BY MARIE NALAN
As the Winter Olympics grow nearer, it seems like we see more and more advertising and hype about watching the games. Personally, I love the Olympics. I always get excited about watching athletes, many of which are my age, compete to be the best in the world. And it seems like one of the most hyped sports every Olympic cycle is figure skating.
Figure skating is a favorite “glamour sport” of NBC when they advertise, since it seems to get viewers excited for the Olympics. I can see why, since it’s one of my favorite sports. It’s both beautiful and crazy difficult, and the politics are interesting. I feel like the more I watch, the more it sucks me in. My parents can attest to me watching an unusual amount of figure skating competitions in the last year. There’s something about it that I find really exciting.
One of the more controversial aspects of figure skating at the Pyeongchang 2018 games is in the Men’s Singles event. It has to do with one special jump skaters blow audiences away with: a quad.
First, some background on the scoring system. A singles figure skating routine is scored in two categories: the technical element score and the performance components score. The technical element score is a combination of scores from a series of required elements in a program. For example, programs must contain spinning elements, and jumping elements. The harder an element is, the higher the base value score for that element. Deductions are taken from that base value once it is performed based on execution. Did the skater fall over, or not get enough rotation? Their base value is deducted for that element. A skater’s final technical elements score is the scores of all of their required elements combined.
The other part of a skater’s score is their performance components score. This category is all about artistry, elegance and performance value. When skaters aren’t spinning and jumping and doing complex step sequences, they are dancing on ice. The performance components score depends on how beautifully the skater moves and holds themselves on the ice, and how well they tell a story. This elegance on ice is what makes figure skating iconic, and separates it from other sports. Figure skating is athleticism, but also art.
These two categories combine into a skater’s overall score. There are certain tricks that skaters use to get a higher score. For example, skaters can raise their arms over their head, or perform a jump in the second half of their program when they’re fatigued, to get a higher base value for the jump. But one jump has dominated discussion over scoring in the top tier of men’s figure skating: the quad.
A quad jump means that the skater takes off, spins four times in the air, and lands on one foot. This is crazy difficult, and wasn’t ever attempted in competition until the 1980s. There are still many men that don’t compete with quads in their programs. But the men that skate them stand out.
For example, 18-year-old American Nathan Chen landed five quad jumps in his free skate performance at the 2018 U.S Nationals, held a few weeks ago. His other top competitors are landing several quads in competition. Chen is an extremely talented skater, and should be celebrating for the revolutionary work he is doing with his jumping. Other skaters around the world, such as Shoma Uno of Japan, are performing a large number of quads.
It sounds like male athletes are pushing themselves to do amazing things and innovate the sport. So where is the controversy?
The controversy is that quad jumps get a very high base value. The point difference is so high, that many feel a skater gets too high of an advantage in the scoring system by performing quads, because they get such a boost of points that they can underperform in other areas and still fly high above the rest. The community mainly agrees that athletes should be rewarded for doing difficult jumps, but many critics say the points advantage quads bring to the table is creating a larger discussion about the relationship between athleticism and artistry in figure skating. As points reward harder and harder jumps, soon elegance and performance will play a much smaller role in men’s figure skating.
You may be wondering, why is this only an issue in men’s skating? Women are not landing quads in competition, although there are plenty of rumors online that a few skaters are getting closer in practice. The biggest jumps women have been doing in competition is a triple axel, which contains three and a half rotations. A handful of women around the world, including American and 2018 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, famous American Olympian Tonya Harding and Japanese 2010 silver medalist Mao Asada, landed three triple axels in competition. These women broke boundaries of what people thought was possible for women figure skaters.
However, even with this innovation in jumping, the emphasis on artistry is not completely colluded by this jump’s base value. While women have their own race for doing the craziest jumps, their major jumps bring with them less of a points advantage then quads do in the men’s competition.
Therefore, we still see artistry remaining one of the main emphases in women’s skating. While men can get away with putting more emphasis on massive jumps, women’s skating is more focused on performance elements. Personally, I love watching women’s figure skating because of this continued emphasis on artistry. The female skaters know that their performance and interpretation is a crucial part of their score, and they compete to perform and get that score accordingly. It is different that the direction we see men’s skating going.
I don’t have an opinion on this quad scoring system. But it is interesting to think about what this scoring means for the future of men’s skating. Will the sport move more towards athleticism and away from artistry? Is that necessarily good or bad, or just different?
Either way, we will be able to sit back and watch quad jumps galore at the 2018 Pyeongchang games, as athletes continue to shatter our preconceptions about what is possible on the ice.