Figure Skating Does it Again!
Last night saw the Olympics pairs figure skating final unfold in Torino. Unusually, things were going quite well and there had been only one judging anomoly for most of the evening. That one occurred when a Russian couple mysteriously got enough points to maintain their 8th place position over a 9th place Polish couple that outshone them completely. Figure skating is complicated to judge and the most unnoticable things (like which edge you’re using and so on) are quite hard and get marked higher. It seems a small stumble or out-of-sync moment or two can be cancelled out by several other small, well-executed moves. This initial mysterious mark didn’t really affect the standings and so was quickly forgotten.
The evening was rolling right along until the final two couples.
The penultimate couple to skate was another Russian pair, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, who had already won a couple of world championships and were retiring from competition after this Olympics. In order to completely eliminate controversy, they put forth a performance that was simply unbelievable, with a grace and elegance that was a step higher than anyone else at the rink. The judges concurred and gave them technical merit scores of 69, where the previous high for the evening was about 62 points. The 62 points were earned by a Chinese couple, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who also put in a master class performance. Though theirs was clearly not as close to perfection as the Russians, they had a solid silver medal performance under their belts.
Then came the final couple, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao. The image to the right shows Zhang Dan almost 40 seconds into the routine, recovering from a horrifying fall in which she fell out of a throw and slammed her knee into the ice. Not to fear, ladies and gentlemen, for that is a picture of a silver medal performance.
The drama didn’t end there, as she got up, shook it off and finished the remaining four minutes of the program. Simply amazing. Though all of the skaters are pretty tough, this was a true triumph of the will—to complete the program at the Olympics. It only comes around every four years and it does that to you (remember Kerri Strug?). Opinions differ as to how they finished the program. The article, Turin falls in love with mainland bravehearts (The Standard) is of the opinion that, “[t]hen the Zhangs nailed everything.”
I might believe that if I hadn’t seen the routine myself. They did a respectable job, but it was clear they were shaken. She stumbled out of a throw later in the program (not touching a hand down, but still a clear stumble), two-footed a landing on a paired jump and they were not synchronized on the spins very late in the program. I was aided very much in noticing these things by the two excellent announcers on Eurosport. Both announcers (experienced judges of the sport), my wife and I (dilettantes who become interested in the sport at least once every 4 years) slotted the brave couple at 4th place. They were clearly going to lose points for the crash, the delay and the other mistakes.
The article, Zhangs deserved medal, say ISU, defends the silver medalists from Olympics final last night. They said that, “[w]hat they performed on the ice was perfectly all right to justify the marks they received.” They did not; quite the opposite, in fact. They scored over 66 points on technical merit, meaning they were 4 points better than everyone else except for Tatiana and Maxim, whose matchless performance was deemed almost matched by the face-planting Zhangs. This is patently ridiculous, as seen in this other angle of the silver medal performer to the left.
This is especially sad as the couple that was in second place had performed really well—without falls—and their backstory in recent weeks showed no small amount of moxie of their own. Then, here come the figure-skating judges to prove that no ratings system can keep them from their flights of fancy. They trampled all over one couple’s fairy tale Olympics to hand-deliver it to another.
“[The ISU], however, refused to speculate whether there might have been an official protest if Chinese competitors had not occupied second, third and fourth places in the competition.”
As my opinion vis-a-vis figure skating is not at all respected, I have no qualms in saying that there would have been a huge, f*%$ing uproar. It’s only because they’re all on the same team that the coach isn’t making a big stink about how Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo got steamrolled in the name of teary-eyed sentimentality. At any rate, whereas I’m glad those two got a medal (having clawed their way up from 5th after the short program), I am also sad that they got the short end of the stick from those infuriating figure skating judges.
But so is figure skating and so, it seems, it will always be.