Article about Mariah Bell (and artistry vs technical prowess) in The Guardian

Mathman

Record Breaker
Joined
Jun 21, 2003
The way figure skating is judged in different eras has a lot to do with the skaters we see at the top during those periods. A lot of what transpires in figure skating is heavily based on politics. The politics of judging, along with other factors, determines what gets rewarded, and what attributes are emphasized as 'superior.' Such requirements and trending ideals fluctuate over the span of different eras.
Still, in the balance between "artistry" and "tech" I think that tech is the consistent winner over the decades.

Dick Button, as a commentator, loved a pretty laybsck. But as a competitor he won his championships by being the first person to land a double Axel, the first person to land a triple jump, the first to do a flying camel.

Janet Lynn, in her day, was the poster girl for artistry (at least in America). But she couldn't touch the technician Trixie Schuba.

Michelle Kwan devloped a reputation as a "Second Mark" skater. But she came on the scene as a jumping bean, and although she won many titles, when she lost it was because she got out-triple-tripled.
 

BlissfulSynergy

Final Flight
Joined
Sep 1, 2020
Country
Mars
Janet Lynn, in her day, was the poster girl for artistry (at least in America). But she couldn't touch the technician Trixie Schuba.
To quote Dick Button: "There will always be debates in figure skating about artistry vs jumps/ technical demands/ acrobatics..." I would add that skating is both "art and sport," and I think it's Dick's point that it will always be aesthetics and technical difficulty combined. Neither can be separated from the other in the sport of figure skating. Math vs beauty; stats vs awe-inspiring magic.

Regarding your above comment: Actually, no one could touch Trixie Schuba in compulsory figures. Schuba was some kind of unearthly machine at creating precise traces on the ice. Figures is hard, but Schuba was a magician with her rare skill to easily create and trace over difficult patterns on the ice with intricate and precise blade control. I lament that figures has not been respected by the sport's caretakers the way it should be, largely due to television contracts and the high costs and time-consuming training required for figures. The ISU threw the baby out with the bath water in terms of figures, when they should have thought more about what matters in terms of the foundations of figure skating. We have a generation of skaters these days who lack basic SS, and who rarely understand that better SS could help them with glide, speed, ice coverage and high quality technique.

Something different needed to be done regarding giving figures too much weight in the scoring, plus it was unwieldy trying to televise figures as part of singles events. Adjustments needed to be made, but I think they should have stressed the importance of continuing figures practice when they necessarily eliminated figures from major competitions. But again, why not educate viewers and promote the sport through demonstrating how figures is the foundation of the sport and the building block to how the sport evolved? They could have done this even as they moved forward in a different direction with competitions. It has taken figures devotees organizing and creating the World Figures & Fancy Skating Championships to keep figures from completely dying out.

Moves-in-the-field, stroking and edge practice here and there can NOT replace dedicated figures practice. Just ask Patrick Chan and his formative coaches! It boggles my mind how judges were so adamant in rewarding Chan's SS and oohing and ahhing over his SS, without understanding that he gained those skills through hours of dedicated figures practice.

I also think it's not as 'cut-and-dried' as you seem to be saying about Schuba. She was an okay, average singles skater with great basics, but an absolute genius at figures. That doesn't mean she was strictly a 'technician.' I don't think her jumping ability was that special. She just had marvelous blade control, excellent balance, and nerves of steel. And during Schuba's era, to her advantage, figures were still majorly rewarded vs the free skate. The important thing is: It tells us something historically that it was because of Janet Lynn's ethereal and other worldly expressive talents as a singles skater that the short program was instituted!

Audiences could not understand the scoring system and so they booed when Lynn did not win over Schuba at that famous World championships in the early 70s. I don't have time to check the details for the exact year and chronology at the moment, but it can be googled. My point is that as a direct result of the outcry against Lynn not winning for her superior singles skating and rare presentation skills, the short program was developed a few years later. Sadly, the change famously did not help Lynn as it was supposed to because of a fluke fall that happened to her during the famous short program debut at Worlds. But the point is, figure skating and figure skating history is complicated. We need to understand the nuances and the trajectories much better than we do.

