Something rotten in the state of Sochi

I should have written this long ago, but words fail me.

I feel like I have gone back to that dark time when Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko skated like the ice was their friend, like there was nothing they could not do with the blade. Yet they never won a world championship. They were from Finland, a country that had no power in figure skating and especially ice dancing. The results didn’t always match what happened on the ice, especially in ice dancing, always the trouble child of figure skating. The medals were for those who had the power to arrange it.

During the season of 1994-95, Rahkamo and Kokko created a quickstep like no other, working hard to stand out from the others, to be noticed and finally rewarded. This dance offered up unusual rhythms – they used a constant beat but would use, for example, the end beats which made it playful, yes they often skated with tongue in cheek. How can you stay sane otherwise? It helped them win the European championships that year and a silver medal at the world championships. And finally: respect. Their dance became a compulsory dance, called the Finnstep. And it became the compulsory part of the short dance at Sochi this week.

The judging system adopted after the judging scandals of the 2002 was supposed to stop the results that didn’t match what happened on the ice. It was supposed to make the results real. After all, IOC vice president Dick Pound threatened to pull ice dancing from the Olympic roster if the sport didn’t clean up results that seemed pre-determined. During the opening ceremonies in Sochi, an official took an oath to promise to judge fairly.

All of it: apparently just words. What’s difficult to swallow about the results of the short dance at the Olympics is not the fact that defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are second, but the results just don’t make sense.

Virtue and Moir skated the performance of their lives, easy to see in Moir’s reaction when he did a joyful, spontaneous dance when they finished. When the marks came up, I knew it was over. They weren’t going to win this one. And of course, they were dinged in the Finnstep, receiving a level three, rather than four, although Tracy Wilson on NBC had said they were clean. Of course, they were called for making a mistake. They always are.  It’s always something. It reminds me of the Cup of Russia Grand Prix event this year, when suddenly skaters were getting level ones and twos for their Finnstep while the Russian team, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, in a fight for the Olympic bronze medal, were the only ones to get level threes. (Nobody got a level four.) They were  eight points ahead of Canada’s other talented dance team Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje in the short dance, mostly through their technical mark – a result that astounded other judges not on the panel.

The technical panel had been weak at that event, but their findings are considered a field of play call, something that the Court of Arbitration for Sport wouldn’t touch. The Finnstep is a hard dance to call, because it is so quick. It’s easy to miss something. Yet this panel had decided to be stricter than strict.

And what about Davis and White’s levels in Sochi? They received level four for all of their elements, wrapped up in huge execution and component marks. It seems that every time they set foot on the ice, they set a world record – and they did again in the short dance.

Yet this from Petri Kokko, in a tweet: “Hope [Virtue and Moir] wins. Americans timing off in the Finnstep and restrained even otherwise.” He should know.

And the Americans set a world record? During the team event, a television camera clearly caught Davis and White out of unison going into twizzles. But did those sharp-eyed callers catch it? Apparently not. Are skaters being judged by the same standards?

And then later, from Kokko: “I don’t understand the judging in ice dancing. Virtue and Moir should be leading in my honest opinion.”

If he doesn’t understand it, how can I? How can anybody? Has anybody thought about the drop off of interest in figure skating following the Salt Lake City scandals of 2002?

And by the way, earlier, Kokko had tweeted, thanking Virtue and Moir for “a beautiful Finnstep.”

Rahkamo, who was in Sochi, watching, also tweeted: “Tessa and Scott the best for me. They dance for each other.”

They are not the first to be puzzled by Virtue and Moir’s results in the last couple of years. Legendary Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova told a Russian newspaper that she cannot understand why Virtue and Moir’s “Carmen” free dance of last year did not win. In fact, she does not understand why they did not win the world championships, even after Virtue made a bobble in the twizzles in the short dance. Former world champion Alexander Zhulin said the same.

