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Life without school figures


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#1 dirac

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Posted 27 February 2002 - 07:46 PM

"The other aspect is what that has done to the sport of figure skating. It has been so great that it has eliminated one half of what figure skating is all about, and that is the skating of figures--the name, figure skating, is no longer an accurate one because figures have gone away. They were too boring; they took too long; too many people weren’t interested. As a result, television simply couldn’t handle it and the governing bodies eliminated what was the oldest and strongest and longest tradition of what the sport of figure skating was all about."

Dick Button said this on a recent edition of the Jim Lehrer NewsHour. It was towards the end of the segment and there was no follow up, but I thought I'd see if anyone had any comments to make on it. What difference has the elimination of school figures made, and is the difference for better, or worse?

It's fairly appalling, when you think about it, that a major element of a sport can be eliminated simply because TV audiences are bored by it. You could also argue that much of the emphasis (overemphasis, IMO) on jumps in skating today arises from the fact that it's become harder to assess pure technique without the school figures, since back in the old days there was a clearer of division of labor: show your technique in the compulsories, and your technique and presentation in the free skate. (Good figures didn't necessarily preclude grace and flair; Peggy Fleming performed solidly in the compulsories at Grenoble, for example.)

Is Dick being an old-fuddy duddy, or does he have a point? Opinions?

#2 Colleen

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Posted 27 February 2002 - 09:07 PM

I think the removal of figures is like taking away the barre section from a ballet exam. You can fudge some aspects of technique during centre exercises and variations (obviously a careful eye will spot poor technique, but some things can still escape notice) but at the barre you're so naked and so confined in your movements and there's less of a focus on your performance quality, so mediocre turn out etc. becomes glaringly obvious. However, that does mean that for a dancer to progress to the next level (whether through the exam process or teacher promotion) she/he has to have an equal command of pure technique and dance quality.

So I think it's a shame that figures have been taken out of the competition because that sometimes punishes the complete skater and rewards those who can fudge certain technical aspects and use performance or other tricks to compensate . Like, would we ever give a gold medal at Varna to a dancer who could only turn on one leg? Of course not. But skating commentators exclaim with glee "and now she's doing the same turn on her other leg! wow!"

Maybe they should bring back the figures and just show the LP on tv the way they omit the compulsories for Ice Dance. Then there'd be no dispute (or less dispute) over who deserved the gold. And at the same time they need to get rid of factored rankings and score like gymnastics. Just add up the total marks and whoever has the most points wins. Simple. Easy. Probably much too simple for the ISU. Would take away all the intrigue smile.gif

#3 Giannina

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Posted 27 February 2002 - 09:50 PM

I agree with dirac and Colleen, and have been somewhat isolated in my opinion (thanks to the two of you). To me, removing the figures makes it art instead of a sport. I really don't want to see an art form in the Olympics; it's like the current idea of adding ballet to the "sport". Dirac's comment on jumps is on the button (sort of a pun there!). And ice dancing....don't get me started.

Giannina

#4 sylvia

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Posted 28 February 2002 - 05:57 AM

I really do agree with all that's already been said. I wish greater emphasis were placed on edge control and pure technique over power jumps - it would certainly give more credence to skating as a sport. School figures took years to perfect so it makes sense that consistency should be rewarded, that the Olympics shouldn't depend on only 6 and a half minutes.

But returning to school figures or showing only the LP on tv would only bring even more intrigue into the sport. There was plenty of controversy of judges using school figures to manipulate placements. They got away with it in part because there was no public broadcasting. And some like Janet Lynn lost out, one of the most beautiful free skaters that could never master school figures.

When figures were eliminated from the Olympics after '92 skaters spent all their time on jumps over edging which partly explains the preponderance of younger girls in the elite group. Of course I also blame the judging system which never seems to give enough credit to edges, spinning and footwork and fails to penalise for flawed jumps. I keep bringing up the "if Slutskaya had won the SP she would have won the gold" thread but the argument can be applied here. Would you accept Slutskaya winning by default? It happened when Scott Hamilton won the 84 Olympics without winning the LP or SP because he excelled in school figures. Would this kind of result be acceptable after the last few weeks? Perhaps...if the media and ISU took the time to educate the public about the sublties of judging. But looking at the way the media has handled Olympic figure skating at SLC I don't think it's something we're going to see.

