"In the last 15 years, the world has gotten so competitive. In my day, there really was only me and Viktor [Petrenko] and now there are 10 guys who can challenge on any given day."
Those are the words of Canada's four-time world champion figure skater Kurt Browning.
It's an interesting and very accurate perspective especially since it seems as if no men's skater seems ready to take on the mantle of "the one to beat" this season. With only Trophee Eric Bompard remaining in the ISU Grand Prix series, there have been winners in every event, but have there been any true victors?
Mistakes dot favourites' programs
Canada's Patrick Chan is among the men to watch, but with mistakes in both the short and free programs in his Grand Prix events, will he be able to recreate the success of two world silver medals over the last two seasons? The same can be said for Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, the defending world champion from Japan, and France's Brian Joubert, the reigning world bronze medallist and 2007 world champion, who have both skated with mistakes.
So what is the deal with the men this season? Could it just be that the skaters are burned out after a gruelling Olympic season and are simply trying to buy time until they can get their second wind? Or is it simply a case of using this season, which doesn't really count in the same way a pre-Olympic season does, to experiment with competition.
One factor is that quad jumps have been given more value in the scoring system, so some competitors are going for broke and attempting more quads than ever. Then, there are some men, like Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic - fresh off a victory at the Grand Prix of Russia - who would rather have a quad evaluated as clean only (and awarded as such) than the partial reward that is now available. The jump rules have changed so that skaters can earn 70 per cent of the value of the jump +/- GOE (grade of execution) if it is under-rotated up to a half revolution, which is a huge incentive.
There is also a change in the step sequence rules wherein the second step sequence in the free program has the same base value of 2.0 points with +/- GOE for everyone. This means that the skaters who are genius at footwork are not able to rack up the points in the way they could in the previous system when both step sequences started from zero and were awarded points based on the level of difficulty and execution. To put it in perspective, the re-structuring of those points could mean the difference for a win depending on the competition and the skaters.
"With this much talent coupled with the strict rules that are now in place with the judging system, anything can and always will happen in competition," says Browning.
Juniors making their mark
The talent is no longer restricted to the senior ranks, either. One of the most interesting things to happen in recent years is the arrival of the junior skaters on to the world stage ready to challenge. More often than not, they are making strong impressions in their first couple of seasons as seniors. "Juniors" are factoring in right off the bat now, whereas before the new judging system, it was definitely a case of having to "wait their turn."
Making a splash this season are two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon (2008 and 2009) from the United States who took the bronze medal at Skate Canada, and reigning world junior champion Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan who leapfrogged over more experienced competitors to finish just off the podium in fourth at NHK.
Although the parameters have changed, is competition different from the way it was before?
Says Browning: "I still feel that you can change whatever you want, but it will be the best skater on the day who will still win."
Not being able to predict the results, especially in the men's event, is what makes figure skating in 2010 more exciting than ever.
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