Another thing I really must point out is that while Lynn was not superhuman at figures, she did not suck at figures either. Lynn had exquisite edges, soft knees and gorgeous blade control, as well as speed. She could do the jumps required in her era! Even though jumps were not her best asset, Lynn was no slouch at being able to jump! She was a well-rounded skater, with amazing aesthetics. It's just that she ran up against a monolithic figures juggernaut in Schuba at a time in skating history when figures were heavily weighted in the scoring. But perhaps their rivalry happened in order for the sport to evolve in a different direction with the introduction of the short program, which is now old hat.

We are in a completely different moment now in which the sport needs to examine the problems with the short program vs the long or free program not being very distinguishable. That's because now there are so many requirements for elements in the free program, it's no longer free anymore. Thus, the former technical requirements for the sp no longer make it stand out. Skaters can now come back from a poor sp. In the early years of the sp, that was fairly impossible, due to the strictures of the 6.0 judging system. Again fs is complicated, and sadly, the sport has too much of a Mom/Pop mentality, too much country-based politics, too many conflicts of interest and insular views, plus it suffers from an overwhelming lack of visionary leadership.

I would hate to see the short program disappear. I think it should be kept, but they definitely need to redefine what makes the sp special, and allow the free programs to actually have more creativity, and less predictability. I know the ISU has been having discussions on these matters, but they keep putting off conclusive decisionmaking because the way they conduct business at group conferences seems so counterproductive -- again this is apparently due to conflicts of interest and opposing country-based views that don't allow decisions to be made for the overall benefit of the sport's growth. They make rules changes in a lagging, inefficient, patchwork way that keeps the sport hidebound and behind-the-times.

The only reason I continue to watch is for the skaters and to witness the skill, beauty, heart, courage and joy they bring to the ice.
 
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FelineFairy

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
To quote Dick Button: "There will always be debates in figure skating about artistry vs jumps/ technical demands/ acrobatics..." I would add that skating is both "art and sport," and I think it's Dick's point that it will always be aesthetics and technical difficulty combined. Neither can be separated from the other in the sport of figure skating. Math vs beauty; stats vs awe-inspiring magic.

Regarding your above comment: Actually, no one could touch Trixie Schuba in compulsory figures. Schuba was some kind of unearthly machine at creating precise traces on the ice. Figures is hard, but Schuba was a magician with her rare skill to easily create and trace over difficult patterns on the ice with intricate and precise blade control. I lament that figures has not been respected by the sport's caretakers the way it should be, largely due to television contracts and the high costs and time-consuming training required for figures. The ISU threw the baby out with the bath water in terms of figures, when they should have thought more about what matters in terms of the foundations of figure skating. We have a generation of skaters these days who lack basic SS, and who rarely understand that better SS could help them with glide, speed, ice coverage and high quality technique.

Something different needed to be done regarding giving figures too much weight in the scoring, plus it was unwieldy trying to televise figures as part of singles events. Adjustments needed to be made, but I think they should have stressed the importance of continuing figures practice when they necessarily eliminated figures from major competitions. But again, why not educate viewers and promote the sport through demonstrating how figures is the foundation of the sport and the building block to how the sport evolved? They could have done this even as they moved forward in a different direction with competitions. It has taken figures devotees organizing and creating the World Figures & Fancy Skating Championships to keep figures from completely dying out.

Moves-in-the-field, stroking and edge practice here and there can NOT replace dedicated figures practice. Just ask Patrick Chan and his formative coaches! It boggles my mind how judges were so adamant in rewarding Chan's SS and oohing and ahhing over his SS, without understanding that he gained those skills through hours of dedicated figures practice.

I also think it's not as 'cut-and-dried' as you seem to be saying about Schuba. She was an okay, average singles skater with great basics, but an absolute genius at figures. That doesn't mean she was strictly a 'technician.' I don't think her jumping ability was that special. She just had marvelous blade control, excellent balance, and nerves of steel. And during Schuba's era, to her advantage, figures were still majorly rewarded vs the free skate. The important thing is: It tells us something historically that it was because of Janet Lynn's ethereal and other worldly expressive talents as a singles skater that the short program was instituted!

