There was a gorgeous, ingenious ice dance performance at the Canadian figure skating championships on Sunday afternoon.
Pity that genius and splendour were not rewarded with stratospheric marks to match.
“Do you guys know what that’s for?” Scott Moir asked the befuddled beat reporters as he came off the ice with partner Tessa Virtue following medal ceremonies for the couple’s fifth national title. He was referring to a mystifying three-point deduction in their beautifully executed Carmen free skate, a breathtakingly innovative routine of passion, artistry and athleticism. Its likes have never been seen before in figure skating. Maybe that’s the problem — and the punishment. Or Canadian judges, notorious for over-scoring at domestic events (the marks don’t count in the international log), were trying to be helpful, sending a coded message to the reigning world titleholders as they head towards Four Continents and the global championships in March: Fix it.
Detailed results sheets indicated the Canadian champs had committed violations in three lifts, losing a point on each element, although one was later replaced upon judges’ review. That may not seem like a big deal, two points, but it’s just the kind of teensy differential that could decide gold from silver at worlds, between the Canadians and their long-time rivals, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The Americans took the Grand Prix laurels in December with an inferior program, dull in its traditionalism, but invested with fractionally higher technical scores.
It’s strange that Virtue and Moir have this season been found marginally wanting on the technical side because they’re such a proficient twosome. Yet in Sunday’s final, there were violation subtractions and puzzling low execution levels, all the way down to a Level 1 for their combination spin, a shocking dip from the Level 4 heights usually obtained.
Coach/choreographer Marina Zoueva didn’t get it. “I think the combo lift was not (held) long enough in first position,” she speculated. “For me, it was a very strong performance. It was the best they did ever before, speed and energy, each element was visual, looks great, clean and execution great, footwork nice.”’
Well, she may be biased. But Zoueva is also a pro at this; it’s her job to avoid deductions that may result from choreography or illegal movements.
In any event, though the matter remains hugely confusing, Zoueva got it wrong. The lift wasn’t too short — meaning, not held for the required rotations or whatever — but too long. See, in this goofy, fussy sport, there are rules about that: two lifts must be under six seconds; one under 12.
“I’ll need a stopwatch out there,” Moir cracked.
That is the core problem with ice dancing, now that the International Skating Union has (allegedly) removed all the judge-cheating under a revamped, precise scoring format, in place since the pairs fiasco at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
“We’ve been really consistent with those lifts, having them be under time, so it’s a surprise for us,” said Moir. “It’s one of the challenges of figure skating and we’ll have to work on that going forward. But when you have a lot of adrenalin . . . constantly we’re trying to remind ourselves to not rush through because, the other half of it is, we need to hold our (positions) for three seconds,” in order to earn the higher levels. “It’s a game, if you can hold for three but be out of (the lift) by six.”
This is minutiae that most fans wouldn’t understand or care about. But they would certainly wonder why a gold is lost or marks lower than expected. Figure skating has a maddening habit of putting itself outside the public’s grasp, most especially with the mathematical permutations that replaced the old 6.0 system. And they wonder why skating has plummeted in popularity — though the Hershey Centre in Mississauga enjoyed sellouts over the weekend.
“Yeah, it’s a bit fussy,” Moir conceded of ice dancing. “And to be honest, we were kind of excited because that was an awesome skate for us. There was no doubt in our minds — that’s exactly what we want to do. The deductions doesn’t take away from it but it would be nice to have a big number to go home and work off of.”
The Carmen program should be richly rewarded rather than suffering punitive slings from judges. Adjustments have been made since it was debuted at Skate Canada. A profoundly difficult lift at the end was re-choreographed because judges (who are permitted to provide explanatory input after events) reported issues seeing it. “We made that decision last week,” Virtue revealed. “We loved the original creative lift. We loved the final position and the exit but we just couldn’t get the entrance to look comfortable.”
Even transformed, re-choreographed, that final oomph element pulls the audience to its feet.
Here’s the thing: Moir and Virtue may have taken ice dancing beyond boundaries, yet radically too far for the judges. This is not a discipline that has ever embraced pioneers.
“That’s the difficulty in a way — is it worth it?” Moir mused. “We definitely think it is. We wouldn’t be skating if we were just going to play it safe and do the same tricks every year. We’re going after it.”
The problematic technicals can be fixed. But this revolutionary Carmen won’t be compromised to fit any ice dancing mould.
“We went out on a bit of a limb this year,” said Virtue. “We have to stand by it.”