And get this from a young, upcoming Russia ice dancer, Ksenia Monko: “Personally, the Canadians are more pleasant to me than the Americans. They take the basics more seriously, while the Americans can sometimes be careless. Sometimes they don’t hold moves and let themselves relax in ways the Canadians wouldn’t.”

At the very least, is the emperor wearing new clothes? Is the narrative so strong that judges aren’t even watching? Talk to some dance experts and they will tell you that: Davis and White may have a reputation for speed, but they get their speed through hops, skips – and White sometimes wide-steps, like a hockey player. Virtue and Moir gain their speed (and power) with their edges and their knees, so they look as if they float.  Virtue and Moir vary their speed a lot more than the Americans and the component mark is supposed to take this into account. Virtue and Moir can get up to full speed in three strokes. Davis and White don’t stretch their legs straight. Virtue and Moir do. Davis has “clunky feet” according to one expert. Davis and White spend more time dancing while facing in the same direction (which is easier) while Virtue and Moir change their holds constantly, and so seamlessly, you’re almost unaware of it. Davis and White are rather stiff in their upper bodies. Virtue and Moir’s movement is astonishingly organic. Their whole bodies move from ankle to head. I could go on.

 

And other dancers see this. Ilia Averbukh, an Olympic silver medalist from Russia, says the two teams can’t even be compared. “Last year, I was extremely confused by the judges’ decision to put the American team above the Canadians,” he told a Russian newspaper. “I still haven’t completely understood why Davis and White won the world championships last year, because for me, Virtue and Moir stood head and shoulders above, from the choreography of the free dance to the performance.”

 

So I go into the free dance today with a heavy heart, feeling like it’s the old days, when you already knew the results before the skaters tied their laces. And that’s what bothers me. Meryl Davis and Charlie White will win the first Olympic gold medal for United States in ice dancing.

 

If I’m wrong, I’ll do a Scott Moir dance.

69 thoughts on “Something rotten in the state of Sochi

  1. Thank you Bev for this wonderful technical analysis. Even casual skating fans can see that something isn’t right in this “sport”. Virtue and Moir just can’t seem to get the marks they deserve, no matter what they do. It is SO obvious that they deserve better but the judges will not give them the scores to match their performance. Even Kurt Browning was urging the judges to do the right thing and “give it up” (high marks) after their short dance, but nope, it did not happen. And we all know why. This gold medal is predetermined. It is a sad turn of events that we are now back to the “old days” of ice dancing. I will be watching the free dance today with a heavy heart knowing that no matter how well V&M skate, or how poorly D&W skate, it will be impossible for them to win the gold (short of a major catastrophe by D&W). This isn’t sport. It is so disappointing.

    • Bev, Thank you for writing this article. Although I am a HUGE FAN, I am not an expert but it was clear that Charlie and Meryl were out of sync during the short program on their twizzles. Scott and Tessa were tight and they moved fast across the ice – White and Davis did not. The American couple were very good but they lack the magic and passion of Moir and Virtue. I am sad to say, politics has clearly been the final judge today. As far as I am concerned,Tessa and Scott skated with beauty. grace, style and left their hearts on the ice today. They moved a country to tears and thanked all of us for supporting them with their last Olympic skate. BRAVO!!! The are Canadian treasures whose body of work is overwhelming and for that we stand on guard for thee. They are GOLD in every Canadian’s heart.

  2. The 2002 pairs scandal was due to the ice dance event. The pairs event was used as a bargaining chip for placements in the dance event. Skating (especially in the Olympics) would be far better off without the dance event. It will always be open to fixing as it is far too subjective. Either get rid of it or suspend it until they get their act together.
    P.S. Why do the judges have a camera that the broadcasters do not have access to? That’s not right. It provides the ISU with an easy out to be able to say, “Well you didn’t see it from the judges angle.”

    • Excellent point. The only way to clean up the sport is absolute transparency with each judge’s detailed evaluation of every performance.

      Furthermore, the judges themselves need to be judged by using replays of each performance to see what the judges saw or missed, marked too high or too low, and interpreted correctly or incorrectly.

