Sports

Novel changes proposed to ISU

In recent years, technical elements of figure skating routines have become more and more crucial in scoring. (credit: Photo courtesy of deerstop via Wikimedia Commons) In recent years, technical elements of figure skating routines have become more and more crucial in scoring. (credit: Photo courtesy of deerstop via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s no secret that these days, the difficulty of a figure skater’s jumps is one of, if not the most, significant determinant of their final score. As such, dissatisfaction has grown in parts of the figure skating community towards the current state of the sport and the way it’s structured, as they feel the sport has evolved into what is essentially just a “jumping contest”.

According to four-time U.S. champion, two-time world champion, and Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, “We always tried to make the creative side just as important as the jumps, so it was the mark that had the importance. That’s not the case anymore.”

This growing discontent has been a significant reason behind a new proposal that has been brought before the International Skating Union (ISU). While the entire proposal’s contents and details aren’t set to be made public until April, the general framework appears to be an attempt at better balancing the technical and artistic sides of the sport., the general framework appears to be an attempt at better balancing the technical and artistic sides of figure skating.

Under the proposed system, rather than skating in a short program, usually around two minutes and 40 seconds in length, followed by a circa four-minute free skate, athletes would skate in a technical program and a free skate, each three-and-a-half minutes long. As in the current system, the scores would then be added to produce the final score.

This adjustment in length would effectively reduce the disparity of technical points available in the short program (7) compared to the free skate (12). While the short program accounts for only around 25 – 35 percent of the skaters’ total score today, the proposed system could potentially allow the technical program and free skate to have equal weight on the total score.

Additional changes proposed include that the technical program’s technical elements would account for 60 percent of the overall score and the program component score (PCS) or artistic score would account for 40 percent of the total whereas the technical score would account for 40 percent of the total and the PCS would account for 60 percent of the free skate.

In email exchanges with NBC Sports, Fabio Bianchetti, the current chair of the ISU’s singles and pairs technical committee, has stated that these proposed changes are ultimately intended “to push skaters to look for quality and not only for difficulty with much more time than today for transitions and choreographic moments.”

If approved by the ISU, the changes would take effect in the 2022 – 2023 season.

While there have also been ideas to split the short program and the free skate into two distinct competitions with separate medals awarded for each, no formal proposal has yet been made.
Overall, figure skating has recently seemed to stray from its artistic qualities in favor of raw athleticism. While proposing changes in order to preserve the sport’s artistic qualities is reasonable, the framework outlined, though seemingly well-thought-out and unquestionably radical, may not be the most apt way to address this situation.

On the other hand, however, it is completely possible that the radical nature of this proposal is, in fact, the best way to address these issues.

Essentially, the drafted plan is not all that difficult to write out. Its implementation, while certainly feasible to a degree, will affect athletes, judges, and all those involved in the sport on a global scale. Possibly, the proposal will cause unnecessary convolution, while changing little in terms of shifting the sport back towards its original artistic roots.

It would be a mistake, though to not consider the fact that it is certainly plausible that the radical nature of the proposal is exactly what the figure skating community needs right now, and that the proposal will spark a change that adjusts the course of the sport for the better.

Either way, it will be fascinating to see how the proposal process plays out, and how these changes, if passed, changes the sport of figure skating.