New judging system cleaning up skating

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

The nasty taste regarding judging and figure skating is gradually being washed away with time, but Skate Canada is looking to make sure it's gone for good, at least on the domestic front. Everyone remembers the Olympic judging scandal that temporarily robbed Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of their rightful figure skating gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. After that, the sport smelled like tuna and bad cheese.

Last August, the International Skating Union rolled out a new judging system for figure skating and ice dancing and, except for some minor hiccups, it has been received well so far. That includes anecdotal feedback from Canadian figure skaters at senior and junior Grand Prix competitions, according to Pam Coburn, CEO of Skate Canada.

Skate Canada has jumped out in front of all other major skating nations around the world by introducing the system at domestic competitions, starting at this weekend's BMO Financial Group Skate Canada Eastern Challenge, a qualifying event for the Canadian championships, today through Sunday at the Hershey Centre.

"When we heard about it the first time, lightbulbs went off," Coburn said. "What happened to Sale and Pelletier was a travesty and we don't want to ever see that happen again."

In March 2002, Coburn commissioned an independent study to look into what the ISU was planning to do. More than $300,000, and over two years later, we come to this weekend's official roll out. Patricia Benoit, Skate Canada's director of planning and analysis, says the system weeds out corrupt judges by making it much more difficult for that person to make the result go the way they want it to go. A 5.4, for example, can mean different things to different judges.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The only accountability in the judging system beforehand was having a judge explain to the skater their reason for giving that mark.

"It's an entirely new philosophy of how the sport is scored," Benoit said. The system uses touch screen computers, is much more specific and defined, and less subjective, with a running tally of points as skaters perform elements in a program. At the end athletes know exactly how they did and how they were scored, all based on ISU standards.

"It's incredibly empowering for the skater," Benoit said. And that, says Coburn, should have an impact on how skating is viewed by young people and their parents. There are currently 167,000 skaters registered with Skate Canada at the grassroots levels across the country.

Registration dipped by only a few thousand in the years after 2002, "but we knew (more of a decrease in registration) was coming if we didn't make changes," Coburn said. "We want parents and children to know they will be properly evaluated for what they're doing and what they're learning."


Videos

Photos