[ February 28, 2002, 08:24 AM: Message edited by: sylvia ]

#5 Colleen

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Posted 28 February 2002 - 11:23 AM

Although I am a dedicated skating fan, I don't recall seeing the 1984 Olympics (too little smile.gif ), but I agree that a default win isn't good at all. That's why I didn't jump for joy over Hughes' win since it was partly due to a great free skate but also due in large part to the ridiculous judging system. But if someone cannot master proper edge control and spins etc. then they don't deserve to be named to best skater in the world (i.e. Olympic Gold medalist). I really think it should be the most complete skater, not the one who wins because of one good skate and not the one who wins because of one person placing higher than another in this program, blah blah blah. And given the problems with judging I don't think it would make it any worse to bring figures back into the mix and it would add another concrete element on which to judge the skaters. That would make it really hard for all of those 'flutzers' to win a medal and I wouldn't complain about that one bit wink.gif

#6 Cammy

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 10:55 AM

I mostly just lurk here, but all the hubbub over the way skating is scored (both on this board and in the papers) and this discussion about the elimination of school figures in skating touches on something that I'm both passionate and concerned about (that being gymnastics and its current situation).
Now, a lot of people in the figure skating world (which I know much less about than gymnastics, but am not totally clueless) seem to think it a marvelous idea to start scoring skating programs like gymnastics routines are now scored. I *strongly* disagree. The way that gymnastics routines are scored now- each jump, flip, etc. being given a certain numerical value and the total of skills performed correctly being added up at the end to give the athlete their score- is actually very recent. Until the early/mid-90's, it was much more like figure skating, with certain elements required and necessary for a routine to be judged out of a perfect score, but without the strict formula there is now (that skating people now want their sport to emulate). This allowed for judges to award originality and artistry just as much as technical perfection. Of course, it also allowed for just as many judging controversies (and some that were even more outrageous than the most blatant in the skating world), but, without going into too much detail, which could fill a book, when the sport (which bears the full name of Women's/Men's *Artistic* Gymnastics) switched from this method of scoring to a more controversy-resistant way, it gained "credibility," but lost its way. The word "artistic" no longer applies to the sport, and while in recent years, the governing body has tried to address this, gymnastics is still basically different athletes doing routines with the exact same high-value skills as everyone else, with a few half-hearted "dance" movements thrown in between them. There is next-to-zero originality in either gymnastics skills or expression and athletes that 10 years ago would have been considered just average, artistically, are now revered as the latest hope that individuality and artistry are still alive- and there are far too few of these gymnasts, anyway. Judges are supposed to deduct for "lack of artistry," but it hardly ever happens (if it did, believe me, the Romanians would not have been nearly as successful as they have been in the past decade), and cannot make up for the fact that artistry/originality used to be a sizable part of an athlete's base score and that an athlete used to earn actual bonus points for displaying an original skill. The sport, while moving somewhat forward technically, has gone into free-fall as a whole. If you think that skating is too focused on who can do the most quad jumps/jump combinations now, wait and see what happens if the ISU decides to emulate their scoring system. Gymnastics has also experienced a drastic decrease in popularity among the general public and I don't think anyone in the gymnastics community would deny that it is because of the "new" scoring system, as well as the lack of originality it has caused. The audience might as well be watching compulsory routines (the gymn equivalent of school figures).
Which is both ironic and brings me to my second point (and really does have to do with this school figures discussion). Compulsories (which were performed on every event) were eliminated from the Elite level of competition in gymnastics after 1996, ostensibly because it cost gyms and national training programs too much time and money to have their athletes working on both optional ("free") routines and compulsories and because spectators and TV viewers supposedly weren't interested in watching athletes do the same exact routines over and over again. Funnily enough (in a not-so-funny kind of way), since then, even with the success of the US women's gymn team in 1996, interest in the sport outside of it's hardcore fans has dwindled to the point where USA gymnastics, the national governing body, has lost money, and had a hard time finding both sponsors and television networks willing to show even half of the amount of gymnastics (per competition and in terms of competitions per year) that the public ate up not so long ago. So really, it's turned out that, while having compulsories may have cost the sport of gymnastics a considerable amount of money, the scoring system that all of a sudden the figure skating world is so eager to emulate has cost it much, much more- both monetarily and, on a sadder note, morally (can a sport have morals? I don't know, but I don't know how else to put it).
Lastly, the argument that compulsory routines and school figures are boring to watch ignores the fact that, because the athletes must work within the confines of something that is not tailored exactly to their strengths and abilities, it is the compulsories that distinguish the good from the truly great. The legends can take a compulsory routine and turn it into an expression of their individuality, an event that is as enjoyable to watch as an optional competition (and I'm really not just talking about floor exercise, where you've got the music and dancing worked in to make it a bit more palatable than skating's school figures- I've seen compulsory uneven bars routines that have taken my breath away- Nadia Comaneci's first perfect 10.0 was given for her compulsory bar routine and the actual routine is one of the most thrillingly perfect and exciting moments in gymnastics [and in my opinion all of sports] history). I think it's a shame that both figure skating and gymnastics have decided that what plays well on TV is more important than what develops athletes and helps improve and advance their respective sports. Gymnastics has taken it one step further, however, with the current scoring system and almost ruined itself in the process, with few signs of being able to drag itself out of this rut. I just hope, for the sake of figure skating fans, as well as the athletes and the growth of the sport, that the ISU won't make the same mistakes that the International Gymnastics Federation has.