      Each and every judge should be able to justify every single one of their evaluations to a panel of experts & to the media. I for one would be more than willing to follow a detailed analysis of both skates on TV in order to understand the results & learn more about what the judges are looking for.

      Finally, I believe that a pool of judges should be organized and trained by the IOC to ensure standardized criteria. Then, the judges will not find out what event they will judge until an hour before the performance. Then, an equal number would be chosen from the pool to supervise the judges and speak up if something critical is missed.

      Would such a system be totally immune to cheating or intimidation? No. However it would make it very difficult to cheat on a regular basis without getting caught.

  3. I’m not watching the games this year at all just on personal principle (I understand it’s the worst Olympics in history anyway, so no big whoop), but ice dancing judges have always been a suspicious bunch. Why Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz didn’t win the gold in ’98 for Riverdance (let alone even get a bronze) in favor of Grishuk and Platov was, to me, an international disgrace. And the judges were absolutely to blame.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
    Since I can’t put my feelings into words right now, because I can’t help but being upset, may I quote from a fellow tumblr fan never-endingdream. (http://never-endingdream.tumblr.com/post/76974936006/gold-doesnt-mean-anything-if-politics-are)

    “Gold doesn’t mean anything if politics are involved. Tessa & Scott will end their careers with the respect and love they deserve where as the other team will be tainted with a Gold medal that is not truly deserving and wasn’t based solely on talent.”

  5. I wonder if you are going to quote Kokko’s tweet from after the free dance. You know, this one?
    “Congratulations Davis & White for a gorgeous free and well deserved Olympic gold medal. Simply breathtaking! #Sochi2014″
    Shame on you and everyone else in the Canadian media for trying to stir up a “controversy” that does not exist. It is unfair to all skaters involved and to the general Canadian audience, as well.

    • Wow, I didn’t know this Wendy, thanks for sharing. Meryl and Charlie had a phenomenal routine and EARNED their gold medal!!

      • Charlie and Meryl earned their GOLD medal as well. No one handed them a medal. They try different music and styles. V/M’s programs are predictable. These hateful comments are laughable! V/M have been less than stellar the last few years…stopping during programs, Tessa’s twizzles. NEWSFLASH!! The Americans don’t decide the placement. They just skate their hearts out and show up and do their job.

    • An interesting point re: Kokko’s tweet to the American team. However, I think we all understand that diplomacy & networking are very important in rhe figure skating world, so I don’t see the comments as contradictory or hypocritical. To fail to congratulate the Americans and validate their victory would be a very big mistake on the part of Kokko. On the other hand, his much more detailed comments about the judging to the author of this blog are far too specific to attribute to politics and the necessary habit of appreciating all of the high profile skaters.

  6. This is the biggest pile of manure that I have read regarding the Olympic Figure Skating so far from Sochi.

    As a long time Figure Skating coach, I neither agree with your assessments or obvious bias without actual knowledge to back it up.

    Quoting a bunch of loud mouthed skaters who also have personal bias and not quoting those who support the ultimate decision in Sochi clearly shows a lack of understanding, objectivity and once again knowledge.

    Boo goes to you.

  7. What’s new?! That has been the way of all sports since I can remember, even as a child I have encountered such unfairness…politics and money rule, or I’d it power and corruption?! Sad because that is not what the athlete is there for at all…:(

  8. What heartens me is it’s their own PEERS who believe they have been treated unfairly. So many people in the skating world… Thank you, Beverley, have respected your articles for years. :)

  9. I think the difference between the 2 pairs is in the choreography. They have the same coach, same rink, same choreographer. IMO Charlie & Merle’s program was more detailed and difficult than the Canadians. I thought both of the teams were perfect today and even wondered if there could be 2 gold medals but the Canadians lulled me not keeping me on the edge of my seat as the Americans. Maybe its just me but could not the skaters see that if I am right?

