Something is rotten in the state of Sochi: analyzing Ladies’ short program

The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi reached an end last night – but what stays in the minds of many is the huge controversy in the ladies’ figure skating event, showing resemblance to the pairs’ scandal in Salt Lake City-2002, which led, eventually, to a radical change in the way figure skating was judged.

By now, more than 2 million people have signed a petition demanding open transparent scores and removing anonymity from the judging decisions of Women’s figure skating at the Sochi Olympics. Furthermore, according to The Associated Press, the South Korean Olympic Committee has protested the results of the women’s figure skating competition; on the other hand, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said any figure skating protest was a matter for the ISU to handle – but the ISU rules require that any protests to be filed within 30 minutes of an event; and they haven’t received anything. To me, that’s just throwing a serious issue from one institution to another, hoping it would eventually disappear, instead of hitting the nail on the head. And If I may say so, IOC needs to show involvement and address the judging quality during the ladies’ event (both short and free); after all, South Korea does host, in 2018, in PyeongChang, the next edition of the Winter Olympic Games and the controversial result in the ladies’ figure skating event might prove to be already an obstacle to good relations between IOC and South Korean Olympic Committee.

Why have I said “the judging quality during the ladies’ event (both short and free)”? Because, to me, the chain of questionable judging started, in fact, during the short program of the ladies, on February 19. Let’s have a recap of that particular event, shall we?

by Florentina Tone

Yuna Kim, during the most successful season of her career (2010 Words in Torino; a month earlier, she had won the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver)

Yuna Kim, during the most successful season of her career (2010 Words in Torino; a month earlier, she had won the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver)

Were the three ladies really in a tie after the short program?
At 21:24 local time, Yuna Kim, the Olympic champion from Vancouver-2010, takes the ice of the Iceberg Skating Palace for her short program; the evening is still young: Yuna is 17th on the start list, from a total of 30 skaters. Having the experience of many figure skating events, some fans say the start order for Yuna Kim is not that convenient: after all, the judges tend to be less generous with their scores in this part of the event, waiting for great things to happen mostly in the last two groups. Of course, with the new judging system, implemented a few years after the Salt Lake City’ scandal in 2002, this shouldn’t be a issue: in theory, judges should assess what happens in front of their eyes at a given time; and their scores shouldn’t depend on the moment a certain skater takes the ice.

Performing another memorable routine – Yuna Kim and David Wilson, the choreographer, chose “Send in the clowns” for the short program –, the South Korean skater is rewarded 74.92 points, a Season Best for this particular segment of the ladies’ event. Still, Yuna nods her head as in “so and so” seeing the scores – she probably knows that the Russian wonderkid, Julia Lipnitskaia, received 72.90 points for her short program during the Team Event; and Julia and her other fierce competitors, like Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner, Ashley Wagner, will take the ice an hour later.

Around 23:00, Carolina Kostner receives her scores for an amazing short program, skated on “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert. The Italian skated her heart out in Sochi – and was rewarded accordingly: 74.12 points, 0.80 behind Yuna Kim. Skating penultimate, in the loudly cheers of the crowd, the Russian Adelina Sotnikova is on fire: she delivers an energetic routine, on “Carmen” by Bizet, and when the scores appear she’s over the moon. 74.64 points for Adelina – and she’s second after the short, breathing down Yuna’s neck.

With the scores ranging within the same area – 74.92 for Yuna, 74.64 for Adelina and 74.12 for Carolina – the three ladies seem practically in a tie, a day before the free program. Looking retrospectively at what happened during the last couple of days – with so many people saying (me included) that Yuna Kim was denied her second Olympic gold – I have to ask myself: were they really in a tie after the short?

Yuna Kim, Adelina Sotnikova, Carolina Kostner

Yuna Kim, Adelina Sotnikova, Carolina Kostner

Analyzing the scoring sheets, I did find some discrepancies, some little question which need to be addressed. What I’m saying is the fact that though she skated wonderfully on February 19, Yuna Kim started already to lose ground in her attempt to win a second Olympic gold medal. Yet, she didn’t lose ground because she skated poorly her short program – but because Adelina Sotnikova seemed to have already benefited from the home ground advantage, experiencing an unexplainable boom in her Program Components scores (comparing to her previous competitions) and receiving more bonus points from the judges (for her Grade of Execution) than Yuna Kim and Carolina Kostner, who executed flawlessly their jumps and, most importantly, had a bigger base value for their technical elements. Let’s take a thorough look at their scores: TES (Total Element Score) and PCS (Program Component Score).

