Mr. Michelle Kwan
From Ottavio Cinquanta: Further format change for figure skating starting 2006-2007
Ottavio Cinquanta -- "We can vastly improve the sport of figure skating."
Press release from the ISU: An announcement directly from Ottavio Cinquanta about proposed changes after the Olympic season:
Begin press release:
It is always imperative that we continue to improve the sport of figure skating, to ensure that it continues to press forward into the 21st century. To that end, and to solve several financial and logistic problems, we will be introducing several major changes to the format of international competition.
One of the problems voiced by fans of figure skating -- and I want to stress that we are making these changes for the fans more than for any other reason -- is that judges have to rate each skater's performance during the course of the competition, without having seen the athletes which have yet to skate. Now, the Code of Points and the new scoring system was supposed to have eliminated this problem. After all, the Code of Points was intended as a universal cure-all for any problem besetting figure skating, now and forever more. But many people have voiced their displeasure, and so we must do more, because we are nothing if not responsive to criticism from long-time, hard-core figure skating fans.
Also, it is getting harder to sell figure skating to American television companies. One television executive said to me (tongue in cheek, I believe) that, "If someone's not getting shot, not getting naked, or not getting voted off the show, we're not interested."
Taking this extremely perceptive suggestion to heart, the ISU considered changing the format of international competition to fit this bizarre description of public tastes. In the current financial climate, we need every edge we can get.
The idea of shooting people during competition was considered and rejected almost immediately. Whom would we shoot -- the athletes who placed in the bottom five of each discipline? The bottom ten? The one poor schmuck who came in last? While it would make competition intensely fierce and quite dramatic, we had several questions. What if the loser was an excellent athlete who just happened to be injured? What if he was young and showed much promise for the future? What if he was armed and returned fire? These questions made us uncomfortable, for we had no answers to them.
Plus, as someone quite correctly pointed out after an hour of deliberation, it is illegal in most countries to shoot people, even for television ratings, and getting legislation passed so that an exception could be made for our sport was considered too costly.
Next, we considered the idea of people getting naked, or at least showing a lot of cleavage. Many of us pretended to be outraged by the very idea while secretly hoping it would come true, because, let's face it, many young athletes these days are just smoking. I mean, get a load of Tanith Belbin. Hot DAY-umm! However, we decided that too few athletes would be willing to go along with this idea, especially since Katerina Witt has been long retired. Also, most of them are under the age limit in many countries, and we would therefore encounter the same legal ramifications as we would in implementing the idea of shooting people.
We briefly discussed the idea that maybe the judges should get naked instead of the athletes, but then someone wisely said, "Have you seen any judges recently? We want to attract viewers, not drive them away!" And this was a valid point.
So we considered our third option: having the athletes collectively vote amongst themselves the gold, silver and bronze medalists.
This would eliminate all judging problems and potential judging scandals altogether simply by eliminating the judges, and would lead to some very exciting and ratings-grabbing television. Imagine cameras set up in a room in which all the athletes have to discuss amongst themselves which of them deserve to medal, and locking the door and telling them that they cannot come out until they reach a decision. The tension! The drama! The broken friendships! The grudge votes from competition to competition! The knee-whacking potential of it all! It would have been absolutely superb!
However, we ultimately decided that we could not introduce this format, either.
First, we have many judges who have a lot of power. These judges wish to give up neither their power nor their exotic tea parties at various points around the globe. (And who could blame them? Certainly not me.)
Second, we have invested millions of dollars over the decades to create an infrastructure for judging, including training courses which take several years to complete, and a kickass computing system which we got second-hand from Weta Digital, which used it to create the special effects for the Lord of the Rings films. And, quite frankly, it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth to give up something with which you've invested so much time and money. It's one of the great pitfalls of mankind, this inability to walk away from something and accept something better simply because of the massive investment already made into the lesser thing. But that's human nature.
Third, the Russian Mafia told us not to, and we always do what they say. I mean, after all, wouldn't you?
So, we went back to the drawing board, and have come up with something much better, something which pleases both the Russian Mafia and the American television companies, and which solves the problem of judges having to rate skaters before they are all seen.
This solution starts with the unveiling of the Skating Union Control Kit (S.U.C.K.), developed by top marketing and business solutions firm World Exemplary. We proudly call it W.E.-S.U.C.K.
W.E.-S.U.C.K. is really a general package encompassing many things, some of which are only vaguely related to each other. It's kind of like the way Microsoft will introduce an entire package of disparate grand products unified by a single meaningless acronym. If they can do it, we decided it made perfect sense for us to do it, as well. Consequently, even though it is brand new, W.E.-S.U.C.K. includes the Code of Points, which we've now had for over a year. We're going to pretend that the Code of Points was part of the overall W.E.-S.U.C.K. package all along, and it would just be easier if you would please do the same.