  10. “Tessa and Scott were called for making a mistake. They always are.” Obviously not, since they won Gold in Vancouver and Worlds in 2010 and 2012. Sad to see such sore losers, Meryl and Charlie had a beautiful program and skated flawlessly. Canada is lucky to have Silver, because I thought the Russian black swan routine was even better than Tessa and Scott.

    • only cheaters are the sore losers, honey, there is something sorely lacking in the characters of those who slam the canadians’ superior grace and technique. I suppose you have to know what grace is first.. don’t worry too much, I mean, if tarnished gold is so important to your identity and all. no need to be envious of the decent character of canadians!

  11. It is apparent that the Canadians were the better of the two at the Sochi games. I agree whole heartedly with Bev as she writes, “Davis and White don’t stretch their legs straight.” That has been a peeve of mine. World class skaters should at the very least have pointed toes and beautiful extension. Thank you for writing this article so those of us who were left puzzled watching know that we are not alone…

    • and how dare those who dismiss any idea of possible corruption slam canadians for standing up for some integrity? maybe the naysayers ought to take a good hard look at themselves? we didn’t play dirty, folks, so how dare you blame canada? insecurity complex much?

  12. It’s all rigged, right? Every event. Every event the Canadians lose. But wait…remember in 2010 when Canadians won gold? Must have been rigged too, eh? Or the fact that the American duo has been undefeated in the past couple of years? Their routine was flawless. Every Canadian is whining and crying because it was ‘rigged’ and they are even starting a petition. The Americans clearly outshined the Canadians and deserved the gold medal. So I suppose we should start investigating the quality of the judges in Vancouver, right? The Canadians never won gold in ice dancing until 2010 when the games were hosted in their own country. But I guess that’s nothing to brag about because the sport is rigged. Yes, the skaters were amazing, but they weren’t the best.

    • Did you hear an uproar from Canadians when Patrick Chan did not win the gold? Did Canadians get their knickers in a knot when the Canadian Pairs Skating teams failed to medal? No.

      Canadians understand figure skating well enough to recognize when one of their skaters or skating teams did not perform well enough to win a gold medal, or perhaps medal at all.

      Canadian fans of figure skating have also had plenty of experience watching truly spectacular routines, mediocre efforts, fair judging, and flagrant rip-offs involving athletes from many different nations. The very fact that Canadians attend “Stars On Ice” and other tours in huge numbers is a clear sign that Canadians appreciate great skaters, regardless of nationality or the colour of medal won.

      Yes, naturally we are very emotionally attached to our athletes and want them to win. Expectations are very high, and athletes who don’t meet expectations are frequently called out on their disappointing results by the media, experts, former athletes, and ‘armchair judges’, often in an excessively harsh manner. But what is not common for Canadians is allowing their patriotism to blind them from seeing the truth, as uncomfortable as it may or may not be.

      • funny how the insecure are making this a canada thing. hey, don’t blame us because we have a secure national identity. the naysayers just seem like fish flailing about out of water. they just cannot handle why the world is puzzled.

      • Are you kidding? They “appreciate great skaters, regardless of nationality or the color of medal won.” That’s the biggest line of crap! Did you see them during the medal ceremony? While the United States’ national anthem was playing, they didn’t even have the courtesy to pay attention! They were looking at each other, talking, and laughing the entire ceremony! They showed absolutely NO respect for the winning team. They even bragged about how good they were to one reporter, and wanted to know why their score was so low. And you call that appreciation? They aren’t grateful for anything! I’m glad they lost! If Canada was to be represented by these two athletes, I’d say it’s a country that is selfish, ignorant, and one that respects nothing except for its own.

        The Americans won. That is the truth. Yes, judging can be biased or untruthful at times; but that doesn’t mean anything here– remember Vancouver.

        Yes, everybody whines, including the famous Americans (they’re pretty good at it themselves), but the Canadians whine whenever they lose. When they think their athletes did good and they do bad, they complain about how all the judging is unfair and who the “true” medalists should be. Whenever they don’t win first, they are the first to complain about how unfair the game is. Give me a break!

