Originally created 01/17/04

U.S. Figure Skating approves limited use of new points system



Figure skating's 6.0, a century-old symbol of perfection, is officially on the endangered list.

U.S. Figure Skating announced Friday it was recommending that a new, computer-based points system be used at the 2005 world championships, a big step toward widespread acceptance of the scoring method.

"After Salt Lake City, (figure skating's judging system) failed in the public eyes and I think we need to restore the confidence," said Chuck Foster, president of U.S. Figure Skating. "That's what we hope this system will do."

But this isn't a blanket approval. The federation said the new system should be used on a "probationary" status next year at senior Grand Prix events and championships staged by the International Skating Union.

If it's successful, U.S. Figure Skating said it would recommend the system be used at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.

The new scoring system was tested at senior Grand Prix events this year, and could be approved for full-time use as early as June, when the ISU Congress meets. But U.S. Figure Skating believes that should be delayed until 2006. Adjustments still need to be made to the system, and there's been no discussion of financial ramifications. Individual federations also have to figure out how they'd use the new system.

Foster said waiting until 2006 to make a final decision would give everyone time to answer all of those questions.

"I think we have to move forward and it appears as this system has a lot of merit," Foster said. "But as we say, we still feel it needs the adjustments. We're not giving it a rubber stamp across the board by any means. We don't even know how much it's going to cost."

But the system hasn't ruined the sport as many initially feared. Created in the wake of the Salt Lake City judging scandal, the system uses points instead of the 6.0 scale. Every technical element, from spins to footwork to jumps, has a set value based on its difficulty. Judges can add anywhere from plus-3 points to minus-3 points to the base value of a jump or element, and plus-1.5 to minus-1 for a spin.

Skaters also get five component marks for such things as choreography and skating skills. The technical and component scores are added together, and the skater with the highest point total wins.

U.S. Figure Skating polled skaters and coaches who participated in the Grand Prix series, and most gave it positive reviews. Many said it gave a better reflection of a skater's performance because judges were solely concerned with the program, not how they would "place" a skater.

It also allowed skaters to move up in the standings if they'd had a disastrous short program, something impossible under the current, weighted system of ordinals.

"I certainly think the new system has some very good points to it," Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Goebel said. "It's a much more accurate representation of the skating on that day instead of holding people up."'

But the system isn't without its flaws. The biggest criticism is that base values of some of the technical elements need to be changed. A triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, for example, is worth nine points while a quad toe is worth eight - even though a quad is a tougher jump for most skaters.

"I think it is worth investigating the approach," said Ron Pfenning, a former judge and president of the World Skating Federation, a rival to the ISU.

"I have some concerns about the degree of difficulty assigned to some of the elements," Pfenning said. "I also think it may take away some of the artistry that historically has been a big part of our sport. Now, all programs will be essentially the same. That, to me, is disappointing."

Pfenning also has a problem with the system's secrecy. Judges give their marks anonymously. They are saved in ISU computers and a judge will be identified if the marks are out of line with those of the others.

But by then, opponents say, it's too late.

"This system is even more now totally secret," Pfenning said. "You do not know what individual judges have done. There has to be accountability in any sport that uses judges. What judge gave what marks? Currently, that will not be known."