the music), and interpretation (how well the skater feels and interprets the nuances of the music)

This is a very basic overview of how a skating program is judged. There are a lot of internal controls and other rules that are too complicated to get into for the purposes of this blog. Overall, this relatively new system does a much more comprehensive job at evaluating all aspects of a skater’s performance on the ice. The IJS system also gives a lot more feedback on the performance because you can see exactly where every point has come from, and where you lost points in a program.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away!


The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are FINALLY here!!!

SochiIceshowAs a figure skating judge and former competitive figure skater, I am absolutely giddy with the arrival of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Already this year, the Olympics has been particularly riveting and the games have yet to begun.

However, figure skating events begin today, Thursday February 6. Starting today is the brand new figure skating team event where each country sends its strongest competitor across the four skating disciplines (Ladies, mens, pairs, and dance) and the team with the most points wins the gold. Due to my past, I know a lot about figure skating, but I know relatively little about this event. I will be learning about it with the rest of everyone else. I do know that the introduction of this team event has led into a very controversial US Olympic Figure Skating Team decision made by US Figure Skating.

Let’s go into more detail about that controversial decision, because it has definitely helped shape expectations about the upcoming competitions. Historically, the US Figure Skating National Championships serve as the Olympic qualifiers with the top two/three finishers at the event selected for the Olympic team, unless a top contender is injured and petitions to get on the team. But this is all historical. US Figure Skating has always maintained the right to not simply send the top two/three finishers and instead reflects on the skaters’ competitive histories during the decision making process. This happens to be the first year they have done so without a top contender being injured.

Here’s what happened: US Figure Skating decided to send the 4th place skater, Ashley Wagner (defending national champion), to the Olympics over the skater that placed third at nationals, Marai Nagasu (2010 Olympic pewter medalist). US Figure Skating defended their decision of adding Ashley Wagner to the Olympic team over Marai Nagasu based on her competitive record, which is more consistent than Marai’s has been over the past few years.

Sadly, the media hasn’t done the best job in illustrating how complicated the decision really was. All the articles I have read make Marai Nagasu the victim and Ashley Wagner the villain.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart breaks for Marai. She has worked so hard to improve her performance at this national championship in order to return to the Olympics. She is also the only US skater with Olympic experience. Bottom line, she got third.

On the other hand though, at the last Olympic qualifying national championships, Ashley Wagner placed third and didn’t get to go due to the fact the US could only send 2 skaters to the Olympics. Ashley won back the US’s ability to send three female skaters to Sochi based on her performance at the last World Championships. Ashley has also won multiple US national titles since the 2010 Olympics while Marai has been battling with growth spurts (and the inconsistent skating associated with growth spurts).

The individuals at US figure skating had a very difficult decision in front of them. Each of the individuals involved have a very thorough knowledge of the sport, a deep love of the sport, and did what they thought was the best for US Figure Skating. There was no malice in their decision, and I think their hearts broke just as much as Marai’s did. Unfortunately, only so many people can be sent to the Olympics, and the decision will always involve tears. At this point in time, it doesn’t matter if we agree with it or not. We have a US Olympic Team, and we need to be behind each and every one of them as they represent our country.

I’m sure I will have plenty more to say about the Olympics as they unfold. Until then… let the games begin!