To err is human. To own up to it, divine.
Watching the ISU Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December was great. The calibre of skating was wonderful, with each discipline more thrilling than the last. This was especially true in ice dance, where two long-time rivals met for the first time this season. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions from Canada, were going up against 2011 world champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States.
What made this match-up so exciting was the fact that both teams were fresh off two Grand Prix gold medals and their respective scores were so tight that it made the event too close to predict. I predicted the Canadians would take it based on the edge I thought they had in the short dance, as both teams boasted similarly brilliant free programs.
But Moir fell in the short dance, putting the Canadians in second place going into the free. They skated an outstanding free dance but had to settle for second place in that segment by a margin of 0.05 points, and a silver medal
In the record books, it will forever appear as if Davis and White won the free dance in Quebec City. But on Dec. 28, the International Skating Union acknowledged that, if not for a computer glitch, Virtue and Moir actually won the free dance by 0.45 points, as one of their lifts was accidentally undervalued by .50 points.
The segment win for the Canadians still would not have been enough to surmount the five-point lead that Davis and White had established after the short dance, so the final result would have stayed the same, but this is still a significant admission by the ISU.
For a full explanation, I turned to ISU vice president David Dore
. Here's a lightly edited version of our conversation:Pj:
How did the error happen?David Dore:
It was a programming error and a personnel error that was found. An element should have been changed in the computer system that was missed. It was an honest mistake that was found and we thought it would be best to be transparent about it.
There is ongoing discussion during the season about how best to evaluate skating today. For instance, there can be discussion about an element and seeing that it needs to have a higher value because it's hard to do. When that determination is made by the technical committee, they send the info to the computer company responsible for the input of the scoring information for the upcoming season. Someone who was in the area forgot to change things. It's as simple as that.Pj:
What measures were taken to fix the problem?David Dore:
The error was re-programmed to reflect the correct value for the element. We also did random checks of other events throughout the season to make sure that none of the final results were affected. To be honest, Virtue and Moir perform an unusual lift that isn't seen very often. None of the juniors do it and we didn't find it elsewhere.Pj:
How do you arrive at changes to the scoring system?
"Tweaks are based upon determinations of the ISU technical committee. The GOEs [Grade of Execution] are reviewed every year to re-balance elements. It's not a major change to the scoring system. In this case it was partial.
Some people still say that the new scoring system is flawed.David Dore:
Listen, there was nothing wrong with the other system, it was good for hundreds of years. The problem in my opinion is that there was no value of things and it was all subjective. Now it is more precise. The scoring system is like the high-tech industry: it doesn't stand still. Every turn that you take you can tweak things and make them better.
I do know that every year the technical committees get lots of feedback from coaches in particular about skating. Take the quad, for example, or what defines a fall or rotations, et cetera. Things are progressing so fast in this sport and we have to be able to react. What used to be above average three years ago is now the norm. [Men's singles skater] Javier Fernandez is an example of a skater who is raising the bar now and who wasn't three years ago. As the bar is being raised you have to be able to reflect that.
I believe that if we didn't change the values and continue to re-evaluate, people would come after us.Pj:
Are there any challenges as far as keeping up with the advancements?David Dore:
First and foremost I am passionate about figure skating. The sport has advanced at a huge and very rapid rate. I strongly believe that it is because of the values placed on the elements that people have become positioned to become more competitive. When a skater leaves a competition and looks at their scores against those of the winners, they are given a clear picture of what they have to work on in order to make it to the top. Doing a triple-double-double combination has to do with earning points, or else why would you bother? It's a point system, which means anything can happen. It's exciting for the sport.
There are people who say that skaters are falling more, which makes it less interesting to watch?David Dore:
I think what skaters are doing today is amazing. There is a lot more risk, which means that there are going to be occasional falls. I like to use the following example: In 1988, Brian Orser needed 20 seconds to prepare, execute, land and move off from a triple Flip jump. In 1994, Kurt Browning did the same thing in 15 seconds. In 2011, the skaters only used 10 seconds to do the same thing. What that means is there is lots more skating going on and I believe the skating is really good.Pj:
Why is the ISU website not reflecting the change to show that the Canadians won the free dance?
Some years ago it was decided that, for the purposes of records, once the medals were handed out, the result was the result officially. This doesn't mean that the ISU wasn't willing to acknowledge if there had been an error, as clearly we have been. In the case of the ice dance at the Grand Prix Final, it is regrettable, but it didn't change the actual outcome of the event.Pj:
Is there anything else you would like to say?David Dore:
Simply put: this wrong mark - it's part of the process. It's part of the evolution of the scoring system and of the sport.
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