        Oh, and wasn’t there a Canadian judge in that panel that gave the Americans a near perfect score? Look at the facts- The Canadians lost fair and square. Don’t get me wrong, they are fabulous skaters, but they weren’t good enough for the gold. Even the Canadian judge saw that. So stop complaining.

      • I beg to differ that Canadians whine when we lose. We did not whine when Patrick Chan did not win gold. He had his chances and didn’t work. We did not whine, in tennis, when our Milos Rionic lost in the Montreal final against Rafael Nadal. In fact I’ve seen many American sports people whine, or make excuses why they didn’t win. Best example is Serena Williams, of tennis, is the one that stands out the most. She’ll kind of pout if she doesn’t win.
        As far as I’m concerned, Tessa and Scott should have got gold.
        But it is what it is. Life goes on. And this should now be put to rest.
        I congratulate ALL athletes. Just to get a chance to participate in the Olympics is just awesome.
        Oh, one more thing. There was a Canadian who helped a Russian cross country skier who lost a ski. Another Canadian gave up his spot in speed skating so his team can try. I had add this in

    • are you for real? As Derek says below, we didn’t whine when Patrick didn’t win the Gold because it just didn’t happen. He had the chance and unfortuantely blew it. We don’t whine, we take things as they are. Unfortunately all the guys fell including him and the Japanese was two points ahead. We’re not whining about Scott and Tessa not winning the gold. In fact, the Americans can be just as whiners when they aren’t on top of the podium. I’ve heard “whining” in other sports such as tennis, wondering why there is no American in the 10 type of thing. That’s ’cause the world has caught up.
      Anyway, on that note. I do say congrats to Davis/White. And to all the skaters and competitors in the Olympics.

  13. Gotta be easy to win the argument when you choose your sources for experts who agree with you. I do agree that I word have out V/M in the lead in the SD, but IMO the overall winner was correct. Davis and White had the better material, and came out blazing in September, while V/M started slow and tentative. Reputation for Consistency still does matter (that sucks this season for V/M, but this helped them in 08-10 seasons).

    And who are the US supposed to be in conspiracy with? We suck at the politics side of skating.

    Oh, and let’s remember who complained so much about 2002, and created the IJS. Canada needs to sleep in the bed you made.

  14. Yes, funny how every time the Canadians don’t get the results they want, it’s because the deck was stacked against them. Truthfully, I still to this day believe that the Russians were the best in Salt Lake City. I’m not alone in that assessment. Bourne/Kraatz had no business winning a medal in Nagano. Try watching that Riverdance program today and you’ll see. Virtue/Moir were clearly the best in Vancouver, but the Americans have simply surpassed them technically over the last four years. I’m sorry results don’t always go your way, but sometimes you have to grin and bear it.

    • Not, it’s not about getting the result Canadians want It’s what should be fair and square and obviously the marking system isn’t making that. Americans are the who seem to want to “win at everything” and 2nd isn’t good enough. In fact, when I hear tennis commenttors say “wonder what’s wrong with our American” since no one is in the top five, well guess what, the world has caught up. More competition (ooops, getting off topic but had to sneak that in)
      As far as Tessa and Scott are concerned, they are golden winners but they are happy with the silver. And so am I. Proud of our athletes. Proud of all athletes that have made to Olympics. That’s a feat in itself.

      • The thing is that the results were fair and square this time around. I am baffled by all the whining from the Canadian side. The momentum in ice dance completely shifted in the ’12-’13 season. It’s not an accident that Tessa and Scott haven’t beaten the Americans since Worlds 2012. They got passed up, plain and simple. They peaked in 2010 while the Americans continued to improve. I feel like everyone in the figure skating world realized this a long time ago, but the Canadian media (and V/M themselves) continued to live in denial. I’m sorry the Olympics had to serve as your wakeup call, but you should have seen it coming. Nobody had to cheat. The better team won.

