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Thread: Compulsory School Figures

  1. #1
    SkateFan4Life
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    Compulsory School Figures

    I’m sure many of us have seen figure skating books and/or manuals that contain photographs or drawings of skaters tracing school figures. These intricate patterns, all variations of the figure eight, were originally the entire content of figure skating competitions. Competitive skaters of the early era (before World War II or so) traced the figures in outdoor competitions.

    While jumping, spinning, and other athletic maneuvers were added to the sport and a program of skating was added to the competition, the school figures, for many years, carried the majority of weight in the overall score. If you weren’t a strong school figures skater, you simply could not expect to win a medal, unless the rest of the field self-destructed. As late as 1968, when Peggy Fleming won the Olympic gold medal, the school figures comprised 60 percent of her total score. Peggy emassed such a huge lead in the figures that her victory was a foregone conclusion. Her free skating was also outstanding – elegant and athletic. However, had Peggy not been a strong school figures skater, she would not have won the Olympic title or her three World titles.

    Austrian Trixi Schuba won two World titles and the 1972 Olympic gold medal, based on the strength of her outstanding school figures. Trixi was probably the best school figures skater of all time, as her tracings were, typically, exactly on axis and right on top of each other. The scoring was changed so that the figures and long program were 50/50 in weight; however, you still had to be a strong figures skater to medal. Trixi built up such enormous leads that all she had to do – pretty much – was stay on her feet and not fall nine times to win the title. Her free skating was quite weak and almost embarrassing, compared to the strong free skaters of her era, such as Karen Magnussen, Janet Lynn, and Julie Lynn Holmes. At the 1972 Worlds, Schuba’s final amateur competition, she won the figures by a wide margin and then finished only 7th in the free skate – yet she still won by a substantial margin. As part of her exhibition performance, Trixi traced a few figure eights on the ice.

    The school figures were reduced to 30 percent of the overall score, with the new short program weighing 20 percent and the long program 50 percent by the 1980s. However, the figures still sometimes determined the final outcome. At the 1984 Olympics, Brian Orser finished 7th in the figures, won both the short and long programs, yet had to settle for the silver medal behind Scott Hamilton, who had won the figures and finished 2nd in both the short and long programs. Had there not been school figures, Orser would have won the title.

    The judges sometimes used the school figures as a means of marking up and marking down skaters to set them up for medals. The figures were also used as a basis for making new skaters “wait their turn”. Typically, a skater in his/her first appearance at Worlds could expect to be placed lower then 10th in the school figures, even if he or she skated solid figures. I think of the 1990 Worlds in which Todd Eldredge, the new US champion, skated clean figures, yet was ranked out of the top 10. He skated good short and long programs, but finished out of the medals. At the 1984 Winter Olympics, US silver medalist Tiffany Chin skated good figures but was marked 12th. She finished 2nd in the short and 3rd in the long program and 4th overall. Had she received the marks she deserved to receive for the figures, she may well have won a medal. Conversely, at the 1988 Worlds, Katarina Witt skated subpar school figures – really blowing one of them – and she was ranked 1st in that discipline. The judges, obviously, wanted to keep her up, since she was the defending World and Olympic champion.

    School figures were eliminated from competition after the 1990 season, and probably nobody was happier about that than Midori Ito. Ito, who had won the 1989 World title, skated disastrous school figures at the 1990 Worlds and was buried in 10th place. I remember seeing a tracing of one of her figures – it was all over the place. She rebounded back, won both the short and long programs, and won t he silver medal. Had she finished 9th in the figures, she would have retained her title. Jill Trenary won the World title, thanks to her 1st place in the school figures.

    Skaters had to spend hours skating patches, often before dawn, to learn to trace the school figures. I commend them for spending all of those hours over so many years. If there was any benefit, IMHO, it was that the skaters learned discipline, good carriage, and balance.

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    Hopeless fan Doggygirl's Avatar
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    More on that history...

    I really enjoyed the book "Cracked Ice" by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato.

    It's "her view" of things during the many years of changes within the ISU, including the decisions to add a short program, and change the values of school figures v. free skating (both SP and LP considered part of free skating).

