ISU proposes "radical change" to rebalance figure skating's artistry and athleticism

A top official at the International Skating Union said the organization is looking at "radical change" in figure skating in order to achieve a better balance between the athletic and artistic sides of the sport.

The change would involve substantially lowering the base values of quadruple jumps and, for pairs, quadruple throws. For three of the five quads being done in men's singles, the reduction would be more than 10 percent, according to proposed numbers obtained by icenetwork.

"This is the direction line I am working on with the intent to make a radical change for the future development of the sport, hoping to bring back the popularity that figure skating used to have in the past," Italy's Fabio Bianchetti, the chair of the ISU Single & Pair Skating Committee, wrote in an email.

Another change may include replacing the current short program and free skate with what would effectively be an athletic program and an artistic program. Each would award full medals in events like the Olympics and the world championships, and there also would be a full medal for the all-around winner.

"Everything is possible," Bianchetti wrote. "At the moment, it is absolutely too early to say anything. The intention is to have three different medals: one for technical, one for artistic and one all-around, but how it will be for sure is impossible to say now."

While the scoring changes could go into effect for the 2018-19 season, the plan for new programs may have to wait until after the 2022 Olympic Games.

Scores from the men's and ladies free skates at the 2013 and 2017 world championships show a pronounced shift in the importance of technical element scores (TES) compared to program component scores (PCS). The PCS are seen as measuring a skater's ability to express the artistic side of the sport in areas like transitions, flow, posture, performance and program composition.

At 2013 worlds, the second- and fourth-place finishers in the men's free skate, Patrick Chan and Javier Fernández, had higher PCS than TES. The PCS and TES of the winner, Denis Ten, were virtually equal, while bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu -- the only one of the top four with a higher TES -- still got 47.3 percent of his total points from his PCS.

In 2017, each of the top four men had significantly higher TES than PCS, with none getting more than 44 percent of his total from PCS. By percentage, in order of finish, the PCS were: Hanyu, 43.5 percent; Shoma Uno, 44; Boyang Jin, 42; and Nathan Chen, 43.8.

Much of the numerical shift can be attributed to an increase in the number of high-scoring quadruple jumps. In 2013, the top four did an aggregate six fully credited quads in the free skate; in 2017, the aggregate was 18.

The shift is evident but less dramatic in ladies singles. In 2013, winner Yu-Na Kim had virtually even TES and PCS, and three others in the top eight had higher TES. In 2017, six of the top eight, including winner Evgenia Medvedeva, had higher TES -- and for three of them, the TES was at least 10 points higher.

Explaining that difference is not as clear cut as it is for the men, since none of the top eight women were doing triple axels in 2017, while one (Mao Asada) did a triple axel in 2013.

The ISU proposal also calls for a 6 percent reduction in base value of the triple axel and double-digit percentage reductions in the base values of quad throws in pairs. In the latter case, the ISU is concerned not only about one element having an outsized effect on the results but also the occurrence of injury with the top pairs trying quad throws.

The ISU already has approved changes that will impact the TES totals in men's singles and pairs beginning with the 2018-19 season: reducing the free skate time by 30 seconds, to four minutes, and eliminating one of the men's eight jumping passes. Because there is not a finite TES maximum like there is with PCS, removing one major element should bring the scores closer together.

The ISU also has already signed off on another scoring change for 2018-19, increasing the number of Grade of Execution (GOE) scores from seven (+3 through -3, including 0) to 11 (+5 through -5, also including 0). The interval between the scores would be set at 10 percent of the base value, as opposed to the current system, which has no standardized relationship to the base value.

For instance, a +2 on a triple lutz now adds 1.4 to a base value of 6.0, a 23 percent bonus, while a +2 on a quad lutz adds 2.0 to a base value of 13.6, a 14 percent bonus.

"The marking will be more logical and consistent," Bianchetti said.

Bianchetti said the decrease in base value of "some elements that at present is extremely high…should also produce a better balance between the technical and components scores that now is in favor of the technical part.

"But the biggest effect," he continued, "would be to give in the technical mark more credit to the quality of an element (with the wider range of GOEs), enlarging the difference between a very good element and a very bad one."

Whether the changes will produce more artistry remains to be seen.

Kori Ade, coach of former U.S. champion Jason Brown, is skeptical.

"If the intent is to weight artistry differently, cutting the program is contrary to that," Ade said. "What allows artistry is more time. One of the things (skaters like Jason) do so well is use music to tell a story. The current length is comfortable for him to get into the story."

Brian Orser, who coaches world champions Hanyu and Fernández, also thinks a shorter program will make it more difficult to display the sport's ideal: a "total package."

"You will have to be a very good skater to manage doing all the elements and have a program with attention to transitions, choreography, meaning and cohesiveness," Orser said. "It's going to be very difficult physically, even for top skaters, to do this. And I have junior men who tell me it is easier to do a senior long program (4 minutes, 30 seconds) than a junior program (four minutes)."

One of the reasons quads have become so valuable, Ade believes, is judges being overly generous with the GOEs they award for the jump.

"I haven't seen anyone with intricate steps or connections into a quad," she said. "The bullet points for GOE are not adhered to for quads."

She also thinks the values for the two most difficult quads being attempted, flip and lutz, are exaggerated because the points for them were established well before anyone successfully had done them. In the current iteration of the ISU proposal, the quad flip's base value would drop by 10.5 percent, the quad lutz's by 15.4 percent.

"I see where they are going with this," Orser said. "They want the greatest all-around skater to be champion, not just the guy who did the quad flip and quad lutz and racked up points that way."

Orser said he needed more time to consider the idea of separate artistic and athletic programs.

"I want to be sure that you have to be able to do well in the artistic program, not just be flamboyant and roll around on the ice," he said.

Bianchetti said there will be a test event to evaluate all the new criteria "so we can make sure we can submit the best proposal to the next ISU Congress." He did not know if it would be possible to have a proposal on the replacement of the short program and free skate ready for consideration by the 2020 Congress.

U.S. champion Nathan Chen, who last year became the first to land five quads and to attempt six in a free skate, said he is too focused on the Olympic season to think about what will happen in the future.

Asked if the sport has leaned too far to the athletic side, Chen said, "To an extent, yeah. It's very athletic-based right now, which I think is actually pretty cool. It brings a lot of attention to the sport. I think it's cool to watch, but it's very subjective (depending on) whoever watches it."

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)

Proposed new values for jumps and quad throws.  

Proposed new values for jumps and quad throws.