Skating scores hard to figure

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Chinese pair Qing Pang and Jian Tong set a world record with their stirring free skate.

Their routine tugged at heartstrings and elicited a rousing standing ovation Monday night at the Pacific Coliseum. Some in the crowd were moved to tears.

The defining figure skating performance so far at the Vancouver Olympics? Well, no.

To see that, you had to be in your seat early Sunday while ancient Chinese husband-and-wife Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, first to skate, zipped through their short program.

It gave them the points bulge they needed and, in the end, the gold medal since their teammates — despite the skate of their lives, which was deemed the best on the night — weren’t able to make up the difference. And that takes us back to where we all began.

Figure skating still has a major disconnect with fans.

Last month, International Olympic Committee bigwig Dick Pound said the sport was still a nightmare.

The Code of Points scoring system may ultimately prove to be more fair to the skaters and a better way of sorting out the medal winners. But it should be so much easier to see why.

The printed breakdown of judging details reads like a Bill Gates’ tax form or computer code back in 1981.

Fans had more access to judges’ input under the old 6.0 scoring system that went kaboom when French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted to ripping off Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

“I know it’s called Code of Points and I know it was put in for Turin,” one lovely older figure skating fan said on the way out Monday night after the pairs, “but don’t ask me to explain it. I have no idea and I know I’m not alone.”

The International Skating Union can’t forget this is the entertainment business. Star skaters coming out of retirement is a huge story here. So why did Shen and Zhao skate first Sunday and why did Evgeni Plushenko go off 10th in a 30-man field Tuesday?

Two years of world points lose their meaning at an Olympics.

For $420 a ticket, the tension and pressure should build toward the crescendo, not be sliced up between ice resurfacings. Give extra points to skaters who have actually won something and make sure they’re in the last group. Plushenko skating an hour before Patrick Chan doesn’t help build TV viewership.

Vancouver skating fan Marci Jo Ackerman says she understands the scoring system. She knows she’s in the minority.

“It was a flip of the coin between the Chinese,” she said, “but I thought the French pair deserved higher marks.”

Scarborough native Vanessa James skates for France with Yannick Bonheur. Their long program inspired a standing ovation.

They didn’t look too impressed by their marks.

And other than simply shrugging, no one still can explain how Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay finished behind fellow Canadians Bryce Davison and Jessica Dube after their short.

German Robin Szolkowy, a pairs bronze medallist, sold cars to help fund his skating career. There’s a difference, he said, between pleasing the fans and the judges.

“On the one hand, it’s always a good sign if the audience is booing (scores they think are low) because it says the audience like you, or loves you,” he said, “but on the other hand, it’s the judges who decide who is first, second, third.”

And before every skater in Vancouver hit the ice, they were asked a judging-related question. Do you believe in this system?

“This is the sport I chose,” under-the-radar American men’s skater Jeremy Abbott said, “so I can’t complain.”

If he wanted, there is still much to complain about.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

POLL