    She was part of the ISU during this time, and influenced many of these decisions, at least according to her book. As always, *consider the source* but I found this book to be a very interesting off season read.

    I found it especially compelling since many of her arguments against the emphasis on school figures seemed (to me) to have much to do with public interest in the sport. (i.e. general public can't understand why someone can win the Free Skate and place 2nd, 3rd, or lower based on some *boring* figures scores)

    I think that era has some correlation to our current era of COP/NJS, and how people *think* the new judging system could change the public perception of the sport. (or not)

    A good read, if you haven't already been there, done that!!

    DG

  3. #3
    SkateFan4Life
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    Indeed, people (myself included) shook their heads in disbelief at Trixi Schuba's Olympic gold medal victory in 1972, given her obvious weakness as a free skater. Schuba was a heavy set girl, and she really looked clunky out there. Not at all graceful, artistic, or elegant. But, boy, could she ever skate the school figures. She was amazing in that aspect.

    School figures were seldom, if ever, telecast, and if they were shown, it was only
    a snippet. I remember one competition in which the figures were telecast, and the judges literally got down on their hands and knees to examine the tracings.
    It reminded me a bit of golfers lining up a putt.

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    I have way more respect for Trixi Schuba's figures than I do for Janet Lynn's free skating. People have long surpassed what Janet Lynn has done on the ice as a free skater, but I don't think anyone had been able to surpass what Trixi had done in school figures. Tracing those things are hard as he!!. I personally feel that even without school figures, Janet Lynn wouldn't have won an Olympic or World title anyway. She couldn't do elements under pressure. Ironically, the only World title Midori Ito ever won was the 1989 title when she had to compete figures. Once they abolished figures, Midori couldn't handle the pressure. She finished 4th in 1991 and second in the Olympics falling on a triple lutz in the SP.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SkateFan4Life
    The school figures were reduced to 30 percent of the overall score, with the new short program weighing 20 percent and the long program 50 percent by the 1980s. However, the figures still sometimes determined the final outcome. At the 1984 Olympics, Brian Orser finished 7th in the figures, won both the short and long programs, yet had to settle for the silver medal behind Scott Hamilton, who had won the figures and finished 2nd in both the short and long programs. Had there not been school figures, Orser would have won the title.
    I do wish people would stop propigating this myth. You can NOT say who would have won ANY competition that included figures by simply eliminating the results of the figures and counting the results of the other phases. There WERE figures, they were a part of the competition that EVERY competitor knew were a part of the competition.

    Hey,, let's take a tape of a college basketball game back in the early 1980s and draw a 3-point line on the court. And hey, let's also include a 45- (or is it now 35-)second shot clock, too. Now, let's total up the score from that game with all shots taken from 19 feet, 9 inches or more now counting 3 points rather than two, and any shot taken after a non-existent (then) shot clock would have expired, and figure out who would have won the game -- and, just to make it fun, let's take a whole YEAR of games and decide who should have been the NCAA champion "under today's rules."

    Of course, that's completely ridiculous, because the players were NOT PLAYING under today's rules, so the strategy and even which shots they practiced were dictated by the rules they played under. It would be totally silly to apply the 3-point line rule or the 45-second shot clock rule that are part of college basketball now to games played BEFORE those rules were in place.

    But people continually do that to skaiting, and it's just as ridiculous. Sorry, folks, but all of the competition run under THAT DAY'S rules would have played out totally differently "under today's rules ..." And all the competitions that INCLUDED figures would have been totally different if the skaters had gone into those competitions knowing they were not competiting in figures. Each skater KNEW there were figures (or KNEW that the technical mark was the tiebreaker or KNEW that winning a certain amount of judges was the key or now KNOWS that you can rack up this many points for that type of jump or spin) and they prepare(d) accordingly.

