In the moments following the stunning win of Adelina Sotnikova in the Olympic women’s event in Sochi, television cameras showed the young skater being embraced enthusiastically by a woman wearing a ponytail.
That woman was Alla Shekhovtseva, who happened to be the Russian judge on the panel that had just finished judging her. Not only that, Skekhovtseva is the wife of Russian federation director-general Valentin Piseev. For as long as Piseev has been in power with the Russian federation, Shekhovtseva has drawn the plum judging assignments, although critics suggest it’s a conflict of interest for her to be on a judging panel.
In the free skate on Thursday, Sotnikova got higher scores than she ever has in her life. She smashed her previous best scores. In fact her score of 149.95 was the second highest free skate score in women’s history, not bad for an 18-year-old who still lacks the polish of the older competitors that she defeated.
Are these results real? Many fear they are not. Sotnikova was delightful in her speed, attack and guts. But there was little detail in her skate, and little interpretation of the role. Skaters like Yuna Kim, who took the silver medal and Carolina Kostner, who was third, fulfilled the program component list much more completely.
“I think the podium should have been turned upside down,” said former coach and development consultant Louis Stong. In other words, Kostner should have won gold, Kim silver and Sotnikova bronze.
Also on the panel was Yuri Balkov, who has surfaced after years in the minors, after he was suspended for a year for reading off the results of the ice dancing event to Canadian judge Jean Senft at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Senft recorded the telephone conversation with him, and turned it over the International Skating Union, who suspended both of them. Go figure.
Balkov is a Ukrainian judge, famous for his bowties and his lack of knowledge in ice dance. Neither Shekhovtseva nor Balkov had drawn onto the short dance panel in Sochi.
Still even in the short dance, results seemed confusing. Kim led the show, by only by about a quarter of a point, with the forgotten Russian newbie Sotnikova breathing down her neck, ahead of Kostner whose Ave Maria routine was a masterpiece. Less than a point separated the top three skaters.
Sotnikova drew such high scores, because the technical panel awarded her level four of difficulty on ALL of her elements. Kim dropped to level three on a layback spin – and she may not have done enough rotations – and on her footwork sequence. Kostner was nailed for has layback spin and her footwork sequence.
The technical panel determines the levels of difficulty. And guess who the technical controller was? Alexander Lakernik, a Russian, who has long held positions in the ISU’s technical committee. Could it be a conflict of interest for a person from a country with a medal contender to be on that panel?
Sotnikova also had a full complement of level fours in the long program. So did Kostner. Kim had level three on her layback spin and footwork steps again.
There are three ways that an official can affect the results in this code of points judging system: the levels of difficulty, the grade of execution and the program components.
Let’s stick with the program components for now. According to some judges on the panel, Sotnikova had suddenly become the second coming.
Here are the scores of Yuna Kim, who although delivered a routine that had lower technical content, was by far away the best with her exquisite performance detail:
Skating skills….8.75 to 9.50 (9.21)
Transitions……8.50 to 9.25 (8.89)
Performance/execution:…….8.50 to 10.00 (9.36)
Choreog./compositon…………9.00 to 10.00 (9.18)
Interpretation………………..9.00 to 10.00 (9.36)
The disturbing question is the wide array of marks. How can one judge award 8.50 for performance and execution and two judges award Kim a mark of 10, which means “outstanding.”
Compare this to Sotnikova’s marks:
Skating skills……8.50 to 9.50 (9.18)
Transitions………8.50 to 9.50 (8.96)
Performance/execution…..9.00 to 9.75 (9.43)
Choreogr./composition…..9.00 to 9.75 (9.50)
Interpretation………..8.75 to 9.75 (9.43)
Are we really supposed to believe any of this?