"They [members of the technical committee] should trust the integrity of the judges," says Germany's Waldeck. "By trying to get everyone to stay in line, you are going to end up with boring skating, because there will be only one way of thinking. You can't say, 'I like it.' You have to be able to defend it, to prove it."
That's what's happening when you see judges scribbling madly during a performance. They are keeping track of details of a skater's program, an exercise that serves two purposes. The judge is able to use those notes to compare the first skater with the 24th, and he is able to use them for his defense when he is grilled by the referee after the competition. Some judges make notes without taking their eyes off the skater, using a personal shorthand that resembles hieroglyphics. But others must sneak peeks at their worksheets as they write. Evy Scotvold, who coached Kerrigan and Wylie, among many others, says that when he really wants to depress himself, he watches judges scribbling during a performance, noting how much they miss. "We look too much at details," says one judge. "Counting revolutions on every spin, you cannot see the quality of the entire program."
The ISU is experimenting with instant replay to alleviate the pressure on the judges. That way, if a judge questions whether a spin had the requisite eight revolutions, a punch of a button would allow him another look. Coaches aren't dummies. In the short program they nearly always choreograph the critical combination jump so it's performed in a corner on the side where the judges are sitting. As a result, half of the panel is blocked from having a clear view by the other half. Judges can't deduct what they can't see, so on a questionable landing, the skater gets the benefit of the doubt. Instant replay might help solve this problem, although a competition would inevitably pay a price in delays.
Part of figure skating's allure will always be its subjective nature. This isn't a game of inches, of clear delineation between fair ball or foul. It's a sport based on preferences and tastes. A performance that gives one judge goose bumps might give another the creeps, which is what makes the judging world go around and sends skaters and audiences into a tizzy. "Sometimes you just scratch your head," says Croatia's Sanda Dubravcic, a former skater who is an international judge. "Even if you're an insider."