Audiences could not understand the scoring system and so they booed when Lynn did not win over Schuba at that famous World championships in the early 70s. I don't have time to check the details for the exact year and chronology at the moment, but it can be googled. My point is that as a direct result of the outcry against Lynn not winning for her superior singles skating and rare presentation skills, the short program was developed a few years later. Sadly, the change famously did not help Lynn as it was supposed to because of a fluke fall that happened to her during the famous short program debut at Worlds. But the point is, figure skating and figure skating history is complicated. We need to understand the nuances and the trajectories much better than we do.

Another thing I really must point out is that while Lynn was not superhuman at figures, she did not suck at figures either. Lynn had exquisite edges, soft knees and gorgeous blade control, as well as speed. She could do the jumps required in her era! Even though jumps were not her best asset, Lynn was no slouch at being able to jump! She was a well-rounded skater, with amazing aesthetics. It's just that she ran up against a monolithic figures juggernaut in Schuba at a time in skating history when figures were heavily weighted in the scoring. But perhaps their rivalry happened in order for the sport to evolve in a different direction with the introduction of the short program, which is now old hat.

We are in a completely different moment now in which the sport needs to examine the problems with the short program vs the long or free program not being very distinguishable. That's because now there are so many requirements for elements in the free program, it's no longer free anymore. Thus, the former technical requirements for the sp no longer make it stand out. Skaters can now come back from a poor sp. In the early years of the sp, that was fairly impossible, due to the strictures of the 6.0 judging system. Again fs is complicated, and sadly, the sport has too much of a Mom/Pop mentality, too much country-based politics, too many conflicts of interest and insular views, plus it suffers from an overwhelming lack of visionary leadership.

I would hate to see the short program disappear. I think it should be kept, but they definitely need to redefine what makes the sp special, and allow the free programs to actually have more creativity, and less predictability. I know the ISU has been having discussions on these matters, but they keep putting off conclusive decisionmaking because the way they conduct business at group conferences seems so counterproductive -- again this is apparently due to conflicts of interest and opposing country-based views that don't allow decisions to be made for the overall benefit of the sport's growth. They make rules changes in a lagging, inefficient, patchwork way that keeps the sport hidebound and behind-the-times.

The only reason I continue to watch is for the skaters and to witness the skill, beauty, heart, courage and joy they bring to the ice.
The end of 1960's and the first half of 1970's were quite interesting in ladies' single skating, especially comparing skating styles and judging decisions. The artistic vs. technical debate is very old. Peggy Fleming was the ideal of the 60's, beautiful artistic free skating, but also always the winner in figures! Gabriele Seyfert was her constant rival, and it was her who we would call a technician now - athletic skating, very strong jumping, triple jumps, but also strong skating skills: she lost to Fleming in figures, but was second most of the times, not worse. Her artistic side was not so strong, and her second place in Grenoble was due to the figures + artistic impression mark. After 1968, when Fleming stopped taking part in the Worlds, Seyfert took both Worlds, 1969 and 1970. Schuba lost to her both times despite winning the figures, because she had never been strong in the free, neither a jumper, nor a strong performer. It is just that Seyfert didn't fall too far behind in the figures. By 1971, Seyfert retires, now Schuba wins World's and Olympics. Karen Magnussen is behind her, and what happens when Trixie Schuba retires? Magnussen wins Worlds. If I am not mistaken, neither Schuba nor Magnussen had any triples. Janet Lynn was always the winner of hearts, but never even a runner-up before Seyfert and then Schuba retired. In 1974 neither Magnussen nor Lynn are there any more... And who wins? The ones who were directly after the first two in 1973, Christine Errath, first, and Dorothy Hamill, second.
So, from 1966 to 1974 it looked very much like a queue. The style of the free skating (artistic or athletic as we see it now) did not determine the winner. Was it so because of the too strong impact of the figures? The introduction of the short programme happened in 1973. But the changes in the queue occurred first in 1975. Probably the system needed time to adjust.
When I rewatch the free skates of those years and think of the artistic vs. technical debate of today, I understand that our perception of figure skating depends solely and exclusively on what we want it to be - sport or art. Especially watching the oldies and remembering how I felt while they were skating and what I see now. Supporting one's favourites and enjoying their performances from a perspective in time is very different. During competitions I was holding my breath and wildly supporting my favourites, and arguing they should have won. Now I see that they were good for their time, possibly on par with the champions, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but most of them did not produce ever-lasting masterpieces. Only the best programmes of the past, real masterpieces, can still be enjoyed as art. And they are rare. I wouldn't be able to say which of my favourite programmes of the last 5 years can stand the test of time as art. It is like rewatching ballet with famous ballerinas of the past - not all of those who were the stars of their time are still as enjoyable, or maybe for other people the stars of today are not the choice. Ballet is not a sport, but figure skating is.
Sport is something different. A spectator's personal enjoyment and taste has not much to do with sport as a competition, as an achievement. The athletic part of figure skating can also be perceived through the prism of tastes, but in fact it is objective and depends on the contemporary level of skills. That's why I believe that in competitions the technical side should still prevail. And its assessment should be more like gymnastics, with a possibility of protests, not as many limits to complexity and an all-important role of falls. The artistic side of current type of programmes should be important but not determining. An additional competition in artistic programmes could give athletes and spectators more choices.
 
