A month after the ladies’ event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, people are still questioning the result, with the Russian Adelina Sotnikova winning the gold medal ahead of Yuna Kim, the defending Olympic champion. And when I say “people”, I’m not referring only to the regular figure skating fans – who could be somehow accused of subjectivity when it comes to their favorite athletes – but to the figure skating specialists, very much acquainted with the ISU Code of Points, the scoring system currently used to judge figure skating disciplines. One of those people is Tim Gerber, former figure skater and, most importantly, a person who attended the ISU technical specialist seminar in the past; a seminar meant to provide full training for people to become technical specialists at competition. In this capacity, Tim Gerber has recently sent a letter via email to 33 figure skating office holders within the International Skating Union – including Alexander Lakernik, Technical Controller in the ladies’ event in Sochi – inquiring into the work done by the technical panel in this particular competition at the Winter Olympics.
by Florentina Tone
According to Tim Gerber’s analysis – reviewed by two other ISU-certified technical specialists – the level calls for the step sequence of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim (in the free program) were both wrong (the Russian received a Level 4 and the South Korean, a Level 3, when, in fact, it should have been completely opposite); and wrong was also the judgement of Sotnikova’s Triple Lutz + Triple Toeloop combination: “Sotnikova clearly has a wrong edge flutz takeoff on her Lutz. She has had this technique problem her entire career. How can it be that the tech panel suddenly missed it? Her edge clearly changes over as she takes off for the jump. Furthermore, the Triple Toeloop in combination with the Lutz was obviously underrotated”.
The levels of the step sequence for both skaters, the flutz takeoff, the underrotated Toeloop… Tim Gerber summarizes: “This is a total of 4 wrong calls that the technical panel made, which were all in the benefit of Sotnikova. She also received insanely high and incorrect scores from the judging panel – who on Earth could ever give Sotnikova’s step sequence +3 GOE when she has so many sloppy edges, lack of flow between movements, and very little rhythmic timing of her movements? All of these incorrect marks look like far more than honest mistakes or being generous to a young girl who skated well in front of a home audience. It looks like cheating. There is no explanation other than complete incompetence by the both the technical panel and the judges”.
Requiring to know “exactly which duties each tech panel member took at these Sochi Olympics and what calls they made” – because, as Tim Gerber puts it, “People deserve to know if a mistake was made” – the letter was sent via email to 33 figure skating office holders within the International Skating Union, including Mr. Alexander Lakernik, Technical Controller in the ladies’ event at 2014 Sochi Olympics. Up to this point, no answer was received from any of the recipients.
Given the huge interest the ladies’ event in Sochi still holds a month after its conclusion and given the legitimate questions raised in the letter, we asked for Mr. Gerber’s permission to share the document to a wider audience. Here it is, in its entirety, exactly as it was sent to all the figure skating office holders within the ISU:
“Hello my figure skating associates,
We need to talk about how poorly the tech panel did their job at the Sochi Olympics. For the moment let us center the discussion around the Ladies’ event, specifically the calls made for the top 2 skaters.
The first issue I want to talk about are how the step sequence levels were called for Adelina Sotnikova and Yu-Na Kim – Sotnikova received a Level 4 and Yu-Na received a Level 3. However, all the analysis that I have done, and other experts have done, shows that these level calls were wrong. Sotnikova should have only received a Level 3 and Yu-Na should have received a Level 4. You can find full analysis, posted for the public to see, here – http://www.goldenskate.com/forum/showthread.php?49801-Analyzing-Sotnikova-and-Kim-s-footwork-in-the-FS
How can it be that Sotnikova’s step sequence was given a Level 4 by this tech panel when she clearly had incomplete edges and steps and has only received a Level 3 on it all year long in every other competition she competed in? How can Yu-Na Kim’s step sequence have been given a Level 3 when she had far more content in and met or exceeded all of the criteria to receive a Level 4? This step sequence is very complex and has very clear edges.
Each tech panel splits up the duties of looking at the step sequence and each of the 3 members of the panel looks at a different criteria to determine what level the sequence should be called as. I would like to know exactly which duties each tech panel member took at these Sochi Olympics and what calls they made. People deserve to know if a mistake was made. At the very least, technical panels in the future can learn from the poor judgements made here and improve upon their work.
The next technical panel issue at these Olympics was the judgement of Sotnikova’s Triple Lutz + Triple Toeloop combination. Sotnikova clearly has a wrong edge flutz takeoff on her Lutz. She has had this technique problem her entire career. How can it be that the tech panel suddenly missed it? Her edge clearly changes over as she takes off for the jump. Furthermore, the Triple Toeloop in combination with the Lutz was obviously underrotated. Her blade is fully pressing into the ice at a point that is significantly short of the 90 degree allowance skaters are given. She takes off for the jump facing 90 degrees away from the board where the tech panel is sitting, which means her skate should land on the ice directly facing the tech panel in order to receive full credit. Her blade clearly comes short of that point. This is yet another technique issue Sotnikova has had for her entire career. She has never been credited with a fully rotated Triple Lutz + Triple Toeloop combination, ever. Until these Sochi Olympics. How can this be, when the jump was cheated without a doubt?
This is a total of 4 wrong calls that the technical panel made, which were all in the benefit of Sotnikova. She also received insanely high and incorrect scores from the judging panel – who on Earth could ever give Sotnikova’s step sequence +3 GOE when she has so many sloppy edges, lack of flow between movements, and very little rhythmic timing of her movements? All of these incorrect marks look like far more than honest mistakes or being generous to a young girl who skated well in front of a home audience. It looks like cheating. There is no explanation other than complete incompetence by the both the technical panel and the judges.
