US judge says no agenda behind e-mail about marks
VANCOUVER (AP) -A respected judge in the United States only intended to share something he thought his friends would find interesting, not start an uproar on the eve of the Olympics.
Figure skating being figure skating, however, no opportunity for a brouhaha gets wasted.
Toronto's Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that private e-mails sent by Joe Inman could be considered a slight to European skaters Evgeni Plushenko and Brian Joubert, and evidence that North Americans are trying to lobby on behalf of their skaters. The men's competition is expected to be one of the marquee events at the Vancouver Olympics, with skaters from Russia, France, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and the United States all legitimate contenders for the gold medal.
"I think it's unfair to (make it) a distraction and get people to try to feel that this is going to override what the skaters do,'' said Mike Slipchuk, high performance director of Skate Canada, who tried to diffuse the issue by bringing it up himself at the start of a news conference.
"We have a lot of faith in the system,'' Slipchuk added. "The system has proven very successful every year.''
Inman agrees. He had no agenda when he sent friends an e-mail about comments reportedly made by reigning Olympic champion Plushenko, who came out of retirement in the spring. Plushenko was quoted in an interview as saying, "If the judges want someone to place high, they can arrange it.''
Plushenko then reportedly went on to say that Joubert, the 2007 world champion from France, got more points for his transitions than the Russian did, even though they did the exact same thing. Plushenko also was quoted as saying, "We don't have transitions because we focus on our jumps.''
The debate between art and athleticism figures to be a central theme of the men's competition. The quadruple jump is a cornerstone in Plushenko, Joubert and Stephane Lambiel's programs while Patrick Chan of Canada has elected not to do one. Chan, one of the finest all-around skaters in the world, believes his spins, footwork and performance skills will keep him competitive with the other top skaters.
"How'd this take off and have it's own little stream, I can't figure it out,'' Inman said Wednesday. "It was a private e-mail to friends. It wasn't a seminar, I wasn't telling them how to judge. ... It got turned and twisted.''
Inman, a world and Olympic judge, isn't on any panels in Vancouver. He said he knows a few judges who are, but his e-mail was not meant to influence anyone - in Vancouver or anywhere else.
That Inman would find Plushenko's remarks about component scores interesting is hardly a surprise. A professional musician who also has a dance background, he helped design the current judging system and is often asked by the International Skating Union to teach seminars that educate judges how to better assess the five component scores.
"We're trying to clarify it, to have more teeth to base your subjectivty on,'' Inman said. "There has to be a foundation for building that opinion. That's what the ISU tries to do, to make better judges.''
The ISU implemented the current judging system after the pairs scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Every element has an assigned value, giving judges an objective framework by which to judge. The old artistic mark - a nebulous score that was often dependent on what a judge prized most - is now broken down into five components: transitions; interpretation; choreography and composition; skating skills; and performance and execution.
But many have the perception that the component marks still leave room for judges to maneuver.
"When comments like that come out, it kind of pits the athletes against each other,'' Slipchuk said. "They're just doing their job. and that's what they're here to do. And the officials, when they come in, they're coming in to do their job.''
And they do it very well, Inman said.
"You're always going to have controversies with judging because people are not always going to agree with your marks,'' Inman said. "I personally think the system is designed very well. I think it's very fair to the skater. I would have loved to have ben judged under the system.''
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.