We all know by now the controversy surrounding the outcome of the Men’s final in Olympic figure skating. America’s Evan Lysacek won without a quad, and Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko finished with silver, even with a quad.
According to both Plushenko and the Canadian silver medalist Elvis Stojko, no one should be allowed to win a gold medal without at least attempting a quad. Better, it seems, to start your program with a major fall and stutter on the landing of your triple-triple jump combination than to skate strong and clean throughout the program. The rules don’t reward you for trying and missing, and that seems to be Stojko’s beef.
The fact that Lysacek did win gold ultimately had more to do with what he did do, rather than what he did not do. He did load his program from beginning to end with as much content as he could without the quad. His final triple lutz was beautiful, and the footwork/spin finale was, for my eyes, the best part of the program. The jumps may not all have been six feet off the ground, but they were straight in the air and flowed out of the landings.
Plushenko started brilliantly with his four jumping passes, but then the program started to fade. He slowed down, had some ugly positions in the air on the jumps and finished with a rather weak attempt at showmanship. Had his jumps been steadier, I’m sure he would have won. If you rely on your jumps at the expense of all other elements, then they have to be perfect. That’s the system that everyone seems to be lamenting.
As for the composition, both programs were boring. Most men’s long programs bore me nowadays, but that’s all in the name of progress. Either they are a mess of falls and mistakes that mar any attempts at interpreting the music, or they are a long, boring series of jumping passes. I loved Patrick Chan’s attempt at presenting “The Phantom of the Opera”, but it was hard to really enjoy the program with all the mistakes.
I enjoyed men’s skating with Boitano and Orser, Browing and Petrenko, Todd Eldredge and Paul Wylie, all of whom certainly strived for technical achievements, but also had some style in their programs. I don’t remember Boitano’s second triple axel at the 1988 Olympics, but I remember how great the spread eagle looked with blue uniform costume and choreography that brought the program to life and made the jumps even more exciting to watch. I remember Eldredge winning a world bronze medal with a great interpretation of “Les Miserables”. Did Michael Weiss land the quad when he skated to Santana in that orange shirt? I don’t remember, but that was an exciting program to watch! And who did that wonderful routine to the soundtrack of “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”, combining the beauty and athleticism of the martial arts with the beauty and athleticism of figure skating?
Well enough of this nostalgia. We don’t want to see men’s figure skating “regress” to a perfect blend of technical expertise with style and composition. We want jumps. More jumps. Bigger and harder jumps.
So here is how we should fix men’s figure skating.
Eliminate the men’s long program and replace it with a competition of compulsory jumps. The compulsory jumps portion of the competition would be given the same weight in the overall scoring as the current long program.
Every skater would have to first perform each of the six triple jumps (toe loop, salchow, loop, flip, lutz and axel) and be given marks on how well each jump is executed. Then he would have to do two triple/triple jump combinations of his choice, then a quad of his choice, then a quad/triple jump combination of his choice. The marks given for each jump would be multiplied by the grade of difficulty of each jump or combination. The score is combined with the short program score, and high scorer wins.
This would give Stojko and Plushenko what they want. Everyone hoping to compete would have to at least attempt a quad. If he makes it, he scores points. If he misses it, he doesn’t score points, but he doesn’t lose points for trying. A skater might garner enough points with all the triple jumps and combinations, if they are well executed, to make up for the lack of the quad.
As the years go by, the sport can be updated by making the jump and combination requirements more difficult, ensuring there will be progress in this aspect. Watching men’s compulsory jumps would be a little like watching men’s diving, with suspense building throughout the competition as the attempted jumps and combinations become more difficult.
The men will still have the short program to show off footwork, spins, musicality, and all those other elements that distract from the all important quad jumps.
My suggestion that the long program be replaced with a compulsory jumps competition is no more extreme or ludicrous then suggesting that a skater should have no right to win a competition without a quad, that “they killed figure skating” by awarding the gold to a quad-less program, or that the person who lands the quad wins automatically, regardless of the quality of the rest of his program.