I posted this after the '02 Olympics as part of the spirited discussion concerning who should have won the pairs competition, Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze or Salé & Pelletier. I rarely keep my posts but this one I did, considering the scandal and all.
Also, since Mathman said that shortly after "War and Pairs" I put up a "monster" post saying "Michelle's skating sucked" ,which I say "Not! Dang ya! Dang ya! I oughta take Newton's Law and hang ya!" I'll look to see if I can find the original of that as well, but I since I have no idea where I stored it, don't hold your breath.
BTW, I kept the responses of a number of posters, only three of which are still with GS: Mathman, Show42, and Heyang. I can post them as well or PM them to you if you're interested. Just let me know.
So here, since Emma asked, and for anyone else who cares to suffer through it, "War and Pairs."
WAR AND PAIRS
Rgirl--Golden Skate Forum 2-14-02
I watched my tape of the pairs this morning, at least the parts that made me crazy last night, with the idea of trying to see IF there might be any justification for the results. I watched it twice, once with the sound off, which I find usually reveals more about the skating. I tried to put myself in the place of a judge and this is what I came away with (I've put a dotted line on the back of my neck so people will know just where to aim when I put my head on the chopping block. And Mhu, the length of this is just for you--we're not just talkin' long-winded; we're talking hurricane force long-winded):
For one thing, the competition and result between the two top teams reminded me very much of the 1994 Olympics with G&G versus Mishketunok&Dmitriev. G&G made one clear technical mistake in the short (the side-by-side spins) and Sergei made two or three technical errors in the LP (singled the double axel, singled a double jump in their jump series, and perhaps one other). Their LP to sections of Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata was described by some as "Pairs Skating 101" because there was nothing particularly innovative in the choreography. G&G's program came from the "Moscow School" (Marina Zuoeva sp?) of using mostly unison and very little counterpoint or opposition versus the "St. Petersburg School" of M&D and Tamara Moskvina of using opposition and "building" moves and holds into asymmetrical positions. M&D skating to Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto not only had the St. Petersburg/Moskvina choreographic style described above, but it was also a program designed to be skated with great passion, which M&D certainly delivered, versus the more abstract and "pure skating" design of G&G's program, which some felt was not only passionless but dry and unemotional.
Since both teams were Russian, there was no national pride or bias involved (unless you count Moscow vs St. Petersburg). One's impression of which team "deserved" to win the gold medal was based solely on one's preference for the skaters, the choreography, the performance, and the technical difficulty. G&G made mistakes but, as we know, their underlying skating technique was about as good as it gets--great speed, great edging, exquisite line, the works. M&D performed a virtually flawless program technically--no missed jumps, no bobbles, excellent unison, "the skate of their lives" kind of performance. The energy of G&G's performance might be described as "understated," "cool," or "subtle," even though the theme of the program was, as Traci Wilson said, "the story of their love" and certainly one sensed that connection. But G&G never performed with overt emotional facial expressions or gestures--it was not their style. M&D's program, in contrast, was designed to be performed with great passion, both in the dynamics of the movements and in their gestures and facial expressions (Artur, as we know, was more expressive than Natalia, at least facially and with his overall abandon).
I recall clearly that while the applause for G&G was appreciative, it was rather polite. M&D received a thunderous ovation from the audience. And of course we know the gold medal went to G&G (I believe G&G skated before M&D, but don't hold me to that). I recall Scott Hamilton as a commentator saying something close to, "I think the audience went for the passion and the judges went for the pure skating." Although certainly there was some debate among skating afficianados over the decision, in general most people could see that G&G had the superior skating skills over M&D and that Sergei was having a very uncharacteristic "off night" as G&G's practices had, according to Hamilton, been superb all week. M&D, on the other hand, had been having such disastrous practices that people were beginning to wonder if they would even medal, according to Scott. While M&D's LP performance was brilliant, it seemed that more than a few people felt that M&D had skated so well more on adrenaline and luck rather than secure technique and training.
So, although the G&G/M&D decision cannot be exactly compared to the B&S/S&P decision, I think there are important similarities, and they came to mind as I watched my tape of the last part of this pairs event.
