North American competitive system lacking

hulksmash1337

Rinkside
Joined
Nov 5, 2020
Country
Canada
Note: I'm using the Ladies' event as the example in my post, but this is to point out that the North American competitive system as a whole is lacking, and no individual skaters or coaches are to blame for this.

Top 3 ladies in Russia this year:

Anna Shcherbakova - 16​

Alena Kostornaia - 17​

Alexandra Trusova -16​


Top 3 ladies in the US this year:

Alysa Liu - 15​

Mariah Bell - 24​

Bradie Tennell - 22​



If you recall, at the last Olympics, Russia took both gold and silver in ladies' single, with Zagitova and Medvedeva. Fast forward to this year, they are now no longer at the top of their domestic circuits and haven't won any major competitions yet. Instead, younger talents rose up and made them obsolete. And these two skaters are the 2018 Olympic Champion and Runner-up, mind you; that would be like Mike Trout being relegated to some farm team next season. Unthinkable, right?

But this is not Zagitova's fault or Medvedeva's fault, rather, it is a merit of the Russian system: the ability to continually produce new talents. Bradie Tennell or Mariah Bell has dominating in US senior and junior competitions for almost a decade now. Most of the Russian girls win their national title for one or two years, and then they get surpassed by other, younger skaters coming up through the system. Now why is that?

The US system fails because judges and fans wants to give the crown to a skater they feel is safe. Ashley Wagner was pretty much a bottom-tier skater for a decade, and somehow fans were still fighting for her to go to the Olympics in 2018, and for some reason, the judges almost agreed. Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell, while not as problematic, have also been in senior comps for 5+ years now. You're telling me that 2 skaters, who has been struggling in senior competition in that amount of time, somehow is winning Nationals this year??? Why hasn't USFS or Skate Canada been able to scout any new skaters from junior or from another developing region?

So let's look at some potential roots of this problem:
- LA celebrity culture
- Bad coaches
- Importing bad international skaters (Kaitlyn Weaver, Piper Gilles in Canada, Christina Carreira in the US)
- Awful scouting
- No development system
- Judges won't take risk
- Entertainment region (SOI and Disney on Ice is more popular than comp)
- Small talent pool despite huge population (???)
 

hulksmash1337

Rinkside
Joined
Nov 5, 2020
Country
Canada
I disagree. I think we ought to promote our washed-up oldies with one foot in the grave. :yes:
Yeah but isn't it more fun if every year some underdog rises up to challenge and upset the reigning champion? I mean, I love Bradie and Mariah but in a couple more years they're gonna be Sleepy Bradie and Sleepy Mariah LOL
 

katymay

Medalist
Joined
Mar 7, 2006
Well Russia is brutal. Anna, Sasha and Aloina to be replaced by Kamila, Daria and Maya, who will then be replaced by the Sofias' And Viktoria. The next great thing is only a year or two behind the current great thing.
The problem with development in the US is the highly touted sacrosanct "learn to skate". The problem with Learn to Skate is it is discouraging. I've seen kids who taught themselves to do an axel on the ice, but no no no, can't move to level 3 Basic until you get that mowhawk. Can't do the spiral? Gonna have to hold you back. The truth is boys leave to join a junior hockey league, and girls quit to do a sport with more instant gratification. Learn to Skate and everything after Learn to Skate is far too structured (not to mention discouraging) to be much fun. Instead of allowing kids to excel at what they are good at (artistic, jumps, spins, edges, flexibility etc.), Learn to Skate is a One Size Fits All approach, and I'm guessing 90% drop out during the process. (Not that the USFSA has ever really cared-Learn To Skate is almost HOLY with the USFSA)
And then, after Learn To Skate-boom, into expensive private lessons and the Wallet Shock.
In Russia it seems kids are grouped by age, taught in groups, (long past basic skills groups) and the kids seem to be having a heck of a lot more fun. But skating is a larger part of Russian culture.
 

CanadianSkaterGuy

Record Breaker
Joined
Jan 25, 2013
Hulk I think you have an overinflated sense just how much the US/North America actually cares about skating let alone ladies skating.

Skating isn’t a way of life for most of them. They have school and lives outside of skating so they can’t always focus entirely on skating to the extent of the Russians (comparatively). They don’t have an Eteri Tutberidze nor would many American families put their kids through that, even with the prospect of winning.

In North America we don’t really care if we don’t have a champion contender year after year. Osmond and Daleman were amazing and if we never have a ladies World Champion or World/Olympic medalist for a while, oh well!