Another aspect of W.E.-S.U.C.K. is our ingenious solution to the problem outlined above: the Asynchronous Skating System, aka W.E.-S.U.C.K.-A.S.S.
Here is the logic behind W.E.-S.U.C.K.-A.S.S.
All judged sports (figure skating, diving, gymnastics, snowboard half-pipe, synchronized swimming, etc.) suffer one common problem: in order for each participant to be rated by the same panel of judges, they must compete one at a time, in sequence. It's at times like these when we're jealous of other sports, such as, say, tennis, in which half the 128-member draw of Wimbledon gets eliminated in the first two days because they can place multiple athletes on the field of play simultaneously. We have an entire, large sheet of ice, and yet only one person occupies it at a time. BORING!
First, this is tedious, and is not an economical and practical use of our facilities. Quite frankly, we get tired sitting there all day long watching one competitor after another. We're only mortal. Life's short. We have other things to do! And the athletes do, as well.
Second, the television companies not only have to split the long competition into several evenings (evenings during which their viewing audience is not seeing someone getting shot, getting naked, or getting voted off the show), but they have to pick and choose which competitors to show, due to time limitations.
Therefore, starting in the 2006-2007 season, the following format changes will take place, affecting all short and free programs (but not the compulsory program in ice dance, which we're just going to get rid of, anyway):
-- Men's and Ladies' Singles: 8 competitors will perform their routines simultaneously.
-- Pairs and Ice Dance: 4 teams will perform their routines simultaneously.
One of the most interesting aspects of this change is that it forces the athletes to communicate with each other during the off-season. For example, if both Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen both want to start in the same spot and then move to the right, it will obviously cause a problem. Skaters will have to be very, very careful to coordinate their routines with their peers. The drama of seeing which athletes possess the necessary communication skills is a fantastic new dynamic.
Puzzlingly, choreographers were not happy with this decision, calling it "Chaos." We call it "Added structure."
Critics of this change also claim that the judges will have a much more difficult time. Nonsense! Not only will they be keeping their clothes on (making everyone happy), but they will be able to economize their time by viewing multiple competitors at once. If the average viewer can pay attention to a CNN news anchor while simultaneously reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen, we figure our judges can do this. Plus, the Russian Mafia will kill them if they complain.
Also, several critics of this change have stated that the competitors' music would sound terrible if played simultaneously. This charge simply leaves us baffled. Swan Lake is beautiful. Bolero is beautiful. Therefore, using simple logic, hearing them both at the same time must be an experience of twice the beauty. Imagine eight wonderful pieces of classical music echoing through the arena at the same time! Several music-lovers who have already heard this news have wept with joy. (Well, they wept. We can only assume it was with joy.)
But the most frustrating criticism of the new format is that it presents both a danger and an unfairness to the athletes because if one of them falls during his or her routine, he or she may affect others who happen to be on the ice at the same time. During the World Championship Free Program, for example, Sasha Cohen is certain to take out at least three of her competitors.
To this criticism, we can only respond...."Well, DUH!" That's part of the magic and charm.
This format alteration actually brings figure skating more in line with the way other sports are run.
For example, at the Indianapolis 500, they could have each car race around the track the set number of laps individually. This would prevent accidents in which the fault of one driver knocks another driver out of the race. It would also present a more pure indication of the fastest racer, because the person at the wheel would not need to alter anything because of other cars getting in the way or coming up fast behind him. From a sporting perspective, it makes perfect sense.
But they don't do that. Not only would it take about a month to finish the race, it would be far less exciting and dramatic. They send all the cars out there onto the track at the same time, to get in each other's way, and if one driver causes a crash for another driver, too bad, so sad. In fact, all racing (track and field, speed-skating, etc.) follows this protocol. Additionally, people forget that skaters are already on the ice simultaneously for the warm-up, and that's never been much of a big problem.
In fact all of sport follows this protocol. After all, cannot a football player be injured by a mistake made by another individual who is on the field of play at the same time? Of course he can. This is the nature of sport.
Why should figure skating be any different? Our athletes should face the same difficulties, the same challenges as other sports. Plus, studies indicate that what audiences really want to see is a good old-fashioned bang-up.
This alteration to our format will enable the television companies to air the entire competition in a single evening, leaving more time for their fluff pieces which they love so much, and their shootings, and their nakedness, and their voting.
It will allow the judges to watch just a few sets of athletes, and then score them all at the end, thus ensuring that when they deliver the scores for one athlete, there is no longer any question of whether that score would be different if the skater had performed first rather than last.
It will lead to much more excitement and drama. As each figure skater gets slammed into the boards like a hockey player, the audience will have fun guessing -- "Was that an accident, or was that intentional?"
And finally, the Russian Mafia really, really, really likes it. So you should, too.
So suck it up skating fans. You've done it before, you can do it again. W.E.-S.U.C.K.-A.S.S. is the latest format change from the International Skating Union, and we know that you'll embrace it. Because you'll have to.
With warmest wishes,
End press release