While I still feel that the decision could just as easily have been a 5/4 split in favor of S&P, I did see things in the cold hard light of day that, at least to my mind, would constitute a valid justification for a judge voting in favor of B&S. Some of the reasons include: "Meditation" is far more intricate and difficult to skate choreographically (though not necessarily technically) than "Love Story." As compared to "Love Story" only on choreography, IMO "Meditation" requires more one-foot skating; there is less side-by-side skating, hand-hold forward skating, or hand-hold backstroking; there is more consecution between the elements, that is, each element and/or series of movements is connected or derived from the move or element preceding it, which to me makes for better choreographic/visual flow; there is more equality in the difficulty of the individual moves for the man and the woman; there is a better use of symmetry and asymmetry; there are more moves where the skaters are in counterpoint to each other (ie, moving in an intentionally non-unison way) that then go seamlessly into unison skating; there is use of both mirrored unison and side-by-side unison; the entries into the elements (ie, lifts, jumps, throws) are either more difficult or better connected choreographically; and there is clear theme and variation with certain choreographic themes evolving throughout the program.
"Love Story," of course, tells a story and in that sense evolves just as beautifually as "Meditation" does choreographically. However, to cite just one example where S&P's program might have been improved as to choreographic difficulty is the move near the middle of the program (as the "illness" theme comes in) where Jamie does a Charlotte (sp?) kind of pose with the supporting foot up in its toe pick (a ponche arabesque in ballet terms) and David is holding her hands as her arms stretch behind her. Change the "pose" to the same move, a Charlotte/ponche arabesque, but done while skating, perhaps David in a spread-eagle and Jamie on the flat or edge of her blade and there is more difficulty. My example is clumsy to describe and might not have worked choreographically, but being in still poses was something I noticed a lot more when I watched the programs a second and third time, especially with the sound off. I also noticed that "Love Story," which I believe was choreographed by Lori Nichol, has more side-by-side, hand-hold forward skating, and hand-hold backstroking than "Meditation," particularly when entering an element such as a throw or lift.
Another thing that could justifiably be perceived as weaker choreography in "Love Story" are the gestures of throwing snowballs and playing tag. While we as an audience may love them (not my cup of tea but I can appreciate others appreciating them), they are not physically or technically difficult. Those sections involved almost all two-foot skating and required more acting for believability than skating technique to fulfill the choreographic demand.
In S&P's favor, their major lift, which crosses the length of the rink, is one of the most spectacular and difficult lifts I have ever seen and it was executed absolutely brilliantly. It was as if David were twirling a ball or baton over his head rather than a woman. And Jamie's flow and line throughout that lift was exquisite. I certainly believe Sandra Bezic when she says they have the best lift in the competition! And the way they enter the death spiral and the death spiral itself is without rival, as were many other elements in their program.
As most of us discussed last night, S&P skated with ease, flow, passion, confidence, and technically were without fault. B&S, as many of us discussed, seemed tight, uneasy, and restrained compared to the way they usually skate. Also, their lifts were more "standard" and not as difficult as S&P's. However, I feel a judge could justify a decision in B&S's favor based on, for one thing, the greater difficulty of their overall choreography, which therefore increases the technical difficulty going into certain elements and also as to the overall quality of their skating. What came to mind as I rewatched the programs was a comment Dick Button made while Sarah Hughes was doing a camel spin at nationals. He said, "Look at that inside edge on the spin! Isn't that beautiful!" I was looking at the slightly bent knee on her free leg, which, to my eyes, made the spin less than aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps judges, or at least certain judges, look at things we either would not look at, such as Button's inside edge, or would be unable to see either from the stands or on TV. I could see where a judge could feel that even with a performance that was not as fast, relaxed, and technically precise as B&S are capable of, that if that judged perceived the choreography to be superior to "Love Story" (subjective of course), he/she would give the higher presentation scores to B&S even when with Anton's bobble on the 3toe and with them not skating their best. That judge could justifiably fee that B&S's subpar skate was still better than a technically perfect, emotionally affecting performance by S&P. I wonder if some or perhaps most judges even take into account the audience reaction to a performance in competition? I'm not sure if they even should.
