Some kids (and adults, for that matter) who take up skating are primarily jocks at heart, interested in the sport for the physical challenges it offers them.
Some are born competitors who rise to the occasion and deliver their best when the pressure is on.
Some are born entertainers full of charisma who love to perform for an audience.
Some artistic souls for whom skating is a means of creating beauty or expressing feelings and ideas.
Some are blessed with the physical talents and the nerve to master difficult skills and perform them at speed.
It's very rare for any one skater to excel at all these qualities. At any given time, there will only be a handful of men and women who are good to great at most of these qualities, and those are the skaters who will become champions. And when they perform, whether in competition or in exhibition, they will usually deliver performances that sports fans and arts fans alike can enjoy.
Most skaters will have one or more areas that are significantly weaker than their strengths, or they may just be mediocre (or worse) all around.
The ones who are often able to deliver difficult technical content when it counts will likely have at least modest competitive success in sporting competition at their level, regardless of judging system and regardless of interest and ability in artistic areas. They may be boring to watch from an artistic point of view, but from a sports point of view it might be exciting to watch them jump or to fly across the ice, and they may offer difficult blade skills for skating connoisseurs to appreciate.
The ones who excel artistically but who lack the athletic skills, the competitive nerves, and/or the basic skating technique to succeed in freestyle competition may never make it to a level that would allow them to be seen on TV. Or maybe they do well enough in some competition somewhere to make the broadcast, and then their performance ends up being marred by failed jumps.
And so fans who look to skating for artistry may never get to appreciate some of the most artistic skaters.
It's common for athletic ability to decline as skaters get older. For girls, that can sometimes mean that they pass their peak as early as mid-teens (just when they're old enough for senior competition). Injuries can also take a toll on promising or successful skaters at any age.
For those who remain committed to training and improving, artistry, "maturity," and basic skating quality can continue to improve significantly after the skater is past his or her athletic peak.
In the old days of professional vs. amateur, some of the most successful competitors would "turn pro" when they retired from competition and go on to develop as artistic skating performers in shows and in a handful of professional "competitions." In a number of cases, skaters who had been primarily "athletes" while competing developed into highly enjoyable "artists" as professionals.
In the mid-to-late 1990s and to a lesser extent into the 2000s, there have also been invitational "interpretive" competitions for select eligible skating stars.
For the most part, only a handful of elite skaters with significant success in ISU competitions have had the opportunities to make a living performing in these professional or open events, or to be featured on TV as show skaters.
Skaters who were always better artists than athletes may have more to offer artistically than some of the champions who get hired to headline shows or invited to perform in made-for-TV events. But except for diehard fans who seek out ice theatre companies or rare videos, most of the public doesn't even know such skaters exist.
I think there is a significant subset of skating fans who would happily watch skaters with charisma and artistic sensibility regardless of competitive credentials. Some skaters who never had the jumps or who had to retire from competition for various reasons while they still had a lot to offer artistically could become stars in a format that plays to their strengths.
So what might that format be?
Are the media and the majority of casual fans only interested in figure skating if there are winners and losers involved and/or familiar faces who have already proven themselves winners?
Could the ISU sponsor a separate artistic skating competition track in which the emphasis would be on all the aspects covered in the current program component scores with technical difficulty rewarded only for its aesthetic impact?