1 Yuna Kim Short

2 Adelina Sotnikova Short

3 Carolina Kostner Short

Total Element Score (TES)
Pease take note that, according to the scoring sheets, Adelina Sotnikova had the lowest base value of her planned technical elements, compared to Carolina’s (0.10 difference), but also to Yuna’s (1 point difference); but the base value was, of course, influenced by the levels the skaters received for spins and step sequences – and Adelina Sotnikova was the only one to receive level 4 for all the elements.

At the end of the night, that difference was completely lost, due to the bonuses Adelina was awarded: according to the scores received for TES (Total Element Score), Adelina Sotnikova outskated Carolina Kostner by a large margin (39.09 points vs. 37.49 points), but also Yuna Kim (39.09 points vs. 39.03; bye, bye that one point difference that made Yuna’s program more difficult from a technical point of view).

Let’s have a look at the base values of the three ladies, from the lowest to the biggest, considering also the bonuses points received from the judges for the executed technical elements:

Adelina Sotnikova had a base value of 30.43 for her elements – and, with the points for Grade of Execution (GOE), she was given 39.09 in the end (8.66 points bonus).

Carolina Kostner had a base value of 30.53 for her elements – and, with the points for GOE, she received 37.49 in the end (6.96 points bonus).

Yuna Kim had the biggest base value – 31.43 – and she received in the end 39.03 (a bonus of 7.6 points). The South Korean skater did have a 3Lutz-3Toe combination (10.10 base value), compared to Carolina Kostner’s 3Flip-3Toe combination (9.40 base value); Adelina had, in fact, a 3Toe-3Toe combination, with the lowest base value of all three (8.20).

Scrutinizing the scoring sheets and thoroughly discussing the bonuses (GOE) the ladies have received for their short programs, we do find some discrepancies that, in a way, help us understand the result of the night and the things following. Namely, for the same particular element executed by the two or three ladies, Adelina Sotnikova received, in most of the cases, the biggest bonus; in other words, the Russian seemed to have been the best executants of the elements in question. Let’s see:

• For the triple Flip (3F) having a base value of 5.30 points, Yuna Kim received a bonus of 1.10 points and Adelina Sotnikova, a bonus of 1.20 points.

• For the double Axel (2A), Carolina Kostner received a 0.64 bonus and Adelina Sotnikova, a bonus of 1 point (for the same Yuna Kim did receive 1.07 – but this is the only case she received a bigger bonus compared to Adelina).

• You can’t really compare the combinations of jumps (given the fact that they were different), but we can note the fact that Adelina got the biggest bonus among the three (for her 3Toe-3Toe, the Russian received a 1.60 bonus, for her 3Lutz-3Toe, Yuna got 1.50 bonus and for her 3Flip-3Toe, Carolina got the same bonus as Yuna, 1.50).

• Yuna Kim seemed to have lost a lot of ground to Adelina Sotnikova during the sort program due to the fact she was given lower levels (3) to her LSp (Layback Spin) and StSq (Step Sequence) comparing to the 4 level received by Adelina Sotnikova for the same elements. All in all, the Russian was awarded 9.10 points for these two elements (bonus included), while the South Korean skater received 7.63; for the same two elements, Layback Spin and Step Sequence, level 3 for her too, Carolina Kostner was given 7.91 points. And though I cannot contest her spins (Adelina is remarkable on that chapter), I can’t help myself wonder if she’s the only one among the three able to pull a level 4 step sequence…

If we’re taking the scoring sheets one by one, I have to say that I’m a little bit amazed by the fact Yuna’s triple Flip (3F) got a 0 (zero) bonus from the judge number 6 (and the jump was perfectly executed and it definitely should have gotten a bonus); or by the fact that the judge number 1 was pretty consistent in giving Carolina Kostner lower points than his colleagues for every element in the program (but maybe that’s just me being picky…).