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BlissfulSynergy

Final Flight
Joined
Sep 1, 2020
Country
Mars
The artistic side of current type of programmes should be important but not determining. An additional competition in artistic programmes could give athletes and spectators more choices.
I agree with and appreciate your historical rundown, but I have to say that figure skating is unique as sport and art. It truly is impossible to separate one from the other and have what figure skating was meant to be in the way that it evolved. Truly the best skaters are those who combine both technical abilities and aesthestics (i.e., expressiveness to the music and a high performance value in connecting with the audience).

The crazy way the sport meanders and stumbles around its problematic scoring system is one thing that has yet to be resolved (and perhaps will never be at this rate). Somehow, the best performances overcome the drawbacks of imperfect and problematic judging.

Artistry can be subjective and there are different levels of expertise. But skating as a sport alone is unsatisfactory without the magic of a fully rounded performance that brings audiences to their feet. We saw that phenomenon in the recent iconic performances shown during NBC's anniversary broadcast.

People can line up on whatever side they prefer. I'm squarely about art AND sport. That's what figure skating is at its best.

On the Beyond the Rink podcast in November, newly retired U.S. skater Sean Rabbitt spoke eloquently about his views on this topic:

‎Beyond The Rink on Apple Podcasts Scroll to Episode 11
 

FelineFairy

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 13, 2020
I agree with and appreciate your historical rundown, but I have to say that figure skating is unique as sport and art. It truly is impossible to separate one from the other and have what figure skating was meant to be in the way that it evolved. Truly the best skaters are those who combine both technical abilities and aesthestics (i.e., expressiveness to the music and a high performance value in connecting with the audience).

The crazy way the sport meanders and stumbles around its problematic scoring system is one thing that has yet to be resolved (and perhaps will never be at this rate). Somehow, the best performances overcome the drawbacks of imperfect and problematic judging.

Artistry can be subjective and there are different levels of expertise. But skating as a sport alone is unsatisfactory without the magic of a fully rounded performance that brings audiences to their feet. We saw that phenomenon in the recent iconic performances shown during NBC's anniversary broadcast.

People can line up on whatever side they prefer. I'm squarely about art AND sport. That's what figure skating is at its best.

On the Beyond the Rink podcast in November, newly retired U.S. skater Sean Rabbitt spoke eloquently about his views on this topic:

‎Beyond The Rink on Apple Podcasts Scroll to Episode 11
I agree with many things you are saying. Thank you for the link, it was interesting to listen to. I can share some opinions he expresses, such as "if you love FS, you will find a place in it" and chances for all ages, longevity etc. And also what he told about how difficult it is to develop the artistic side, to control performance and contact with the audience throughout skating. Yes, it can and should be trained. We see it in the development of young athletes who frequently start as "jumpers".
I can't disagree with your point that it is sport AND art. Yes, absolutely. But bringing audiences to their feet is unfortunately not a criterion to judge competitors. This effect is often not even the result of great artistry. It is the "full house" + expectations + energies exchange + adrenaline flow effect. The skaters often mention how different it is to skate with or without spectators. Also, not all audiences react in the same way. And what about the test of time I mentioned? Do you still think all you loved, say, 15 years ago can make your heart beat as strongly?
I am as old as having seen the two times Olympic champions Belousova/Protopopov live, although after their retirement. The way they skated, no audience could stay untouched. As a schoolgirl I watched the end of their successful career on TV, when the unchanging beauty and artistry of their skating lost to the new and technically much stronger team - Rodnina/Ulanov. The judges supported the new style, which made Belousova/Protopopov quite bitter. Me as a fan too, I loved the old style at that time and never warmed to Rodnina, even though I appreciate her as a great champion. A new age started in pair skating - and the audiences started getting to their feet, although the pure artistry gave way to complexity with artistry in the background.
Now imagine what would have happened if the judges had stayed with the previous champions and their style? The beauty would still be there, but would there be any development? We would never see the complex elements woven into the beautiful lines which I am happy to see again, but so much happier because they come together with technical achievements. It is technical development that pushes the sport forward - and it is the artistry of great performers that makes it the fusion we love. That is why, enjoying beautiful performances with a medium level of technical difficulty, I would still place them second after extreme technical difficulty in medium-level artistic performances.
What I want to stress is that artistry without complexity is a performance for a Gala. Complexity without artistry is good for a training session. On elite level it is impossible to compete being totally one-sided. But it is possible to be more accomplished in one or the other. Athletes accomplished in all aspects are unique. Even among world champions you will not find very many. Besides, assessment of elements is much more objective that that of the artistic part of the performance. That is one of the reasons I believe it should go first.
 

DizzyFrenchie

On the Ice
Joined
Dec 9, 2019
Sorry, I was absent very long.

@bonita
I think I did, under spoiler because it was far from the subject.
Now, if you prefer, still about all what is tech, we can compare Nathan Chen's at GFP'19 and at last Nationals. I was so impressed and excited! I don't know if it was his gap year, or his having less championships, or growing (and more stamina), or simply his having achieved his max in his stronger part of tech (jumps from take-off) and now growing in other ways, but he has so much progressed in skating skills (now there is flow, not just a succession of exercises visibly difficult to him, did you see how his FS step sequence was lovely?), his back is so much more supple, his balance so much improved that (at least in the second part of the SP and the FS; I don't think he can really "get" the first part of his SP some day, but maybe his coach gave it to him with an objective of maturation in view of something more fitting but still challenging next season) he had enough tech to show a great deal of talent even in difficult programs. Even his entries don't shock anymore, his entry to 4F+3T particularly was so good for a difficult quad, and his spread eagle into 3A at the short program! Of course he couldn't do a correct 3A behind (because 3A seems to be the most difficult jump for him after 4Lo) but it speaks a lot about his determination to continue to upgrade his overall tech, in addition to all the progression he could already show (flow, balance in steps and spins, entries and transitions). I could watch them only once (and I didn't see several top Men's program yet, and none of Ladies and Junior) I don't know if he will be able to stick to it at Worlds or if he will go back to technically less difficult (except for jumps) versions of his programs, but it lets me expect wonders for Olympic season. For now I think I will rewatch his Nats' programs with pleasure.

@ TallyT
Skating skills are tech nevertheless. Though of course, of the most influential in producing artistic impression.

@ Dogo
I perfectly agree with you on his having lots of artistic talent. Which until now he could express only in non-competitive programs because of his skating up to the very limit of his technical capacities in competitive ones, particularly when he would face challenging competition. But I seriously hope we will get more and more of it in his competitive programs!

@ Mathman
Lol! I didn't see the score sheets but I'm afraid the Roman Federation (SPQR?) pushed a lot so that he gets candies whatever his actual performances were. ;-) Do you think his later mental disorders came from his having to retire after such a successful competitive career?
 

DreamSkates

Rinkside
Joined
Dec 12, 2015
...
Sport is something different. A spectator's personal enjoyment and taste has not much to do with sport as a competition, as an achievement. The athletic part of figure skating can also be perceived through the prism of tastes, but in fact it is objective and depends on the contemporary level of skills. That's why I believe that in competitions the technical side should still prevail. And its assessment should be more like gymnastics, with a possibility of protests, not as many limits to complexity and an all-important role of falls. The artistic side of current type of programmes should be important but not determining. An additional competition in artistic programmes could give athletes and spectators more choices.
Well stated. Figure skating is first an athletic sport with the added enhancement and possibility of the objective and sometimes elusive, artistry. Personally I enjoy both but am more moved by artistry than technical skills. Not unmoved by those who have the wow skills, but artistry resonates more with my viewing experiences.
 
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