    Scott Hamilton spent about 3 hours a day working on figures because he KNEW he could afford to not have quite the jumps the up-and-comers behind him had as long as he could beat them big-time in figures and beat the good figures guys big-time in free skating. He was and still is as competitive as heck and he crafted his skating to be able to win competitions, and it worked for him. Had he KNOWN he wouldn't have figures to rely on, what would he have done? We'll never know, of course, but I can't help but think he'd he'd have either had the jumps the other guys had or he'd have "died trying" -- that is, either got injured to the point of not being able to continue or been passed by Boitano and Cockrell and the other guys in the U.S. who were doing bigger jumps than he was. Which would have meant that Scott would either have had as good a chance as Orser at winning an SP-LP only competition, or else Orser would have been competing against a whole different set of people, skaters who in future years managed to beat him several times and who would have been having possibly the same (or more) international success as he had by that time.

    But we'll never know what would have happened "under today's rules" or "without figures" because THEY WEREN'T COMPETING "under today's rules" or "without figures." Just as we'll never, ever know who would be 1991-2005 world and Olympic champions "under 1988's rules" or "WITH figures" -- because those folks didn't compete under those rules.

    To take away anybody's accomplishments or give someone something they didn't earn by applying different rules to an event is just plain wrong.

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    Forum translator Ptichka's Avatar
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    Mememe, people don't just do it in sport, they do it in everything. The most recent example that springs to mind is the 2000 presidential race. People were saying that if we determined the outcome by popular vote, Gore would have occupied the White House. I tired of telling people that was not necessarily so, since had we had those rules, Bush would have campaigned differently, such as having a campaign is states where he could never get a majority. Bottom line, when we don't like the results, be it of athletic or political events, it's nice to think that the winner got there by some fluke of the rules.

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    Having traced school figures in the wee hours of the morning I can attest to the fact they took as much talent and poise to accomplish as any move in the field would take.

    All those great skaters of the past, including Trixi Schuba were great at mastering figures. In fact many skaters today do not skate as well as they should because they do not develop the discipline and balance that tracing figures over and over bring to a skater.

    Figures may seem like a trivial feat today compared to landing a quad or triple jump, but many skaters today could not trace a loop or a bracket.

    Here is some information about figures:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_figures

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ladskater
    Having traced school figures in the wee hours of the morning I can attest to the fact they took as much talent and poise to accomplish as any move in the field would take.
    As someone who has done both figures (through 2nd) and MIF's (through Intermediate), I'd say MIF's are far easier to master than figures.

  9. #9
    Tripping on the Podium icedancer2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sk8er1964
    As someone who has done both figures (through 2nd) and MIF's (through Intermediate), I'd say MIF's are far easier to master than figures.
    I quite agree!!

    What I don't get about the presentation in the beginning of this thread about figures in competitions past is exactly how someone could get a "Huge lead" because they won the figures. Was there something different in the way the sport was judged then? If a person was 2nd in figures and 1st in the FS, then maybe they would win overall (putting figures at 60% and FS at 40% as was the case with Peggy Flemming in '68 -- and yes, I go back that far...) -- anyway, let's say a person was so outstanding in figures that they win the figures portion, but totally sucked at freestyle and placed 9th. buildling up a "huge lead" in the figures would be a moot point because in the final standings there is no way that person could be at the top of the podium in the end...

    Anyway, it's not like the NJS where you can build up a huge lead in terms of point.

    Plus it just kills me that figures are spoken of as though they were done in the dark ages -- some of us, and some of the kids we skate with, are still doing figures -- granted the kids are not taking tests, but some coaches have realized the value of figures in skating and are still teaching based on figures, so...

    Well, I forgot my original point, but I guess that's because I'm old enough to have remembered when figures reigned supreme!!

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    Hopeless fan Doggygirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icedancer2
    What I don't get about the presentation in the beginning of this thread about figures in competitions past is exactly how someone could get a "Huge lead" because they won the figures. Was there something different in the way the sport was judged then? If a person was 2nd in figures and 1st in the FS, then maybe they would win overall (putting figures at 60% and FS at 40% as was the case with Peggy Flemming in '68 -- and yes, I go back that far...) -- anyway, let's say a person was so outstanding in figures that they win the figures portion, but totally sucked at freestyle and placed 9th. buildling up a "huge lead" in the figures would be a moot point because in the final standings there is no way that person could be at the top of the podium in the end...

    Anyway, it's not like the NJS where you can build up a huge lead in terms of point.

