Jan 27, 2013

Cheating judges

In a couple of words, they don't.

Or not much anyway.

I usually stay out of fangirl territory in this blog. There are lots of blogs parsing scores minutely, and offering analysis, some simplistic, and some quite cogent, about elite skaters.

But today there feels like more than the usual sour grapes.

The 2013 Ladies Single podium felt tainted last night-- Ashley Wagner won with a flawed free skate, golden child and media darling Gracie Gold pulled off "only" 2nd in her first senior appearance, perennial crowd favorites Carolina Zhang and Mirai Nigasu had heartbreaking falters.

I think the judges probably held Gracie up a little bit, and they were remarkably kind to Ashley on some questionable executions. They came down awfully hard on Mirai and Caroline (and Christina Gao for that matter-- geez, will you put that girl on the podium already?)

But here's the thing about IJS. For all the #theyruinedmysportwithmath jokes, and avenues for manipulation (levels, component scores), in point of fact it is very hard to cheat at IJS, which was entirely the idea behind the system. There are a lot of checks; there is a lot of independent scoring, like the technical calls, that make it hard for judges to independently prop someone up.

And I don't believe in conspiracy theories.

I also believe in good intentions.

Here's why Gracie didn't win -- she blew the short. And that's where the old adage comes in-- you can't win a medal with the short, but you can lose one.

Here's why Ashley did-- she rocked the short program, and she had a smart, points-packed long so that even if she had some mistakes she would have enough points to recover. This isn't cheating, and it isn't evidence of collusion. It's smart coaching, and it's evidence of a competitive skater who, frankly, spent years being pushed down and disrespected-- by the media, by the fans, and by the judges-- but who knew she had it in her, and made a plan to achieve it.

I'll take that over the latest golden girl any day.

P.S. Shame on Ice Network for its appalling morning after headline: "Wobbly Wagner outlasts glittering Gold in Omaha." You owe Ashley Wagner, first back to back Ladies Champion since Kwan, an apology.


  1. The thing I learned last night: if Gracie can put together two clean programs, she is going to blow away the US ladies. If she can put out the two best programs she is capable of, and work a bit on her in-betweens, she will be unstoppable! That girl was amazing.

    I think Ashley deserved to win- her components weren't held up, she is actually just better at that part than the other skaters, she's had a long senior career to work on them. Hope she can get back her nerves of steal for Worlds and stay on her feet.

    Poor Mirai :( It must suck to be that sick at nationals. I didn't see the URs, but as the wait for her score got longer, I just knew it wasn't going to go well for her. I was really expecting her to get pewter when she got off the ice. Devastating.

    1. It just annoys me-- rather than lauding Gracie's Tara-level accomplishment of pulling herself up from ninth to second in her first (!) Senior Nats, everyone is complaining that she didn't win! It dishonors BOTH the top ladies. We have to get past this "next big thing" mentality and let these women develop the kind of character that got Ashley through last night.

    2. First of all, Some of Mirai's URs were clearly visible in real time. I was watching it live and calling them out. I knew she wasn't going to be on the podium. Some of them I think were a bit harsh, but a couple of them were too blatantly obvious to ignore.

      The judges ignored a couple URs they should have called on Wagner, and they didn't even give her an edge call on her Lutz, which is obvious and has been there since the dawn of time. All in a quest to boost her score as high as they could so she could win.

      I'm surprised at the new trend of judges refusing to give -3 GOE for jumps skaters fall on. It only happens with *some skaters*, not all of them. Kostner at Euros, for example, and Ashley here...

      As for the result, it was a bit of a joke. Not really the fact that Gracie didn't win, but the fact that Ashley was second in the FS with that hot mess. But the thing is, without placing second in the FS she wouldn't have won, so the USFS had no choice but the make a mockery out of the competition with the way she skated, if they wanted to keep her on top.

      Also, Ashley's component marks were a complete joke (not that Gold's were all that realistic), but these girls will not be scored this way at worlds. There's no way Ashley would have scored that high at Worlds if she had skated like that. She is no Alissa Czisny.

    3. Why do people think that Ashley can't get the marks at international competition? She's the only US singles skater right now who consistently places on the podium in international competition. It's why the judges held her up, but not Jeremy Abbott.

    4. The judges couldn't hold up Abbott. He didn't have anything near the lead Wagner had going into the FS to hold off the top 2, especially with his two doubled jumps and the fall on the quad (which should have been UR'd, but I haven't looked at the protocols for his program - yet, nor do I have the energy to right now).