Yes it’s nice to be competitive, but we don’t live and die by the skate blade like they do in Russia. We are not as intense (or as mentioned, in some cases brutal) as they are nor do we want to be. We encourage our skaters to achieve as high as they can but we don’t put the same pressure nor is the depth of our field so crazy that they need that pressure.
 

Mathman

Record Breaker
Joined
Jun 21, 2003
Yeah but isn't it more fun if every year some underdog rises up to challenge and upset the reigning champion?
To tell the truth I could go either way. Which is more exciting, to see Usain Bolt win 45 races in a row, or to see 45 different sprinters each succeeding the other after a one-and-out?

I, for one, never got tired of seeing Michelle Kwan win U.S. and world championships.
 

kirauza343

Rinkside
Joined
Oct 1, 2020
Personally I’d rather see skaters stick around and be competitive in their home countries for more than two years. The US ladies could use some more competition yes but having the top skaters change as much and as often as the Russian field does isn’t better. There’s no chance to really get to know the skaters when they turn senior because they have such a short amount of time at the top and we don’t get to see them grow and really reach their full potential before the next big thing out jumps them. It creates this attitude of “well why should I bother to follow this skater if she’s just going to be replaced in a year or two”.

A balance between the two is much more ideal, where talented skaters can have longer careers and still be competitive while new seniors are also pushing them and raising the technical bar.
 

el henry

Fangirl of men’s spirals and split jumps
Record Breaker
Joined
Mar 3, 2014
To tell the truth I could go either way. Which is more exciting, to see Usain Bolt win 45 races in a row, or to see 45 different sprinters each succeeding the other after a one-and-out?

I, for one, never got tired of seeing Michelle Kwan win U.S. and world championships.

This is an excellent analogy, which I had not thought of before.

I could watch the Eagles win all the time (3-4-1 baby and NFC East leaders:laugh: ). It would never get boring. I could watch my favorite skaters all day. Again, never boring.

And for anyone to reach the top of US skating, considering the lack of support for skating in the general athletic culture, is an amazing testament to their will and to competitiveness. They are basically doing it on their own, and I am in awe of them. <in need of nodding yes icon>
 

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Country
New-Zealand
So let's look at some potential roots of this problem:
- LA celebrity culture
Skaters aren't celebs in North America (not anymore...)

- Bad coaches
If Orser, Dubreuil/Lauzon, Arutunian, Krall, Zueva, Shpilband, Carroll (when he was still working), Ade etc. were bad, then why would top international skaters relocate to train with them?

- Importing bad international skaters (Kaitlyn Weaver, Piper Gilles in Canada, Christina Carreira in the US)
The above named skaters are either on the same level or better than their partners (e.g. Poje was the one always getting flak for his twizzles). Interesting that you only raised female ice dancers as examples. Also if you're talking about 'importing' with respect to North America then Canada-US partnerships don't count.

- Awful scouting
- No development system
There's only so much that can be done if there isn't a lot of talent to scout or develop in the first place (see below).

- Judges won't take risk
Maybe with respect to ice dance (Gilles/Poirier being chronically undermarked till recently). Things can be argued both ways with the other disciplines - I thought US judges were being plenty risky hedging their bets on a prepubertal girl last season.

- Entertainment region (SOI and Disney on Ice is more popular than comp)
Based on skaters/coaches I know personally, pro skaters are invariably ex-competitive skaters, but only a fraction of competitors move on to show skating. Employment opportunities in show skating are way scarcer than they were in the 90s. Also they usually shift to entertainment when they've achieved their maximum capacity in competitive skating, so it's not as though up-and-coming talent got diverted.

- Small talent pool despite huge population (???)
This is basically the main reason. It's costly (no state-sponsored sport schools like ex-Soviet countries) and there aren't a lot of rinks per capita in certain parts of the US. There's lots in Canada but comparatively few dedicated to high-level figure skating (vs hockey). Kids are also generally less interested in figure skating because it doesn't occupy the same prominent space in popular culture as it does in Russia, where it's a symbol of national pride.

I think your main beef is the current lack of competitiveness of US/Canadian girls and pairs compared to Russian/Japanese girls and Russian pairs. With ice dance and men, no single country dominates the top 10 but North America does very favourably overall. Especially with men, there's a lot of young potential coming up in the ranks.
 

frida80

Record Breaker
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Oh! I was just thinking about this! This is something I've complained about for years, so I have a lot to say about this subject. Feel free to skip my extremely long post! This is why the USFS system has so many late bloomers in ladies.


