Experts, fans up in arms over Sochi figure skating judging

By 송상호
  • Published : Feb 22, 2014 - 16:37
  • Updated : Feb 23, 2014 - 20:09
The stunning defeat of South Korean figure skating star Kim Yu-na in the ladies' singles competition at the Sochi Winter Games has left fans and experts, both at her home and abroad, up in arms about judging in one of the marquee events at the sporting event.

Kim, the 2010 Olympic champ, fell shy of winning her second straight gold on Thursday in Russia, settling for silver with 219.11 points in total, 5.48 points behind the upstart Russian, Adelina Sotnikova.

Kim held the slim, 0.28-point lead over Sotnikova after the short program, with 74.92 points, but the 17-year-old Russian earned an eye-popping 149.95 points in the free skate, her career best by more than 18 points, to soar to her country's first Olympic title in the ladies' singles.

Kim Yu-na performs during the figure skating exhibition gala at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Kim, skating last after Sotnikova had fired up the partisan crowds at the Iceberg Skating Palace, scored 144.19 points in the free skate to finish second.
The final results left many experts scratching their heads.

Sotnikova earned 75.54 points in her technical element score (TES), which measures execution of jumps, spins and steps, nearly five full points higher than Kim, even though the Russian two-footed her landing on a relative easy double loop jump. Kim, on the other hand, made no obvious mistake, save for a slight slip on the landing of her more difficult triple lutz later in the routine.

Sotnikova did attempt more triple jumps than Kim, seven to six, but experts said that still doesn't explain the whole story about the 5-point gap between the two skaters.

Jung Jae-eun, director of judging at the Korea Skating Union and serving as a TV analyst in Sochi, said Sotnikova's grade of execution (GOE) points were excessively high.

The GOE is an equivalent of a bonus point awarded to each executed element. Each of the nine judges assigns a value, ranging from minus 3 to plus 3, and the highest and the lowest values are discarded before the remaining seven are averaged for the final GOE

that appears on the score sheet.

Aside from the minus 0.9 point she got on the botched double loop, Sotnikova's GOE points were between 1.07 and 1.80. Kim's GOE ranged from 0.71 to 1.60.

"When it comes to jumps, judges base their GOE on the skater's rotation, distance and height of the jumps, transition to the next element upon landing, and interaction with music, among eight categories," Jung said. "Of those eight, you'd get two points for meeting four criteria, and three points for meeting six or more.

Sotnikova earned a lot of 3s from the judges, while Kim's GOE were mostly in the 1-2 point range. I don't know where Kim fell short."

Sotnikova received the maximum Level 4s on her three spins and a step sequence. Kim, on the other hand, got a Level 3 on her footwork sequence, as well as her layback spin, even though she'd scored Level 4s on that element in her past three international competitions and didn't make any noticeable mistake this time in Sochi.

"Kim's steps satisfied all the requirements to earn the maximum level, but she ended up with a Level 3," Jung said. "Sotnikova made sloppy turns and had a problem with her edge, but she got a Level 4 and 1.70 points in GOE to boot."

The program component score (PCS), which evaluates skaters' artistry and choreography, leaves more room for judgment. Kim has long been considered one of the most accomplished performers in the ladies' figure skating, consistently outscoring her opponents in the PCS.

On Thursday, she did once again have the highest PCS in the competition at 74.50 points, but only by 0.09 point ahead of Sotnikova.

Sotnikova, an ebullient teenager carrying the hopes of the entire host nation, appeared to thrive under that pressure. She performed with flair and panache, and her free skate, set to the rousing "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," had plenty of action and pace. She fed off the raucous fans, and even had the presence of mind to wave at them during her program.

Kim's free skate, set to a breathless tango piece "Adios Nonino," seemed almost flat by comparison. Hers had a more understated elegance about it, but it likely didn't help that she skated after Sotnikova.

Others from outside Kim's native land also expressed their qualms about judging. Kim was trying to join Sonja Henie of Norway and Katarina Witt of Germany as the only women to win consecutive Olympic titles.
When she came up short, it was none other than Witt who said, "I am stunned by this result. I don't understand the scoring," while commentating on German television.

Kurt Browning, a former world champion providing commentary for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), told The New York Times he was confused about the results.

"I just couldn't see how Yu-na and Sotnikova were so close in the components," he said. "I was shocked. What, suddenly, she just became a better skater overnight? I don't know what happened. I'm still trying to figure it out.

"Kim outskated her, but it's not just a skating competition anymore -- it's math," Browning added.

It was later revealed that one of the judges on Thursday, Alla Shekhovtseva of Russia, is married to the general director of the Russian figure skating body, Valentin Pissev. Another judge, Yuri Balkov from Ukraine, was once suspended from judging for a year after trying to fix the ice dancing competition at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

Judges' scores, though, are kept anonymous, which only fueled cynicism and conspiracy theories.

"It's sad that I just presumed Sotnikova was going to get a boost (in points) because this was in Russia," former U.S. Olympic figure skating coach Audrey Weisiger was quoted as saying on USA Today. "Isn't it sad that I automatically thought that? Not one person in skating I've talked to said that's the way it should have gone."

Fans in South Korea cried foul that Kim, who is one of the country's most iconic athletes and nicknamed "Queen Yu-na," was robbed of a sure gold medal.

In the immediate aftermath, online articles about Kim's silver attracted a wide range of user comments, some cynically congratulating Russia for what they called a "theft" and others claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been behind the fix. There were also those who bemoaned South Korea's lack of clout in international sports.

By early Friday afternoon, nearly a million people had signed an online petition demanding an inquiry into Thursday's judging.

In the mess, Kim may be the only person who is taking it in stride, as gracious and graceful in her defeat as she is on the ice.

"I have to accept the score because there's nothing I can do about it," she said Thursday. "I didn't expect much as far as my score. I am just satisfied that I didn't make any mistake."

 At a press conference on Friday, Kim said she has no regrets about her performance.

 "It's all over now, and that's that," she said. "I am just satisfied that it's all finished."

 Kim said she had dealt with judging controversies before, and people around her often became more riled up than she did.
"I think people are more upset now because it's the Olympics," she said. "But I've moved on."

She said she hadn't had high expectations for her score because she would only then have been set up for bigger disappointments.

When asked if she felt she was outskated, Kim said, "I haven't seen others perform, but whether I concede the defeat or not makes no difference."

Later on Friday, Kim Jung-haeng, president of the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC), said the country's top sports body would protest the figure skating result.

"We're preparing to send a letter of protest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), regarding biased judging against Kim Yu-na," the KOC chief said. "We can't sit idly by when our people are signing petitions. The Korea Skating Union (KSU) has to take the first step but we at the KOC are taking measures of our own."

Later on Friday, South Korean officials said the KSU has formally asked the International Skating Union (ISU) to review whether the ladies' singles competition had been conducted fairly, in accordance with international rules.

According to the officials, Ottavio Cinquanta, the president of the ISU, responded that the international federation will look into the situation. (Yonhap)