Adelina Sotnikova, skating her short program at the 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard (November)

Adelina Sotnikova, skating her short program at the 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard (November)

Program Components Score (PCS)
Moving ahead to the Program Components Score, I have to say that I’m amazed. Once again, these three ladies seem practically on the same page: Yuna Kim received 35.89 points, Adelina Sotnikova – 35.55 points and Carolina Kostner – 36.63 points. And though I do not doubt the scores of Yuna and Carolina, I’m afraid I’m stunned by the Russian’s sudden increase (and improvement) when it comes to her Program Components.

Yes, she nailed a wonderful short program in Sochi, yes, she was a Carmen full of energy, but someone please explain to me why skating the same program all along the season her Program Component Scores were a lot smaller than those? Of course, the Performance and Interpretation indicators might improve from one routine to the other, but Transitions, Skating Skills, Choreography of the program, all of those don’t change in a matter of weeks (unless you radically change the routine…). I need to ask myself, as Kurt Browning did after the Ladies’ free program: “What, suddenly, she just became a better skater overnight?”

Allow me to express my disbelief apropos of the scores Adelina received for her Components, using some additional pieces of information:

• At the 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard, in November, Adelina Sotnikova was third after the short program, behind Ashley Wagner and Anna Pogorilaya. She received then 30.77 points for PCS, namely: 7.71 for Skating Skills, 7.48 for Transitions, 7.75 for Performance, 7.79 for Choreography and 7.75 for Interpretation (but, then again, that was a flawed performance). So, back then, she was a 7-score girl when it comes to PCS.

• At the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, in December, Adelina was second after the short program, behind the Japanese Mao Asada. This time, her program was very good – but she received almost the same score for her Components as in Paris: 30.85 points (7.57 for her Skating Skills, 7.46 for Transitions, 7.89 for Performance, 7.71 for Choreography, 7.93 for Interpretation). Once again, 7.

• At the 2014 Europeans in Budapest, in January, Adelina Sotnikova nailed a wonderful short program – she was actually in the lead after the first segment of the event; and she did experience a considerable increase of her PCS (and some have questioned that increase, hers and Julia Lipnitskaia’s, at that particular moment…). The Russian received 33.58 points for her Program Components: 8.32 for Skating Skills, 8.07 for Transitions, 8.64 for Performance, 8.32 for Choreography and 8.61 for Interpretation. In January, she was an 8-score girl when it comes to components.

• On February 19, during the Olympic ladies’ short program, Adelina Sotnikova received 35.55 points for her PCS, only 0.34 points behind the Olympic champion from Vancouver, Yuna Kim. This time, Adelina almost surpassed the 8-barrier, rapidly evolving into a 9 score-girl when it comes to PCS: 8.82 for Skating Skills, 8.57 for Transitions, 9.11 for Performance, 8.89 for Choreography and 9.04 for Interpretation (see the scoring sheet).

2 Adelina Sotnikova Short

Looking at this particular scoring sheet, there are some questionable things that need to be addressed. For example, I’d like to meet Judge number 1, who gave Adelina a perfect set of scores for Program Components: 9.50 for Skating Skills, 9.25 for Transitions, 9.75 for Performance, 9.50 for Choreography and 9.75 for Interpretation.
And I’d also like to meet Judge number 7, with a similar set of scores for Adelina’s components: 9.25 – 9.00 – 9.75 – 9.25 – 9.50.

With those two judges on mind – 1 and 7 – let’s move to Yuna Kim’s scoring sheet for her short program. Study case: Program Components. We do know the skating quality of Yuna Kim: she’s the Olympic champion from Vancouver-2010, with flawless performances, both technically and artistically, over the years. So where do judges number 1 and 7 stand when it comes to Yuna’s Program Components of her short program in Sochi? You’ll find the answer troublesome.

1 Yuna Kim Short

It seems that Judge number 1 was really preparing himself/herself for another great performance of the night, that of Adelina (she was 29th on the start list), deciding to award Yuna scores that make you laugh at; but it’s a nervous laughter, let me tell you. 8.25 for Skating Skills? 8.00 for Transitions? 8.00 for Performance? 7.75 for Choreography? 8.50 for Interpretation? Is Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic Champion and the 2013 World Champion, a 7-8 score-girl now when it comes to PCS? Has the judge number 1 fallen asleep? Has he/she lost his/her glasses? I want to meet him/her and borrow a pair…
The same applies to Judge number 7, awarding Yuna Kim 8.50 for Skating Skills, 7.75 for Transitions, 8.50 for Performance, 8.00 for Choreography and 8.25 for Interpretation.