      Wagner's programs don't score 125+ internationally, which is basically where the judges were going with that FS score (take away the two falls and give her some GOE back, and she was almost there). She has never received PCS that high for her program internationally for almost flawless performances.

      Judges aren't there to "hold up" anyone, no matter what kind of fuzzy logic you try to apply to it. They should judge the performance give, and that's it. That's why people have issue with this scoring system. It didn't really remove any subjectivity. For TES the GOE system is gamed by judges and PCS is all over the place.

      Wagner isn't getting on the podium if the field at Worlds skates anything close to clean. Gracie Gold practically is the only soldier who's going to be fighting for those three spots in Sochi.

      Also, the judges have absolutely no reason to hold up Jeremy Abbott because with how consistent the international skaters have gotten with their technical elements they desperately need men who can deliver the goods under pressure. Abbott cannot. He's literally never had a consistent quad while the other men have been going for it and landing them all season. The Gold Medalist in Sochi isn't going to win with a UR/Fall on a Quad and a bunch of Triples. It'll probably be someone with two in their program.

      Even if the judges wanted to hold him up it would have been literally impossible with how thin his lead was going into the FS, because they'd have had to inflate his PCS to levels that would have caused a scandal. If he had not doubled one of those doubled triples, they likely would have done it as it would have given him enough technical base value to let him win at least Silver the PCS level they gave him for that program (< 2 points behind Miner).

    5. Also, the US held Ashley up because they aren't wearing blinders. They know an upstart skater like Gold will be held back by the judges in PCS even if she came on the scene looking like Kim Yu Na.

      Kim Yu Na can probably fall 3 times and the judges will still probably place her ahead of Gracie Gold. Fair? IMO, no. But, that's the way this sport works.

      It's very political, and the idea of "paying your dues" is as strong as ever.

      The idea of there being another Oksana or Tara that just bursts on the scene and starts winning major international championships (Euros, Worlds, Olympics) is all but a dream these days.

    6. Correction: Wagner did score 128 at 2012 4CC where I think she did a 2A/3T< in her program.

    7. I don't understand why everyone thinks that Ashley can't get the scores from international judges, since she has multiple international medals, on the Grand Prix circuit, including being the only US singles skater at the Grand Prix final the last two years. (some uberfan correct me if that's wrong).

  2. I completely agree! I was pleased for all the skaters and it was a massive accomplishment for Gold to pull up and make the world team, but also a massive accomplishment for Wagner to win her second title. Good to see someone being the voice of reason!

  3. I used to roll my eyes at skating judging until I went through the ISU Components videos on YouTube. I realized that there was so much in skating that my amateur eye didn't catch. I found them very instructional, especially when they compared skaters side by side.

    1. This. Everyone who complains about the judging should sit through an IJS training just once. It will make your eyes fall out.

  4. To quote Domshabfan from FSU: "Russian nationals they judge the event and do what ever they want for their teams for Europeans and Worlds, American judges fix the results."

    I think the problem lies with the "nationals decide it all" tradition of USFS when it comes to Worlds/Olympics team assignment. Judges (subconsciously) feel they need to send the strongest team and hence the reputation judging to ensure some skaters place in the top.

    1. And I seriously question the ethical legitimacy of national inflation (yes it exists). How do judges justify it to themselves?

  5. It's not the first time there's been an unfortunate headline on IN, and they always end up changing them. There was the "same old" headline once when Virtue/Moir won something (it was later changed), "French toast" when Pechalat/Bourzat had to WD from Euros (also later changed) and now the US ladies story is titled "Wagner survives Gold rush to repeat as champion".

    I think there are many judges who do their work in good faith - I'd like to believe that they are the majority - and others who might not. Yet even the best judges, no matter how objective they try to be, can't free themselves of biases; they're human. But I will accept that they are trained to see things I might not notice, and they are watching the skaters live while I have a so-so internet feed 90% of the time.

  6. Judge the judges!

    (This is more for the international level, not individual countries, but it could still apply.) Even if the scoring stays anonymous, not a good idea IMO, the judges could still ranked.

    How? Simple. Judges would be ranked on their marks coming as close to the actual results as possible. If the marks are too outside the norm, their personal ranking goes down and they get relegated (just like European soccer leagues). Watch how quickly the judging will fall into line. If they can't judge the Olympics or the Grand Prix events, I bet they'll pay closer attention and those biases will decrease.

    I know this will never happen, just wishful thinking.

    1. Better yet, get rid of the federation judging system. All judges at National, Regional (Euros and 4CC), and International events should be paid professionals as far divorced from their national affiliation as possible, and assigned based on some system other than national affiliation. All marks should be public-- anonymity makes ethics a joke.