      • And FYI there was a Canadian judge on that panel that gave Davis/White all 10s for choreography and interpretation in the free dance. Were they in on the fix too? Better have an in-house purge!

      • Canadian judge was blind …. like the rest of them :)
        But no matter, its over and life goes on. Just wish our winter was over

    • I take it you have never skated? Surpassed them technically? Is that what people are supposed to say about the Americans because they are so desperately trying to convince everyone this is the case? Wasn’t born yesterday, honey.

  15. Perhaps the Americans did choreograph their program to obtain maximal technical difficulty scores. I don’t care. I watched the performances with my husband who is a hockey player and couldn’t care less about this sport. We were both moved almost to tears by the performance of Virtue and Moir. It was stunning and unbelievably moving and I think that is what dance is supposed to be about. I don’t care if the Americans had more difficulty. Their dance did not produce the same effect for us. It was fast and flashy and forgettable. I will never forget the Canadian’s performance though. Perhaps the judges are missing the mark on this one? Isn’t this supposed to be about performance? If so, the Canadians won by an enormous margin!

    • Well, Kate, that’s the thing. Ice dance is judged based on a lot more than who looked the prettiest. If all you want is a nice performance then watch the exhibition shows.

    • Moved to tears?? The canadians were caught standing around. They are arrogant and have no respect for other teams across the globe. They think they should win? Why? The American and the Russian teams both were better. Exciting. Riveting. Vm were actually boring. and their whine is making all of Canada a laughing stock. Those two have been losing for two years…and they don’t think they should?

      I personally thought they should not have won in 2010. At all. Third at best.

      All of Canada should be ashamed at this behavior. It’s poor sportsmanship. If they were losing ground for YEARS, they should have worked harder….not have gaps in their program…where they do nothing….

      Shame on them.

      • No, it’s the other way around. Americans can be the arrogant ones who think they should win everything. Think they’re the only country on the planet. Ever wonder why some countries are not fond of the Americans. I do know a lot of great people living in the states,obviously you’re not going to be one of them. You’re making them look bad in other nationality eyes.

      • No, shame on the cheaters. No wonder they Americans can barely look at the camera, even they must realize what people are saying.about tarnished gold. By the way, they don’t need to struggle (unlike Charlie White!) in gaining graceful speed and momentum. What a sad, miserable little person you are, but I’m not surprised at your insecurities. Fair is fair, honey, good parents should have taught you that!

  16. I am American. Out of sheer patriotism, I am glad that Davis and White won. However, I know in my heart that the best team didn’t win. Virtue and Moir are transcendent. They are what an ice dance team should be–down to their finger tips. There was no comparison in the short dance. Virtue and Moir didn’t just dance the best SD, they ran away with it. I gasped in disbelief at their scores.
    We can’t take anything away from Meryl and Charlie, of course. They are wonderful, too. However, I’ll always remember the Sochi Olympics for robbing the best dance team ever the rightful gold medal.

    • Thank you Grace. I always wanted to hear an unbiased opinion.
      I wonder what would have happened if we’ve taken Nationality out of this whole thing…and what the result would be.

    • No Lynn, they are classy, BEAUTIFUL, and graceful. And may I add, not garish looking? There, are you happy now? Another petty, jealous person. Really, what pitiful people gave you your value system?

    • at least they aren’t cheaters who did not have to rely on a deal made by USA and Russia to win gold. cheaters are worst than sore losers imo.

    • You must be mentally ill, that’s your only possible excuse for making such an ugly statement! She s lovely young woman who has worked very hard her whole life, she doesn’t deserve to be insulted like that. I thought Canadians prided themselves on being polite??

      • We do pride ourselves on being polite …….. well at least the majority of us but I’m sure there’s a few rotten eggs like the rest of the world as in their country. BUT how do you know Kelsie is Canadian? She could be another nationality.

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