Winter Olympics 2002 Figure Skating Winter Olympics 2002 Figure Skating


Sneaking away with gold

How Hughes impossibly vaulted ahead of Kwan, Slutskaya

Posted: Friday February 22, 2002 3:29 AM

SALT LAKE CITY -- If you didn't think skating scoring was screwy before Thursday night, you may be asking: How is it that Michelle Kwan was ahead of Sarah Hughes before Irina Slutskaya skated, only to finish behind Hughes after Slutskaya performed?

This is the magic of fractured placement, the scoring system that sounds like knee surgery gone awry. Hughes was clearly a deserving winner of Thursday night's long program, but because of the scoring system that the ISU wants to abolish, Hughes needed Slutskaya to skate precisely as she did -- no worse, but no better -- in order to win the gold medal.

First, a primer in skating scoring: Marks in the long program count for two-thirds of a skater's score, with the first third coming from the short program. But all those 5.8s and 5.9s are merely means to rank the skaters. If the best skater in either program receives significantly better marks than the skater ranked one spot below her, her lead over that skater is no greater than if the margin of difference between them were one-tenth of a point from one judge. In order for Skater A to gain an advantage over Skater B, she needs first to receive higher marks than Skater B and then to have other skaters ranked in between the two of them. Here's how that played out in the ladies' competition in Salt Lake. The standings and placements after the short program were as follows:

Short Program
Standing Skater Country Placement
1 Michelle Kwan 0.5
2 Irina Slutskaya 1.0
3 Sasha Cohen 1.5
4 Sarah Hughes 2.0

In the long program, the value of fractured-placement marks is doubled so that each skater receives a whole number. The one with the lowest cumulative score is the gold medalist, with ties awarded to the skater with the higher score in the long program. After every skater except Slutskaya had performed in the long program, the standings in that portion of the program had Hughes in first, Kwan second and Cohen third. With Slutskaya yet to skate, the standings looked like this:

Standings before Slutskaya skated
Standing Skater Country Short Pgm Long Pgm Total
1 Michelle Kwan 0.5 2.0 2.5
2 Sarah Hughes 2.0 1.0 3.0
3 Sasha Cohen 1.5 3.0 4.5
4 Irina Slutskaya 1.0 ??? ???

At this point Kwan was ahead of Hughes because Hughes had only finished one spot in front of her in the long program. Hughes' chances of winning gold were incredibly slim. Had Slutskaya skated her best performance and been ranked first in the long program, the Russian would have won the gold medal. Had Slutskaya fallen perhaps one more time and been marked lower than Kwan in the long program, then Kwan would have been first. Hughes' only hope for gold was for Slutskaya to finish precisely in second place in the free skate. Had Slutskaya placed one spot higher or lower, Hughes would have won a silver medal. After the judges ranked Slutskaya second, these were the final results:

Final Standings
Standing Skater Country Short Pgm Long Pgm Total
1 Sarah Hughes 2.0 1.0  3.0*
2 Irina Slutskaya 1.0 2.0 3.0
3 Michelle Kwan 0.5 3.0 3.5
4 Sasha Cohen 1.5 4.0 5.5
* Hughes won the tiebreaker, because of better long program

Sports Illustrated staff writer Brian Cazeneuve is in Utah covering the Olympics for the magazine and Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.

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