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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A final goodbye to the 6.0 era

The Olympic season is now underway. While the results of this year's competitions might not be easy to predict, it is pretty certain that this will be the final season for many skaters, including some who have had exceptionally long careers. This is the end of an era not just because we, as fans, will bid farewell to many talented and entertaining performers, but also because this will essentially be the end of whatever link skating still has with the old 6.0 judging system.

There is a lot of good in the IJS, and some skaters have found ways to score well and skate interesting programs under it. But 6.0 remains, to me, a system that at its best produced skates that were more than the sum of their parts – something that the IJS does not (yet?) truly reward. With this post, I’d like to take a look at the remaining competitive skaters who skated in the days of 6.0.

Like so.

I'm going to define a 6.0 skater as someone(s) who competed internationally under the old system at the senior level; an * indicates a skater who competed at the 2002 Winter Olympics, without which the IJS might not have come to be. Extra credit goes to Evgeni Plushenko, Aliona Savchenko and Pang/Tong, who made their debuts in the 1990s. It's strange to think that you couldn't even Google Plushenko in his first years competing, because there was no Google.

Post-Google Plushenko competes in the 2002 Olympics

So, here's the list; my apologies if I missed anyone or got the wrong events for some of the skaters - I did rely on Wikipedia a fair bit.

Aliona Savchenko* (with Stanislav Morozov). Debut senior event: 1999 Nebelhorn Trophy (1st). Best 6.0 result: 2000 JW champion.
Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, along with coach/choreographer Ingo Steuer, have shown that it is possible to create interesting, original and entertaining programs under the IJS. Their retirement will be a major blow to pairs skating as a sport and an art form.

Yuko Kavaguti (with Alexander Markuntsov). Debut event: 2001 Four Continents (8th). Best 6.0 results: 2001 JW silver medalist, won a JGP as a singles skater.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong*. Debut event: 1999 Winter Universiade (2nd). Best 6.0 results: 2002 and 2004 4CC Champions.
The length of their career defies belief and medical reason. I wish them much success and good health in the future.

Pang and Tong at the last 6.0 Worlds

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat. Debut event: 2002 Skate Canada (11th). Best 6.0 result: bronze medalists at the 2003 Winter Universiade.
The last of the 6.0 dance teams does have something of a old school approach; while P/B have made great technical strides over the years and can certainly do all that the IJS requires, their programs are very concept-driven and at times theatrical (though happily, not in the high-drama, death on ice sense of it). I am really looking forward to their swan song, The Little Prince FD.

Evgeni Plushenko*. Debut event: 1996 Finlandia Trophy (7th!!! But he was very young). Best 6.0 results: 2002 Olympic silver medalist, three-time world champion (2001, 2003-4).
What more can be said? Plushenko is a legend. His consistency and ability to compete successfully at the highest levels, regardless of age, health, or judging system, is incredible. Although many skating fans and commentators have criticized his skating and programs as too old school, it should be noted that Plushenko was one of the first skaters to receive a level 4 on a step sequence, and set scoring records that stood for several years. He received 6.0s at multiple events, and has defeated skaters born in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Now that's a career. (true fact: Emanuel Sandhu has also accomplished the latter feat).

Brian Joubert*. Debut event: 2001 Skate America (9th). Best 6.0 results: 2004 European Champion and World silver medalist.
Joubert, like Plushenko, was successful under both 6.0 and the IJS; although considered by many to be a 6.0 skater, his best results have actually been under the current system. That said, I believe Joubert would have likely been more successful and especially more consistent if 6.0 had remained in place. But at least he improved his spins greatly, and even received very good marks (his PB, in fact) for a true 6.0 program: although it was tinkered with in its return, The Matrix was originally choreographed in 2003.

The Matrix, first time around

Daisuke Takahashi. Debut event: 2002 Bofrost Cup (11th!). Best 6.0 result: 2002 JW champion.
Takahashi and Carolina Kostner are probably the best examples of skaters who transitioned well from the system they originally trained for to the current one, so much so that you'd never know they did not grow up with it all along. Takahashi is not quite an ideal IJS skater, being prone to underrotations - but he can be awfully close to it, without sacrificing his presentation and individual expression.

Tomas Verner. Debut event: 2001 Nebelhorn Trophy (15th). Best 6.0 result: won a JGP. Tommy could have been a contender; he certainly had the talent for it, and showed occasional flashes of brilliance. Occasional, unfortunately, being the operative word. Perhaps in his final season he might surprise us? He did skate well at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

Carolina Kostner. Debut event: 2002 Gardena Spring Trophy (4th). Best 6.0 results: 4th place at the 2003 European Championships; won two senior Bs and a JGP, medalled at JW.
Kostner would have succeeded under either system, but the IJS better rewards her skills and strengths and has probably helped prolong her amazing career. Kostner's artistic growth over the years has been impressive, and the same is true for her willingness to challenge herself with interesting music choices and choreography. But her older programs and early skating were very good, too! She should have her own post.

6.0-era Carolina Kostner: lovely!

Miki Ando: Debut and only 6.0 event: 2004 Worlds (why not aim high? She was 4th). Best 6.0 result: that, and also she won everything there was to win as a junior, and was credited for landing a quadruple Salchow at the 2002-3 Junior Grand Prix Final. How many ladies have landed a quad, won Worlds (twice) and junior Worlds, and also medalled in international competition mere months after having a baby? That's right: only Miki.

Akiko Suzuki. Debut and only 6.0 event: 2002 Four Continents (8th).
Jenna McCorkell. Debut event: 2002 Nebelhorn Trophy (9th). Best 6.0 result: a JGP medal.
Valentina Marchei. Debut event: 2003 Merano Cup (2nd). This was probably her best result under the old system.

Not all of these skaters have had amazing careers, but all have shown impressive longevity while dealing with the change from one judging system to another - and the many changes within the current system over the past decade. In many cases, their retirement will leave behind a less interesting and entertaining sport, and I will miss quite a few of them.

Note: Hao Zhang and Tatiana Volosozhar competed under 6.0 with previous partners; both might continue post-Sochi. Evan Lysacek competed under the old system but I’ll count him as an active skater when he completes an actual program in an actual competition.

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