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Communication No. 1611: A look at the new underrotation situation

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Last week, the International Skating Union quietly released Communication No. 1611, which set forth some new guidelines for skating in the scale of values and grade of execution points.  The whole situation is a tad confusing to me, since it's separate from the agenda that will be voted on at the big ISU meeting in Barcelona next month, but I gave the ISU a call and they told me that 1611 is official.   US Figure Skating stated on its website that it will make an announcement about when these rules will be implemented.

Anyway, Communications No. 1611 talks about a lot of things (including some changes to the levels of various moves) but the one item I'm going to discuss right now are the changes to the underrotation/downgrades. 

Here is my crude breakdown of the new downgrade rules.  I italicize the new distinctions:

A jump/throw with full rotation is missing a turn of 1/4 revolution or less.

A jump/throw will be considering underrotated if it is missing rotation of more than 1/4 but less than 1/2 revolution.  It will receive the "<" symbol.  That underrotated jump will receive a reduced base value (70 percent of the base value of the intended jump rounded to the nearest tenth).  The grade of execution (GOE) values applied to the jump will equal those applied to the intended jump or throw.

A jump/throw will be considered downgraded if it is missing rotation of 1/2 revolutions or more.  It will receive a "<<" symbol.  The jump/throw will be evaluated per the scale of values for a jump of one rotation less.

The underrotated/downgraded jumps will be considered the "intended" jump/throw with regard to the well balanced program requirements (which put limits/requirements on the number and types of jumps and whether they must be done in combination, etc.).

These rules add that underrotated distinction; the most recent incarnation of the judging system had all jumps missing more than 1/4 revolutions counting as downgraded and being scored as a jump of one rotation less.  This rule change could make a lot of difference in upcoming competitions.

There are several schools of thought on the rule change - some like it, some hate it...some are indifferent.  Here are some of the schools:

The Purist

The purist believes a "cheated" jump is just that - cheating.  A jump that is not truly a triple should not receive credit for a triple.  Skaters who have the ability to fully rotate those jumps are more proficient than other skaters and should be rewarded for getting the elements done correctly.  This may undervalue the importance of fully rotating jumps. 

You might be a purist if:  You favorited the youtube video of the CBC's breakdown of Sarah Hughes' possible "cheats" in the 2002 Olympic free skate.

The Skating Politics as Usual/Conspiracy Theorist

This group may see this as a play by the powerful supporters of countries with skaters who are having underrotation issues to make their skaters more competitive.  Or even a way to make certain skaters less dominant...perhaps it is more about making the competition more exciting than about the quality of the skating as a whole.  This group has a wide range of memberes and not everyone who thinks skating is influenced by politics is also a conspiracy theorist.

You might be a Politics as Usual theorist if:  You know which countries have the biggest deals with the ISU and provide the most skating sponsorship money. 

You might be a conspiracy theorist if:  You favorite those videos about how Mao Asada cuts Yu-na Kim off in practice.

The Middle Grounders/Future of figure skating as a spectator sport folks

This group does not think that a slightly underrotated triple axel (for example) should receive as low a score as a double axel, which is clearly a much easier jump.  They are also concerned that the downgrades in recent years have become confusing to the audiences in the arenas and at home, because they are not something that can be seen except in super slow motion.  And sometimes even the commentators cannot explain the downgrades. 

You might be a middle grounder if:  You favorited Mirai Nagasu's 2010 Nationals free skate...and thought it was better than her Olympic free skate...or you spent time at your DVR trying to pinpoint Rachael Flatt's Olympic downgrades (hypothetical. Totally hypothetical.  heh).

The Had Enough crowd

This group thinks that the constant rule changes are bad for the sport, and no matter whether they are done for the good of the competition or not, they come off as an admission that certain skaters should be scored differently or that the system is corrupt or flawed...and the changes discount prior competitions.  They think you should pick a rule book and stick with it.

You might be a Had Enough crowd member if:  You think skating should never have changed its rules after the 2002 scandals.  And you are confused as to why anonymous judging would ever have been a good idea.  heh.

The this all just proves skating is not a sport crowd

You can't trust a sport that needs this many rules just for JUDGES to figure out who is the winner. 

You might be a member of the skating is not a sport crowd if:  You have no soul!  Get off my blog!

(note:  I am mostly kidding with the examples, so please don't take offense).

I have to admit, I am a middle grounder, but I probably have a bit of each of the other categories in me as well.  I don't see everything through a veil of whether it will help Mao Asada or Yu-na Kim, which is how most things appear to be viewed in the skating world right now, and to be honest I find that a bit annoying (or does that make me naive?). (Particularly since just about every female skater that I can think of received at least one downgrade this season).  I am one of those people who dont think that landing a slightly underrotated triple is the same thing as just trying a double. 

I also think that although this provides YET ANOTHER rule to be explained to spectators, which does not help with an already overcomplicated judging situation, it's a rule that might help viewers in the long run.  Too many skaters appear to present perfect programs only to receive scores that are inexplicable to the crowd.  Later we find out that the skater received numerous downgrades on jumps that looked more like triples than doubles.  Perhaps this could make the scores a bit more understandable for viewers, which I think in the end is a good thing.  Although I am skeptical and think skating scoring may already be too confusing at this point for the changes to matter...but I will try to hold back the pessimism.


Obviously, a skater like Mao Asada or Mirai Nagasu will do better under this rule.  But I am wondering if it will have more implications - like will more women try triple/triple combinations?  A lot of skaters don't think they'll get the rotation so they just throw a double on, but with the chance to get 70 percent of the triple score by almost getting there, will they deem it as more worthy of the risk?  Similarly, does this have any influence on quad attempts?   

And what about in the pairs world?  There are so many downgrades on side by side triple attempts - but anecdotally, I would say that those mostly come from jumps that are legitimately popped or doubled, not jumps that don't quite make it.  So would this change anything there?

Another thing to remember is that this still awards the skater who tends to fully rotate jumps, like Yu-na Kim, with the most points.  For example, a 6 to a 4.2 for an underrotated jump in some cases.  So if someone is a chronic underrotator, it's not going to really fully make up for that - they will still need to somehow make up those points.  And I like that the person who fully rotates is still being rewarded above all else. 

I would love to hear what you think!  Is this a travesty? A great move?  Neither?