If the sport is going to continue with success, these things can not continue happening. For a moment let us put aside the talking of cheating. Let us assume none of the judges or technical panel members were bribed or threatened by Russians to skew the outcome of the event. What can be done to make everything more clear and less open to possible corruption? The technical panels need be trained better. The judges need to be trained better. The judges can not be anonymous. The scoring system needs many more modifications. There is no reason that footwork sequences need to be this overly complex. It detracts from the actual choreography of programs and makes judging decisions impossible to decipher while competition is happening.
Thank you for reading.”
Who is Tim Gerber, the author of the letter to ISU
In addition to the document, Inside Skating publishes a short interview with Tim Gerber, in order to better understand the circumstances in which the letter to ISU was written.
Mr. Gerber, for a better understanding of your letter, a brief description of you and your figure skating experience might prove useful…
I trained as a figure skater for many years and had all jumps up through Triple Lutz. In 2010, I was given the opportunity to attend the technical specialist training courses. It was there that I saw the ISU does not provide good enough training and does not even seem to fully understand its own scoring system.
I have independently studied figure skating history and technique to an extensive degree, as well as choreography.
What do you mean by “ISU does not provide good enough training”? Would you care to elaborate on that?
The seminar was a 3 day course that is meant to provide full training for people to become technical specialists at competitions. There are two per year in the U.S. on this scale, if I recall correctly. Many examples are provided of how to identify elements, but what I found glaring is that there is no actual scientific basis that is taught for determining how to judge the jump rotation of competitors. Figure skating jumps are very much a science, with an identifiable amount of air rotation that can be measured. This ISU course provided only cloudy explanations of how jumps should be judged as underrotated or not, without teaching people to look at the actual takeoff point of the jump and compare it to the actual landing point.
Similarly, the rules for determining “difficult variations” for spin levels are not consistent. It is taught that a spin position must display full usage of the body core in order to quality as a difficult variation and yet there are many spin positions which are not considered as such, even though they DO display such control from the skater. The classic layback position with a fully arched back and free leg held parallel to the ice, the sit spin position with straight back and fully extended free leg, the upright scratch spin, and the classic camel position with a fully extended free leg and ample arch between the back and leg – all of these positions are only considered “basic” positions and do not count for points even though they DO satisfy the requirement of needing to fully utilize the body core in order to achieve them.
Did you actually use your knowledge in a figure skating technical panel?
I have not participated as a technical panel member for any ISU events and I am not currently working with any skaters, but I have done some coaching and choreography for low-level skaters in the past. In late 2012, I decided that I would not currently be able to continue pursuing figure skating as a professional career, as there were not enough opportunities for me to make a living doing it. Throughout my entire skating career, I have paid my own way without any help from my family or sponsors at all. All of my own earnings from other jobs, ever since the time I was a teenager, have funded my skating. This is completely unheard of in the figure skating world and severely limited my opportunity to compete at the highest levels and thus gain a bigger name in the skating world. I am currently the business manager for a design company in Hollywood.
Who was the letter addressed to? Any feedback from the recipients?
My letter was sent to all of the figure skating office holders within the International Skating Union. Mr. Lakernik, who was on the technical panel in the Ladies’ competition at the Olympics, is one of those office holders. He is the head of the technical committee for singles and pairs skating. In total, my letter was sent via email to 33 ISU office holders, all on the same email. So far I have not received any responses from them.
Also, on a related note, this is not the first time I have sent materials to the ISU (although this is the first time I have sent such an “incendiary” letter directly to the ISU office holders). For many years I have been critical of the scoring system and tried to take an active role in submitting proposals to the ISU that can improve the system. Some of my proposals have successfully reached the ISU congress and been voted into law.
At the beginning of the letter you say that other experts agree with you on the fact the level calls were wrong…
Two other ISU-certified technical specialists have reviewed the work I did in examining the technical calls made for Adelina Sotnikova and Yu-Na Kim and they both agreed with my findings.
To summarize, what was (is) the purpose of the letter? Actually, after having it sent to the ISU, you tried to popularize it among other people in the figure skating world…
The purpose of the letter was to inform others in the skating community about just how poorly the competition was called by the technical panel (and how poorly it was judged). Many skating experts had a natural reaction that the result was wrong, but there hasn’t been enough actual analysis done. In the days following the competition, there was a feeling of “resigning” the argument because of talk about how Sotnikova played the judging system better than Yu-Na Kim and deserved to win more points because of the rules we have in place (that does NOT mean that the rules are good, of course). However, this is not correct at all. Even based upon the current rules in place, Sotnikova did not deserve to win the competition. The actual elements were called incorrectly by the technical panel and the judges’ GOE and PCS scores were completely out of place in many instances.
Because of how poorly the technical panel did their job, and how poorly the judges did their job (everyone is still wondering exactly how a judge who was formerly banned for cheating could ever be allowed to judge at an international competition ever again), it very much creates possible evidence of cheating. If members of this technical panel and judging panel were not bribed/threatened to create the result they did, then the only explanation can be that they are incompetent at their jobs. If they are incompetent at their jobs, then they should no longer have them. Furthermore, I hope that my analysis shows flaws in the judging system (mainly the overly complex footwork sequences, in this case) that need to be improved.
For further reading: