New skating system confusing, but winners are clear
Posted: Monday October 31, 2005 3:52PM; Updated: Wednesday November 2, 2005 11:19AM
A hip injury has limited Michelle Kwan's exposure to figure skating's new scoring system.
Casual fans that tune into figure skating once every four years during the Olympics will get an unpleasant surprise this February:
Instead of booing the judges for giving some sequined darling a 5.5 instead of a 5.8, they'll be booing the judges for giving out a 128.29 instead of a 136.45.
That's nonsense, of course. Casual fans, and many experts, will be too confused by the International Skating Union's new "Code of Points" scoring system to boo; they'll be scratching their heads. Besides, the judging will be anonymous. High and low scores will be thrown out, so the audience will be left in the dark as to which judge screwed their favorite skater. Joe Six-pack will tune in hoping for a public lynching and tune out once he discovers he's watching a math exam.
Will the Code of Points system be fairer? Probably. Will it be as emotionally engaging as the old, corruptible 6.0 system? No way.
So who's going to win the most coveted medal of the Winter Games -- the women's figure-skating gold? Check the hospital wards the week before Turin, and you might have a better idea than you'd have today. Never have so many medal contenders been so questionable in an Olympic year.
Sentimental favorite Michelle Kwan, a five-time world champion who has got a silver and bronze medal from her two previous Olympics, will miss the entire Grand Prix season with a strained right hip ligament. Kwan's only exposure to the new scoring system came at the worlds last March, where she finished off the podium (in fourth) for the first time since 1995. Her most recent injury couldn't come at a worse time. Kwan needs feedback from the international judging community before the Olympics, assuming she's healthy enough to compete, and she isn't going to get it.
America's best chance for a gold is Sasha Cohen, who dropped out of Skate America two weeks ago with a bruised left hip. Her training has resumed, however, though her history of back problems could flare up at any time. Cohen's been a bridesmaid so many times -- she's finished second at the worlds the last two years, and second to Kwan at the U.S. nationals four times without winning -- that there are questions as to whether she has the moxie to break through on a stage as visible as the Olympics.
But Cohen has elegance on the ice that no other skater can touch. If she stays on her feet, she could become the third straight American woman to win Olympic Gold.
The favorite, though, is Russia's 26-year-old Irina Slutskaya, the defending world champion and silver medalist at the Salt Lake City Games behind America's Sarah Hughes. No Russian woman has ever won the Olympics, an oddity that could end in Turin. Slutskaya, too, has missed much of the last two years due to various ailments, but she's healthy now and is the best jumper among the women.
Other names to watch include this year's American it-girl, Alissa Czisny, a brilliant spinner, who two weeks ago thrust herself into the limelight by stepping in for the injured Cohen and finishing second at Skate America, then kept her momentum going by winning Skate Canada last weekend. Russia's Elena Sokolova, who finished second at the worlds in 2003, appears to be back on form, winning at Skate America. And Shizuka Arakawa, the '04 world champion, heads a strong but inconsistent Japanese contingent that includes two-time World bronze medalist Fumie Suguri.
Even though it's only November, here are my predictions:
1. Slutskaya 2. Cohen 3. Kwan
Next Wednesday, I'll preview the men's competition.