Your number's up

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Joannie Rochette put up that, er, sizzling score to win her flight of the qualifying competition to open the Canadian Figure Skating Championships yesterday.

OK. it doesn't have the same sizzle as a 6.0. And there's no point of reference.

This was the first time in the history of the world the new judging system was used at a qualifying competition. And the fans sort of stared at the scoreboard trying to figure out if it was bad or if it was good.

It was good!

Actually, Rochette's score was a 109.41, her second-best score for the long program this year and, well, ever.

It was 57.21 for "technical" and 58.20 for what is now called 'program component.'

Qualifying is worth 25%. So you divide the 109.41 by four ...

Like I said.

Wow! A 27.35!

The new-fangled, incredibly complicated, super secret judging system which makes it impossible to finger the French judge (or in this case the French-Canadian judge?) was put into play for real.

The Americans didn't use it at the U.S. Nationals this past weekend, but the great Canadian-made "solution" to the Salt Lake figure- skating judging scandal was in use here yesterday. Ready or not, away we go.

The new system will be used here this week and at Worlds two months from now in Moscow. This is where Canada's team for the Worlds this spring in Moscow will be chosen.

And Moscow is the Olympic qualifier for Torino, Italy, and the Worlds, which follow in Calgary.

NOT LIKE A TEST DRIVE

This isn't like taking the system out for a test drive at Skate Canada or on the Grand Prix Tour as was the case this season. This is it.

"I like it," pronounced Rochette.

"There's more strategy. You get points for everything you do. If you don't do the jumps, you can't win because of your name.

"It takes a while to get used to it. After a couple of competitions you get used to it. After this week, you'll be fine."

The old system was simple.

The judges watched the performance, made the odd deduction for a fall and, occasionally adding or subtracting for national bias, eventually came to the conclusion that it was, oh, a 5.8 for technical merit and a 5.9 for artistic impression.

In the press tribune we could quickly come to the conclusion, as we did in Salt Lake, that the French judge had screwed Canada's Jamie Sale & David Pelletier out of an Olympic gold medal.

Now it's a system so complicated there isn't room to even begin to describe to you what's involved.

A PAMPHLET WAS PRODUCED

I mean, a pamphlet was produced for the fans here this year - a "brief description of how it works."

It's 679 words!

That's column length.

One thing is easy to predict. TV is going to hate it.

This new system is definitely not television friendly. And television pays big loot for this sport, which puts up Super Bowl numbers at the Olympics, especially after Tonya Harding had wacked Nancy Kerrigan.

Maybe that's why the U.S. stayed with the old 6.0 system for their national championships on ABC TV this past weekend.

For first impressions, I'm with Olympic gold medal winner Alexei Yagudin.

He said, "It's complicated for the skaters and it's even more complicated for the people who are watching."

The positives of the system are that it involves more judges, takes away the high score and low score. and involves specific point values for specific jumps - on a +3 to -3 basis.

But the fatal flaw is that it takes away accountability.

As Sally Stapleford, the ISU referee who helped expose the French judge, puts it: "To hide everything in a veil of secrecy is the worst possible direction for us to get into.

"It could be that judges could be freer now to make deals or have a national bias or be incompetent."

There are those who believe this new judging system is just begging for another scandal.

It's going to be a story from here all the way to the Olympics in Torino 13 months.

In the meantime ... wow, a 27.35!


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