These two judges are obviously out of line, acting in complete discrepancy with the things happening on the ice. Need I say more?
(Of course, given the anonymity of the judging system in figure skating, I can’t be sure that the judges 1 and 7 from Adelina’s sheet are the same with the judges 1 and 7 from Yuna’s sheet; I can only assume they are…)

Carolina Kostner skating her "Bolero" in Budapest (2014 Europeans, January)

Carolina Kostner skating her “Bolero” in Budapest (2014 Europeans, January)

The ladies’ free program: another set of questions
As for the free program of the ladies – and the final (and controversial) result, I’ve already discussed the issue three days ago, in an article named “The Ladies’Final: an Olympic masquerade”. To summarize, here’s some key points:

Again, huge Program Components Scores for Adelina Sotnikova; she actually outscored Carolina Kostner in that department: 9.18 vs. 9.14 for Skating Skills; 8.96 vs. 8.71 for Transitions; 9.43 vs. 9.43 for the Performance; 9.50 vs. 9.21 for Choreography; 9.43 vs. 9.61 for Interpretation. So, except for the Interpretation part it seems the Russian was superior to Carolina Kostner when it comes to artistry. I’m not sure I find this possible. And if we were to believe the judges, Yuna Kim and Adelina Sotnikova have pretty much the same Program Components: 74.50 points vs. 74.41 points. I’m not sure I believe that either.

Again, it looks like Adelina Sotnikova managed to improve tremendously when it comes to the Program Components in a matter of weeks. At the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, in December, the 17-year-old Russian only managed 60.47 points for Program Components in the free program (but, back then, her free program was flawed). On the other hand, at the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard, in November, Adelina won the free program – and was awarded, for a great performance, 64.65 points, while at the 2014 Europeans, in Budapest, she got a 69.60. As in Julia Lipnitskaia’s case, Adelina’s Program Components scores really exploded during the Europeans – for the same program skated throughout the season – and experienced a boom during the Olympics: 74.41 points for Adelina, compared to those 73.77 of Carolina’s.

This time, according to the scoring sheets, Adelina Sotnikova had indeed a bigger base value (61.43 points) of her elements than her opponents (57.49 points Yuna and 58.45 points Carolina). But, then again, Adelina got 14.11 points bonus for her elements, while Carolina got only 10.34 points and Yuna Kim, 12.2 points. Let’s see some examples:

• For the 3Flip, Adelina got a 1.50 point bonus, while Yuna got 1.20.
• For the 2Axel-3Toeloop, Adelina got a 1.80 bonus, while Carolina got 1.30.
• For the 3Salchow, Adelina got a 1.20 bonus, Yuna got 0.90 and Carolina, 1.10.
• For the 2Axel, Adelina got 1.07 bonus, while Yuna got 0.79…

And, judges, do make up your mind: attempting her first combination in the program, did Adelina Sotnikova jump a triple Lutz (3Lz-3Toe) or a triple Flutz? It is completely unacceptable to receive at the Grade of Execution points starting with -1 (as for a Flutz) and ending with +3 (as if it were a perfect triple Lutz…) And if I may add something else, it’s seem that the Judge number 7 really liked Adelina’s performance: except for a -1 (for the mistake on the double Loop) and a +2 for a step sequence, this particular judge gave the Russian only +3 for the Grade of Execution – and the same applies for the Program Components (9.50 – 9.50 – 9.75 – 9.75 – 9.75).

1. Adelina Free

I’ll give you the scoring sheets of both Yuna Kim (Olympic silver medal) and Carolina Kostner (Olympic bronze medal) for further study and stop here. In a normal world, these discrepancies would be enough for initiating an investigation. But, then again, this is not a normal world.

2. Yuna Free

4. Carolina

Sonia Bianchetti, former Olympic referee, member and chairman of the Figure Skating Committee of ISU from 1967 to 1988, writes in her analysis of the ladies’ event at the Olympics that “we can only hope that the ISU will not close its eyes and will open the famous safe where the real protocols are kept and will assess the proper sanction”.