Reason 1. Low quality of judges at all domestic competitions.


Yes. The US system is very lacking. It has been since we moved to IJS. The US has failed to adapt its system so they turn out skaters that are prepared to skate on an international level by the time they get to juniors. There a ton of reasons for that, but I think one of the biggest reasons is because the standards for judging in the US are much lower in ladies.

Take this analogy. Imagine if your a top high school student. You make great grades and your school choses you to go to an elite college because in their eyes, you're the best of the bunch. However, when you go your grades tank while others do quite well. The college tells you, you have poor grammar. They tell you your math skills aren't up to par. So for years you have to relearn all the things that everyone else already knows.

That's exactly what's happening in the US!

When we send ladies abroad, are sending them based on US domestic assessments. Club competitions, regional, sectionals, nationals, and other smaller comps. Most of these judges have never judged international. Every year I see the same thing. Girls that have obvious under rotations, that don't get called. Slow skaters that still get decent PCS scores. Skaters with small jumps that with big GoEs. Artistic skaters with low tech that often have their scores inflated. It's no surprise that when these very same skaters head to international competitions, their scores drop precipitously.

Think about this, Audrey started to skate internationally in fall of 2016. It was clear that she was very talented, however every time she skated internationally she got lots of underrotation calls! This happened over and over again! Domestically, she'd score huge. Internationally, she got dinged again and again. It took her heading to Rafael, Tom, and now Tammy to fix those unders. She's not the only one.

If USFS could just raise the quality of judging domestically, it would force coaches to fix these problems earlier! AKA get them ready for college level work. Right now, ladies are shocked to learn their skills are so poor and it takes several years before their finally manage to fix these basic issues.

Reason 2. Skaters are mentally unprepared for higher level competitions.

For years, US fans have despaired over the poor performance by US juniors. What was considered a talented junior, would go to an international competition and crash and burn. Suddenly they were popping jumps, falling, and falling apart.

Keep in mind, that's normal.

Imagine if you have a great race car and you only compete against a few casual drivers. Your friends tell you to enter NASCAR and you do for some reason. Your friends finance you, and you promise to win, so they can be assured of their investment. Suddenly your surrounded by extremely fast cars, most going faster than you! You forget all your driving technique and your mind blanks out. Suddenly the race is over and you're just happy to have survived.

That's what every girl goes through the first time they get on the JGP. It's intimidating! Not to mention all of the distractions! They're going to their first international competition! USFS has given them a team jacket! USFS believes in them, so they need to medal! Look how amazing this country looks! Look how many competitors there are! Gosh, the Russians are really good! Yikes, the Japanese ladies are so fast! On no! I don't think I can be as fast as they are, I have to skate faster. I have to be perfect...

And cue meltdown.

In domestic competitions at Novice level and above, getting a medal is easy. There are only a few girls that manage to get multiple triples or triple triples. That means that these girls can win small competitions easily. USFS looks at the top scores, not the quality of the competition. Then they pick from there. Sometimes they've picked girls that haven't even been to nationals yet! I remember Gabrielle Noullet going to the JGP a few years ago. She was so good domestically, but she popped like crazy when she went to the JGP.

I think we have a pretty good system for nationals. We simply move to higher level of competition until only the best survive. However, that is just once and it always starts in late September. From age 9-10, kids prepared for Regionals. Club competitions were practice. By September, they were ready for a lower level of qualification competitions. By November, slightly higher. In January, the top twelve have spent 9 months perfecting their programs for this moment. What's the problem? By Novice, the number of girls that are competitive with each other has dropped a lot. (Lots of girls quit after intermediate.) So that means the girls getting to sectionals and nationals aren't being challenged as much as they are at lower levels. Only once at nationals. Plus their programs are much more seasoned by then. As opposed to August when they've only had them 2 months.

So that creates a lot of skaters that don't have a strong mental game. They're easily flustered and it takes them years to learn how to get those nerves under control. For example, Amber Glenn.

If skaters have more high level competitions during the summer ,nationals level quality, it would strengthen their mental game in preparation for international competitions.

There are a ton of other related reasons I have, but I don't have room to expand on. Plus it's 2am where I live, so I should really drag myself away from this computer. But, here they are.

3. Not enough opportunities for juniors to skate internationally. (All those years with only 7 spots on the JGP, hurt badly. Often USFS will simply push skaters off the JGP and let them do late CS instead. Lack of good international experience impedes progress.)

4. Not enough quality coaches. (Girls are often learning poor technique that won't last post puberty.)

5. Way too costly. (Enough said)

6. Poor injury prevention. (Tons of talented skaters had to quit because they never recovered from their injuries. Vivian Le! :drama:)

7. Lack of training opportunities for coaches to learn how to a. teach good technique, b. fix problems, and the correct way to teach 3A and quads.

8. Poor advising from USFS. (The advice they give at Figure Skating camps and how to skate their programs. These summer camps just don't help.)

9. No qualification/test skates in the summer for allotting International Competition spots.

10. Vague system for qualifying ladies for the ISP or being invited for camps.

11. USFS puts waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to much pressure on just one ken two skaters, and they often wilt under the spotlight.

What does all this mean? It means a lot of girls with talent will be lost because they is no good system in place to train them, have them prepared, and preserve them. Some girls got so frustrated with our poor system they moved on to other countries. Most famously Alexia Paganini. She just couldn't win with USFS. Silver to Tessa Hong in Intermediate. Silver to Hailey Beavers in Novice. Off the podium in juniors. Imagine competing with 2A, 3S, and a 3T and losing 9 points to Tessa who only had 2A and an 3S<. So she finally had enough of the drama and headed to Switzerland where she's more appreciated than ever.

Imagine if she was treated properly here? Maybe she'd still be with us and better than she is right now. We'll never know.



Tomorrow I'll talk all about how many skaters succumbed to injuries and how USFS can address that. Plus I'll explain the 5-7 year process that US Ladies often go through because their so unprepared.
 
Last edited:

lappo

Final Flight
Joined
Feb 12, 2016
I think what hold North American skaters behind is the lack of prospects after your career is completed. Figure skating is a very expensive sport and in most cases arriving at national levels won't give you access to college and scolarships and the lack of request means that there are few jobs as coaches as an adult. If I you were a family, unless you are very well off and can afford both, would you rather pour so much money in the quest of the elusive gold medal that will give you access to sponsorships, college and relative fame or would you rather choose to have your child skate recreationally and invest in a good college degree?
While in other countries, with a less expensive education system and better economical support from the federation, it is easier to choose sports and see how far the children will go. The rewards are also much higher: Olympic champions receive a lifetime pension, so they are basically settled for life and obviously they can coach, make sponsorship deal and take part in shows. Also skaters at national level have taken part in shows or forged a coach career after finishing their own, as the request is very high.
Also, it might be a cultural thing. Most Asian countries emphasize the idea of "giving your all" and putting all of your efforts into your endeavors, while some European countries such the one I live emphasize more the idea of the natural gift and doing the bare minimun to achieve results, even though you could do more and achieve better results (this is very common: if you go in a college here you will find no one that admit to having worked hard for his grades, they will tell you "I just studied everything yesterday night!" even if it's obviously untrue).
 

nussnacker

one and only
Record Breaker
Joined
Mar 16, 2019
To tell the truth I could go either way. Which is more exciting, to see Usain Bolt win 45 races in a row, or to see 45 different sprinters each succeeding the other after a one-and-out?

I, for one, never got tired of seeing Michelle Kwan win U.S. and world championships.
Well, none of the top 3 are Usain Bolts of figure skating unfortunately.
 

ladyjane

Medalist
Joined
Jun 26, 2012
Country
Netherlands
My comments here: I like watching young women skate more than little girls. And: I like to follow skaters for a longer period of time. And stating a competitive system is lacking just because the US have mostly men and dancers in the world top instead of baby girls seems a bit odd to me.
 

lappo

Final Flight
Joined
Feb 12, 2016
My comments here: I like watching young women skate more than little girls. And: I like to follow skaters for a longer period of time. And stating a competitive system is lacking just because the US have mostly men and dancers in the world top instead of baby girls seems a bit odd to me.
While your preference are legitimate and I partly share them (I also like to follow an athlete's path for a longer period of time and to see the evolution) the problem is that US figure skating culture values ladies skating way above men and ice dance, as proved by the fact that even though those two disciplines are very successful they are not enough to fully support the system (see the declining TV viewership, the cancellation of US SOI which was once a viable option for skaters to garner some money). The diminishing public interest results in less money that results in less funding for skaters at all levels and less opportunities for them to have an income from events outside competitions (shows, sponsorship ecc...). So, I would say that, fair or not, the lack of winning ladies is affecting the sport as a whole.
 

ladyjane

Medalist
Joined
Jun 26, 2012
Country
Netherlands
While your preference are legitimate and I partly share them (I also like to follow an athlete's path for a longer period of time and to see the evolution) the problem is that US figure skating culture values ladies skating way above men and ice dance, as proved by the fact that even though those two disciplines are very successful they are not enough to fully support the system (see the declining TV viewership, the cancellation of US SOI which was once a viable option for skaters to garner some money). The diminishing public interest results in less money that results in less funding for skaters at all levels and less opportunities for them to have an income from events outside competitions (shows, sponsorship ecc...). So, I would say that, fair or not, the lack of winning ladies is affecting the sport as a whole.
Agreed.
 

hulksmash1337

Rinkside
Joined
Nov 5, 2020
Country
Canada
- LA celebrity culture
Skaters aren't celebs in North America (not anymore...)

