Judged by your peers | Figure Skating | CBC Sports

Figure SkatingJudged by your peers

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 | 05:38 PM

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With a judging system in place, most figure skaters simply follow the rules when they hit the ice. Russia's Ilia Klimkin, seen here performing in 2006, was one of those skaters that pushed the sport's boundaries and left fans and fellow skaters alike wanting more. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press) With a judging system in place, most figure skaters simply follow the rules when they hit the ice. Russia's Ilia Klimkin, seen here performing in 2006, was one of those skaters that pushed the sport's boundaries and left fans and fellow skaters alike wanting more. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press)

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In his latest blog for CBCSports.ca, legendary Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning teams up with fellow skater Shawn Sawyer to examine what kind of performances get the attention of not only judges, but also their competitors and why.
The idea for this blog came while speaking with my friend Shawn Sawyer, so we decided to write this one together. Shawn is a cast member on tours such as Holiday Festival On Ice, Celebration On Ice and Stars On Ice. He is one of the best skaters I have ever met.

It is amazing what a connection from Langley, B.C., to Grand Prairie, Alta., can bring. While waiting for a flight in Edmonton, Shawn Sawyer and I started talking about -- wait for it -- figure skating! Shocking news.

Our topic zeroed in on special moments that, as skaters, we find amazing but that the fans, and even some judges, might not be able to appreciate as much. That's because as skaters we see things they might miss.   

The judging system is utilized better by some skaters than others. Most simply follow the rules within the range of their abilities. Decisions are made with their coaches about spin and jump placements within their programs, connecting steps are created, combinations of jumps planned.

Everything we do in life is dictated by the tools we have at our disposal. The same applies to building a skating program for competitions. How you apply your skating abilities within the rules has quite a bit to do with how well you are rewarded.  

Since everyone skates under the same set of rules, programs tend to get similar as we see the same strategy being used time and again. But, here are a few wonderful moments created by amazing talent or the decision to go against logic to create magic.

A great way to get the attention of your peers is to take risks. Now, for those of you who really follow skating, you have probably heard the commentator say many times, "That jump came out of nowhere!"  
Picture this...

Shawn and Kurt are watching a competition and we see a skater do a jump that causes both of us to react. Why? Because neither of us could see it coming and that is a huge compliment from one skater to another. Usually we can tell not only that a jump is coming, but even which one. 

A difficult entry into a jump should inspire the judges to boost their mark for that particular element. I do not always see that reflected in the marks, but I can promise they have other skaters' respect! This is one example of using the system to your advantage, if you have the guts and talent. 

The best in history

For the non-skaters out there, here are some more things to watch for.  

Shawn remembers Ilia Klimkin of Russia and how he could do a triple Salchow from the exit of a spin. Personally, I can't imagine why anybody would even think of that, let alone try it!  

Another example I remember was from Canadian Gary Beacom. Gary had an entrance to the double Axel that was different, but then Gary did most everything his own way. This particular double Axel entrance off of the forward left outside edge was amazing if not ridiculous. Instead of stepping from backwards to forwards, Gary simply glided down the ice forward on one foot and then just launched up into the Axel.  

The momentum we gain by stepping from back to front helps you do an Axel jump. This advantage is basically stripped away by doing this entrance so it seemed Gary had to create this jump from sheer will. Without 20 years of skating experience under your belt, this moment might just slip right by without notice.

Personality in every jump

Another area of personal expression in our sport is not only within the music or entrances into the jumps but within the actual jump itself. Now, how do you fit personality into less than a second? Try doing the jump with your hands over your head, for example.  

The most famous is Brian Boitano who did the difficult triple Lutz with one hand over his head. It created a corkscrew image when he spun and certainly earned him respect from all skaters. Shawn can do it and Adam Rippon from the United States does it with two hands over his head. Showoffs!

If you want to think of somebody who really put their own spin on things, think of Lucinda Ruh. While there have been many skaters who have been amazing spinners, it seems to us that Lucinda was not only one of the very best, if not the best, but also one of the most creative.  

Her rotation speed was so fast she actually blurred out at times and she could use that speed to create illusions with her legs and arms. Have you ever seen the wheels on a car look as though it is turning in the opposite direction? Well Lucinda could pull that off. Watch her break the Guinness Book Of World Records on YouTube and you will see her ability to stay spinning fast without any sort of body movement at all. Certainly special, she put her own twist on the sport.

Earlier, we mentioned how the judging system gives skaters a guide to follow, but every once in a while a skater does not take the guide's advice and makes risky choices because simply because they can!

Breaking from the norm

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are World Champion pairs skaters from Germany. In the pair's event, each team is allowed to attempt two throws during the long program. These throws are quintessential to the success of a pair and putting one of your throws in the last fleeting seconds of your long program makes no sense on paper. It is such an important element, why wait until you are totally exhausted to go for it? The answer is simple really, because you can.  

The judges award an extra 10 per cent to each throw that is after the midway point of the long, but it certainly does not have to be in the last few seconds and so a special tip of the hat from us skaters for that!

When talking to someone who really does not watch skating that often, there is a good chance that they would recognize the words "triple Axel." Even with the four revolution jumps out there, the triple Axel is still coined "The King Of Jumps." It is the only jump that takes off forward and the only jump that has that extra half turn making the triple Axel three and a half revolutions. 

Needless to say, like the second throw for the German pair team, it is very important and so why take any risk when attempting it?  

Logic dictates that it should be set up carefully and with time before to prepare. But, since we are looking for those brave skaters who do not follow these logical guidelines, it is Jeremy Abbott from the U.S. that fits the bill.

During his long program Jeremy has created an amazing highlight with the Axel jump, actually, with two of them one after the other. Putting two Axels in a row is not so unusual, but he puts them back to back in the second half of the program. Gutsy move! What puts this right over the top is the second Axel -- another triple by the way -- that is only five seconds after the landing of the first one. Now you have our attention! 

Judging limitations

The judges can only award extra points for the fact that they are in the second half and a bit of a bonus for a difficult entry, but in my opinion do not have a way of recognizing just how hard this truly is. For me, this is 'standing O' material. Putting two difficult jumps together like this is the kind of thing we would try in an "anything you can do I can do better" atmosphere in a fun practice setting. Putting that many of your potential points in jeopardy by assuming you will not only land the first Axel but that you will land it with enough speed to give you a shot at the second one ... well, simply amazing.  

Jeremy's percentage of success is down lower than he would like on these two jumps but when he hits it I hope the judges see how exciting and simply cool it is. This is the sort of skating that gains the respect of your peers.  

Another way of putting jumps together is by using the landing of the first one as the set up for the second one. I have seen, during practice, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan land a triple Axel and without even one step he launches into another one. He has not attempted this in competition yet and I would be surprised if he would really ever consider that much risk. What Jeremy is doing is hard enough already with a few steps between the two jumps.  

The judges expect to see 'combos' of two and sometimes three jumps together in most every international competitor's programs. It makes mathematical sense that combining two jumps together gives you more points. If you put a triple toe after a double Axel, the triple toe is worth the exact same amount of points as it would be had you put it after a much more difficult triple axel. So, on paper, it really makes no sense to try combinations with difficult jumps.  

When a jump can give you the same points after a single as it can after a quad, then why take the risk? Why not simply put it after an easier triple rather than the quad? Respect! In 1991, doing a triple combination with a triple Axel meant you were elite, the top, potential world champion stuff!  

Today in our sport, I admire those skaters who take this same risk but without the payback in the marks. For all the skaters doing those tough combos, hats off. Keep flying.

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