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Friday, January 10, 2014

Are minimum scores really a good idea?

Ireland's Clara Peters was unsuccessful in her final bid to meet the minimum technical score for the European Championships. She is not the only skater who will have to sit out a major event because of this, but her case is especially unfortunate as she missed the SP standard by a mere 0.03 points. That hurts. Peters has been improving steadily though not rapidly, and I would have liked to see her get a chance to compete in Budapest.

Peters at 2012 Worlds, before the minimum score requirement

Over the years, the ISU has experimented with various qualification standards for its championships: there were qualifying round for everyone (Stephane Lambiel's winning margin in 2006 ultimately came mainly from a strong QR performance). Then this was discontinued, and for several years fields swelled to unmanageable sizes, sometimes exceeding 50 skaters in the short program - one cannot help but feel for the judges and technical panels forced to watch. Since this was clearly too much, the QR was brought back, but countries could qualify a number of byes for this round, leaving only lower ranked skaters to compete in this round. These were not necessarily unaccomplished skaters: Evgeni Plushenko, for instance, skated three programs on his way to winning 2012 Europeans because he was the lowest-ranked Russian, while silver and bronze medalists Artur Gachinski and Florent Amodio only did two. One year earlier, Takahiko Kozuka had to skate three programs at Worlds as the lowest-ranked Japanese man. Patrick Chan, who beat him to win the first of his World titles, skated two.

That did not last long, either. Then came the minimum scores, and this too seems an imperfect system. It's fine for the ISU to require some level of technical skill in order to compete at major events. However, ISU Championships are also important for developing the sport and allowing skaters from smaller federations to learn by competing against the best. They can't get that from the Grand Prix, because they're not invited, and they can't get that from Senior Bs, because the fields are usually not that strong. It's important to provide skaters this opportunity and to give them something to strive for. Is a completely arbitrary scoring threshold the way to go, or would it perhaps be better to require mastery of certain technical elements instead? Perhaps Worlds could require some sort of minimum, while the continental championships do not? Accept skaters if they can make the minimum for at least one segment? I'd really like to see a more creative approach to qualifying than the one currently being taken.

Bin Yao famously got his start finishing dead last at the 1980 Worlds and the 1984 Olympics before going on to a highly successful coaching career. Javier Fernandez got nowhere in his first few seasons as a senior; now he is one of the best in the world. Even if other skaters won't go as far, there are some who can have respectable careers - and they have to start somewhere to do so.


  1. As an Irish skating fan, you can imagine how I feel about this! Why could the judges not taken a moment before publishing the marks & find an extra 0.03 of a point? Even swap it off the PCS's? She has had the FS mark more than once, I think, so its not like she is terrible....Another sad thing is that she has her highest mark this season by not attempting a triple - what does that say about CoP?? Sheena

  2. I didn't know that last part. On the one hand, it's unfortunate, but on the other, it suggests that she's done some good work on non-jump elements?

    I am sure that there will be weaker skaters than Clara Peters at Euros, because scoring varies so much between competitions.