In Turin, Revamped Skating Scores Tested

Since a scandal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City highlighted an uneven scoring process in figure skating, a new system has been instituted. The Olympic Games in Turin are the latest test for the new system. Mark Zeigler covers skating at The San Diego Union Tribune.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Tomorrow, the women figure skaters will take their turn on the ice in Turin. They'll skate their short programs. And if you want to keep track of their scores at home, you'd do well to have a calculator on hand. The figure skating judging scandal four years ago at the Salt Lake City Games forced a change to the way skating is scored. To help us understand the new scoring system we've turned to Mark Zeigler. He's a staff writer for the San Diego Union Tribune. He's been covering figure skating for close to fifteen years, and he joins us now from the skating venue in Turin.

So Mark, the old six-point system is out. How does this new system work?

MARK ZEIGLER: Well, we don't have enough time to figure that out, or enough calculators too.

Basically, in the past it was two marks. You got a mark for technical elements and a mark for artistry, and that was it. And now what they're doing is they're scoring every single spin, every piece of footwork, every jump. And that's the first half of your mark. And then the second half is a component mark, which is your artistry and how you interpreted the music. And they add those two together, so it's a total score.

And you might get a 150, or 200, would be a good score, maybe, and you get a total score the short program and a total score for the long program and you add them together.

In the past it was how you ranked against other skaters, whether you were first versus someone who was fifth, it didn't matter how big or small your lead was. There was no lead. Now it's a point system, and it's just who has the most points at the end.

NORRIS: So the skaters are judged as individuals?

ZEIGER: As individuals. And the idea is you could be in eighth place, but only three points behind after the short program and you could come up and win the gold medal. In the past, if you were out of the top three, you no longer controlled your own destiny. You'd need people in front of you to fall.

NORRIS: And there's a few other aspects that have led to some of the confusion. I understand that there are twelve judges, but not all their marks are included in the final score?

ZEIGLER: Yes, that's true. And the judges, you don't know who the judges are, where they're from. In the past you knew the name, a country, and all their marks counted. There were nine judges on the panel, and all you had to do was get five of them to think your program was better than somebody else's and you could win.

Now, those judges don't know which of their scores are being counted and which ones aren't, nor do the skaters, nor does the media. And you don't even know, the judges panel could be all from, you know, Ukrainian judges, for all we know. We don't know. We don't know who's on the panel.

NORRIS: So if a computer that sort of randomly drops three of their marks, three of the twelve. I guess the outcome could vary greatly depending on whose marks were dropped.

ZEIGLER: It could, in theory. I don't think it's happening because there's so many marks now, it'd just be so hard to manipulate them. I think where you see some problems is in the second score, in the artistic score. I mean, you're judging art, how do you judge art?

And so, I think where you have skaters and their reputations that starts to factor in, in what they call the component mark, which is the artistic mark. And there are five of those, and those are on a 0 to 10 scale. And you'll see some skaters with 8.5's and some with 6.0's, and its hard to determine what exactly warranted a 6.0 and what warranted an 8.5.

NORRIS: Mark, quickly, before we let you go, I'm wondering if this new testing system has led to greater risk-taking as the skaters try to rack up points. Does that explain all those tumbles that we saw over the weekend?

ZEIGER: Well, what I think you're seeing is that, yes, some are taking more risks, but what you're seeing is they're having in practice to spend less time on the jumps and more time on the spins and the footwork. And so what happens is, they're not jumping as much in practice and not focusing on it. They're also getting more tired as they get through the program, and there's less focus on the jumps. That's why you're seeing so many skaters falling.

It doesn't necessarily mean that you're seeing worse skating. You're probably seeing a better level of skating overall.

MORRIS: That's Mark Zeigler, a staff writer for the San Diego Union Tribune, explaining the new scoring system for figure skating.

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