#7 Colleen

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 12:05 PM

When I suggested a scoring system similar to gymnastics I was only referring to the way scores are tallied not the point-per-trick method. And the ISU is actually proposing deducting points for missing elements not actually giving points for certain elements. So it's not entirely the same situation.

And I've been a hardcore gymnastics fan even before I fell in love with ballet (Mary Lou caused me to start flipping all over my basement and I was immediately shipped off to gym classes) and IMO the problem with artistry goes back even beyond the introduction of the new scoring system. Even 10yrs ago I would argue that the routines had the same lack of originality and artistry. In 92, America's golden girls, Kim Zmeskal and Shannon Miller really didn't have the greatest artistry in their rountines. In fact Shannon's beam routine (for which she got a silver in the individuals) was far less artistic than Betty Okino's that season (i know she was injured a lot, but when she competed that routine was fantastic). Now, Svetlana Boginskaya was the ultimate artist and athlete and I've seen maybe one or two girls since her time that can compare (Svetlana Khorkina is pretty striking, but that's really it). Anyway, the point is that I think the problem with gymnastics is unrelated to the scoring system and probably, like skating, more related to a trend to want more tricks and less dancing, more sport less art. Hmm, maybe we need to start a gymnastics thread... smile.gif

#8 dirac

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 02:41 PM

I think a gymnastics thread would be wandering a little too far afield, even for this broadminded board. smile.gif

Thanks to everyone who responded. Cammy, welcome and thanks for de-lurking. Always nice to hear from a new voice. You make an interesting point about changes that make the system "fairer" but also change the nature of the competition, and not necessarily for the better. I think the school figures are gone forever, and I'm not sure that reinstating them would cure any of the current judging ills; but their loss has certainly taken away something essential from the sport -- made it something less of a sport and closer to entertainment (I wouldn't say "art" -- although that term might apply to what's done by some individual skaters).

#9 Cammy

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 05:10 PM

Colleen,
First of all, I'm all for a gymnastics thread smile.gif Second, I disagree with one thing you said. I have to stick by my claim that artistry has decreased because of the way the scoring is done now. To be honest, the artistry of US gymnasts has always been a fairly uneven thing. Even in the heyday of gymnastics that was actually artistic (I'm thinking late 70's-late 80's), the majority of US women were more about power than finesse (of course there were exceptions: Kathy Johnson, Okino as you mentioned), but since the new scoring system has been put in place, even countries that were formerly bursting with gymnasts that made us ooh and ahh over their grace and originality in both gymnastics skills and dance (see: Romania, and even the former Soviet countries) are lacking. But then, there's really no time to choreograph more than a few arm waves and hip shakes that are (hopefully) in time to the music when you have to perform about 5 different combinations of 1.5 and double twisting jumps just to fulfill requirements and get enough bonus? When is there time to teach gymnasts to do a decent double pirouette (which I haven't seen any of in the last few years) when, just to fulfill the requirements for a routine to start from a 10, it takes at least a year and sometimes more for even most of the top 10 gymnasts in the world to be able to perform routines with a perfect start value? I think that the same problem would occur in skating, even if the system worked in the way you described it, with deductions being taken for missed elements as the way a routine is scored, because with a scoring system like that, as the sport "advances," there will be more and more requirement and less and less time in between those technical requirements for an athlete to express any artistry.

Cammy

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 05:35 PM

I wanted to address the issue of gymastics. Now that the Olympics are over, I'd like to return the board generally, and this forum particularly, to ballet competitions. I really don't want the forum used to discuss other disciplines than ballet on a regular basis. I allowed the skating olympics discussions because I know there's interest among many ballet fans in skating, there had been some posts about it in the past, and I didn't want it to become An Issue smile.gif But it wasn't meant to open the door to regular discussions of skating, or gymnastics, or basketball, or swimming smile.gif

I think this topic -- and there may well be skating and gymnastics-related topics in the future -- is worth discussing because it is a parallel to issues in ballet: keeping up standards versus pleasing the audience, what's necessary in order to keep up technical standards, etc. I think further discussion of skating, or any other non-ballet issue, should be done within the framework of ballet -- i.e., relating it to ballet.

If this isn't clear and leads to confusion -- and if it brings in people who want to talk about skating or gymnastics more than ballet -- then I think we'll have to become "strict constructionists again." One analogy that might make sense. In the Pro Shop, we talk about costumes. That can include fabric and fit, color, how they look on stage, how they're made, how you wear them. But we don't go off into discussions of sewing or weaving per se.

Hope that make sense. smile.gif

[ March 01, 2002, 06:14 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#11 Colleen

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 12:40 AM

Not to fear, my suggestion was quite tongue in cheek given my knowledge of the reluctance to discuss other forms of dance, let alone completely other sports/art forms. While ballet may not have been my first love it's certainly my only passion. No gymnastics here smile.gif

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 12:44 AM

Whew! smile.gif It's one of the worries we had before putting up posts about the Olympics. Someone would have every reason to read those, and think, "Oh! Great! A board about skating!"


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