I also feel that, despite what everyone says, no judge can ever really evaluate skaters based solely on the way they skate on the night of competition. Surely the judges, whether intentionally or unintentionally, know that for B&S this was a new program that was not performed until quite late in the season and that S&P's "Love Story" is from two seasons ago. And surely the judges do not watch practices just for the heck of it, and I think rightfully so. Even though we say it was whomever was the best on that night, we all know that consistency over the season and/or years, recognized standing, achievments, and past performances are at least a point of reference for a judge and at most a "baseline" to which they can compare the performance at hand. Whether or not judges should do this certainly is an arguable point.
I will reiterate and reiterate that I STILL FEEL that the decision could have just as easily gone in S&P's favor. I won't write another tome on all the great things about their performance and "Love Story" as choreography, I will only say that, while that particular piece and style of choreography is not my preference, I certainly see its merits and it was abundantly clear that S&P skated it to near perfection. Last night, even as a B&S fan, I thought the decision was an outrage and completely unjustifiable. Today, after rewatching the event and trying to see it through the eyes of a judge (no, I haven't judged figure skating but I have judged dances and dancers many times), I could see justification.
The last thing I will say ("THANK GOD!" they cry) is that I think one of the things that contributed to the outrage was the heavily biased coverage by Sandra and Scott. When I first saw them calling the short program, I described Bezic and Hamilton as my "figure skating commentator dream team." While I've heard Sandra "pump up" her favorites at the few other times I've heard her call a competition, this had always been far outweighed by the intelligence and insight she brought to the table. But last night, by about the time the second-to-last group were skating, her voice and agenda started to irritate me. I used to date an anchorman and the thing I was struck by when we first met was how different he spoke off the air. I know Scott annoys some people to distraction, but either I'm used to his voice or he was just blessed with a pleasant tone. With Sandra, boy, you could sure tell when a team she liked was about to skate--her voice turned lilting and almost sing-songy, at least to my ears. And when she got excited--I won't go into it, but let's just say I think she could use some broadcasting lessons in voice if she is going to keep doing this.
But the main thing I find objectionable about the commentary in hindsight is the way they were unabashedly cheering for S&P. An example: When it came to S&P's last throw jump Scott said, "If she lands this the gold is theirs." That was a major faupaux! The Scott of Olympics past would have said, "If she lands this, the gold COULD be theirs." Big difference! I clearly recall the restraint Scott used in Lillehammer with Nancy and Oksana. As much as it looked as if Nancy had skated an unbeatable program, Scott never even intimated that the gold was hers. Such overt boosterism simply does not belong in coverage of the Olympics on US network TV. Excitement, great; pronouncing the winners before the judges do, nuh-uh.
I lied before: THIS is the late thing I'll say. I still feel bad for Canada because as I will say and say and say, with just one different judge, the gold could have gone to Jamie and David. And overall, I still think the judging was piss-poor. I also rewatched Ina&Zim, Petrova&Tikhonov, and Tot&Marininin. Putting T&M over I&Z was not a close one at all, not in the free skate. And I might have even put P&T over T&M, but still behind I&Z. This is where I think I&Z's relatively late "bloom" hurt them. So even as I write this, I must say that if I think it is okay for judges to consider reputation and consistency in a positive way for a skater or team, I should be fair and say that it's all right for judges to let a lack of reputation and inconsistency affect their scores. So I may have to call "foul" on myself--perhaps the overall judging was not as bad as I first thought--however, I haven't evaluated all the teams NBC showed with their scores. And I ain't agoin' to.
And now comes the great sigh of relief from anyone with enough endurance to get to the end of this mess. And I didn't even go into the way they tarted up "Meditation by Thais" (I am certain Massenet did not have Harpo Marx and a high school orchestra editing over his music in mind when he scored this piece). Sorry guys, overstating my case in writing is either genetic or I'm just too lazy to shut up.
I'm ready for the hatchet now.