A Short Critique on Men's Figure Skating
Right off the top, I am far from a skating expert and I am only a casual fan. That being said I hope I can present a logical opinion on the debate that is tearing apart the skating world.
If I had a nickel for every time NBC used the phrase "quality or quad," I could probably bail out the American economy. Everyone from skating greats to regular Joe's on the street had an opinion on the "Cold War." Whether or not Evan Lysacek and Evgeni Plushenko wanted to turn the men's competition into a battle royale, they did a hell of a job selling it.
I didn't watch the short programs but with the debate erupting, I decided to tune into the free skate, expecting some drama at the very least. Watching both men skate, I thought that Lysacek had a much cleaner skate. The scores came in, and Plushenko's slim short program lead disappeared, Lysacek was crowned champion.
Here's where the critique comes in.
Every one of the Russian's post-skate interviews contained references to how he believed he deserved gold, and how he was guaranteed a gold by the old rules. Every in-studio mention of Lysacek's win by NBC was followed by a quick cut to a skating legend (see Dick Button) or commentator validating Lysacek's performance, and enforcing "quality over quad."
I thought Lysacek skated cleaner, but clearly Plushenko's program included more difficult elements, so neither was guaranteed gold before it went to the judges. The judges chose Lysacek and Pluschenko hasn't let it go since.
Evgeni Plushenko can be excused for his shell-shocked comments immediately after losing, but continuing to speak about a style of judging that everyone was informed about prior to the tournament makes him look arrogant and crass. Plushenko should cherish his silver medal, which he earned after taking a two year break from skating after the last Olympics.
Now to the real problem. There is no doubt in my mind, that the performance given by Evan Lysacek, not attempting a quad, can not be favorably compared to the winning performances of Alexei Yagudin in 2002 or Plushenko in 2006. The skating world should not be celebrating the triumph of quantity, but be worried about what men's skating is becoming.
Ever since the rise of the quad in the late 80s and 90s, skaters have been striving to deliver the knockout blow in competition. And that's exactly what it would have been to Plushenko on Thursday night; a knockout blow to Lysacek. With the judging standards notwithstanding, if Plushenko landed all of his jumps on Thursday, I see no way that Lysacek can deserve gold.
Plushenko and other supporters of the quad like Elvis Stojko are now getting grilled in the realm of public opinion for making a point that seems inherently obvious. If you aren't trying to push further in a sport than those that came before you, why are you in it? Canadian Patrick Chan proclaimed before the Olympics even started that he wouldn't attempt the quad; a jump successfully landed by the past two Olympic champions. Of course you can not fault a man for his own choices, but it is astonishing that other skating legends are allowing skating to fall back to the standards of the past instead of pushing on to the future.
Dear ISU, I think skating should be rewarding innovation and pushing boundaries, and thus should change the judging criteria to give more weight to the quad. If no-one were to attempt a quad, men's skating would be like watching Nascar. The winner wouldn't be necessarily the best skater, but the the one who avoids the crashes and has a bit of luck. I know this doesn't sound like much coming from an occasional fan of skating, but the quest for the quad and for the unattainable has always been my main draw to skating, and I'd hate to see it go the way of the dodo bird.
Dear Evgeni Plushenko, please stop complaining about your well deserved silver medal. Just keep practicing that footwork, and polishing those quads and you will be back to the top in no time, so long as the judges avoid messing things up.
Finally, dear Evan Lysacek, please start practicing the quad. You are a great skater now, but perfecting the quad would make all the more complete. You would be doing a great service not only to yourself, but to the sport which you hold so dear. It's time to stop the fighting in men's skating, and to start fighting for men's skating.
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