    I'm not sure what year it changed, but I believe there was a time when there was a total point score awarded for figures and free skating so a "huge lead" after figures was represented in actual points like NJS, not ordinals like 6.0. A smarter historian than me will have to fill in the gaps on what year that changed.

    DG

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    I never saw school figures done, but at my rink we do patch work once in a while and I love it...it is super hard (for me at least) and I don't do it often, nor often enough or long enough when I do it, BUT I always feel a big improvement in my skating after i do it. Anyway, just trying to say I really can appreciate figures particularly just how difficult they are to master.

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    I would personally love to see figures come back and replace the qualifying round. It seems that skaters who used to practice figures were leaps and bounds ahead of skaters of today when it comes to having solid edges.

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    Quote Originally Posted by soogar
    I have way more respect for Trixi Schuba's figures than I do for Janet Lynn's free skating. People have long surpassed what Janet Lynn has done on the ice as a free skater, but I don't think anyone had been able to surpass what Trixi had done in school figures. Tracing those things are hard as he!!. I personally feel that even without school figures, Janet Lynn wouldn't have won an Olympic or World title anyway. She couldn't do elements under pressure. Ironically, the only World title Midori Ito ever won was the 1989 title when she had to compete figures. Once they abolished figures, Midori couldn't handle the pressure. She finished 4th in 1991 and second in the Olympics falling on a triple lutz in the SP.

    Both Janet Lynn and Karen Magnussen have stated that Schuba won her Gold medal fair and square. I miss that kind of sportmanship. I do agree that Schuba was the rightful winner. She played by the rules and won. I, too, remembered her as being very clunky. I recently saw her skate from 67 or 68 worlds.and she was just very, very ordinary and plain.

    Janet Lynn has been surpassed? I didn't think a truly unique beauty could be surpassed. I guess with all today's skaters having deep and beautiful edges Janet's way of floating across the ice really isn't a big deal? Also her programs weren't filled with triple jump preparation, triple jumps, back crossovers, slow sloppy spins, back crossover and more jump preparations..... She skated intricate programs filled with movements that matched the music perfectly.

    Janet skated many clean performances. People want to judge her whole body of work by a fall on a flying sitspin and a very bad sp. It's too unfair. Janet won the lp at the Olympics by a huge margin. No one was close to her. She came back to win the lp at 1973 worlds. Her videos were used to show judges what great presentation looked like for years after she had retired.

    I have been watching her videos and wishing Sasha and Michelle were required to watch and learn. Maybe, Sasha would be inspired to work even harder on her edges and Michelle could learn not to leave her choreography at home. Oh, I forgot, they've surpassed Janet! Michelle at her best came close to equalling Lynn. Sasha hasn't managed to get close yet. I hope they both get there though.
    Last edited by SusanBeth; 08-03-2005 at 02:23 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SusanBeth
    Janet Lynn has been surpassed? I didn't think a truly unique beauty could be surpassed. I guess with all today's skaters having deep and beautiful edges Janet's way of floating across the ice really isn't a big deal? Also her programs weren't filled with triple jump preparation, triple jumps, back crossovers, slow sloppy spins, back crossover and more jump preparations..... She skated intricate programs filled with movements that matched the music perfectly.

    .
    Personally I felt that many skaters have had beautiful edges and movements that matched the music perfectly. In fact, many skaters are great at musical interpretation when they don't have to do triple jumps. I have seen a lot of Janet's programs (albeit very grainy video) and I just don't think she's worth the hype that she gets. Michelle has long surpassed Janet Lynne and I would bet that if Janet Lynn had to do a bunch of triple jumps, her programs would start to resemble Michelle's. Dorothy Hamill's Olympic program held up great over time and was far better than anything that I've seen Janet skate.

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    Forum translator Ptichka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doggygirl
    I'm not sure what year it changed, but I believe there was a time when there was a total point score awarded for figures and free skating so a "huge lead" after figures was represented in actual points like NJS, not ordinals like 6.0. A smarter historian than me will have to fill in the gaps on what year that changed.
    That's correct. One of the reasons this changed was because the public was so inhappy with Shuba's wins as they just saw others (such as Lynn) do beautiful programs yet loose to this un-artistic skater.

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