- Bad coaches
If Orser, Dubreuil/Lauzon, Arutunian, Krall, Zueva, Shpilband, Carroll (when he was still working), Ade etc. were bad, then why would top international skaters relocate to train with them?

- Importing bad international skaters (Kaitlyn Weaver, Piper Gilles in Canada, Christina Carreira in the US)
The above named skaters are either on the same level or better than their partners (e.g. Poje was the one always getting flak for his twizzles). Interesting that you only raised female ice dancers as examples. Also if you're talking about 'importing' with respect to North America then Canada-US partnerships don't count.

- Awful scouting
- No development system
There's only so much that can be done if there isn't a lot of talent to scout or develop in the first place (see below).

- Judges won't take risk
Maybe with respect to ice dance (Gilles/Poirier being chronically undermarked till recently). Things can be argued both ways with the other disciplines - I thought US judges were being plenty risky hedging their bets on a prepubertal girl last season.

- Entertainment region (SOI and Disney on Ice is more popular than comp)
Based on skaters/coaches I know personally, pro skaters are invariably ex-competitive skaters, but only a fraction of competitors move on to show skating. Employment opportunities in show skating are way scarcer than they were in the 90s. Also they usually shift to entertainment when they've achieved their maximum capacity in competitive skating, so it's not as though up-and-coming talent got diverted.

- Small talent pool despite huge population (???)
This is basically the main reason. It's costly (no state-sponsored sport schools like ex-Soviet countries) and there aren't a lot of rinks per capita in certain parts of the US. There's lots in Canada but comparatively few dedicated to high-level figure skating (vs hockey). Kids are also generally less interested in figure skating because it doesn't occupy the same prominent space in popular culture as it does in Russia, where it's a symbol of national pride.

I think your main beef is the current lack of competitiveness of US/Canadian girls and pairs compared to Russian/Japanese girls and Russian pairs. With ice dance and men, no single country dominates the top 10 but North America does very favourably overall. Especially with men, there's a lot of young potential coming up in the ranks.
Actually I was more puzzled by why Tessa and Scott and Meryl and Charlie were national and international champs for almost a decade. 10 years is a lot of time for athletes and somehow nobody was competitive enough to push out these veterans.

pro vs comp skating: the point I was trying to make is the fact that this encourages skaters to not be competitive because pro skating is safer.

With regards to importing ice dance/pairs (and I guess it applies to the US more). Why is it that a country with 300 million is struggling to find a guy/girl to ice dance? But you did address this. And I agree.
 

Roo87

Medalist
Joined
Nov 12, 2017
Note: I'm using the Ladies' event as the example in my post, but this is to point out that the North American competitive system as a whole is lacking, and no individual skaters or coaches are to blame for this.

Top 3 ladies in Russia this year:

Anna Shcherbakova - 16​

Alena Kostornaia - 17​

Alexandra Trusova -16​


Top 3 ladies in the US this year:

Alysa Liu - 15​

Mariah Bell - 24​

Bradie Tennell - 22​



If you recall, at the last Olympics, Russia took both gold and silver in ladies' single, with Zagitova and Medvedeva.
You fail to mention the bronze medalist, and 2018 world champion, Kaetlyn Osmond, who was attending her second Olympics and not a teenager.
Ashley Wagner was pretty much a bottom-tier skater for a decade, and somehow fans were still fighting for her to go to the Olympics in 2018
She was the 2016 world bronze medalist.
So let's look at some potential roots of this problem:

- Importing bad international skaters (Kaitlyn Weaver, Piper Gilles in Canada, Christina Carreira in the US)
Kaitlyn Weaver - her and Andrew placed top 5 at worlds from 2011-2019 and have 3 world medals, I would hardly call them BAD.
- No development system
say what you want, but Canada had more medals than Russia in 2018 and won the team event, they must have done something right. In a few more Olympic cycles they could be back in a position to medal at the team event again.
 
Top