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They Seek Good Judgment

Figure skating: ISU officials meet this week to discuss reforming scoring system and how winners are determined.


KYOTO, Japan — Stung by the judging scandal that engulfed the pairs figure skating competition at the Salt Lake City Olympics, the International Skating Union is expected to adopt sweeping reforms of the sport's scoring and judging systems this week during its Congress.

An ISU proposal outlined during the Winter Games by its president, Ottavio Cinquanta, would eliminate the traditional 6.0 perfect score in favor of a cumulative score based on the difficulty of elements performed. The judges' panel would expand to 14 and a computer would randomly select seven scores to count toward the final tally, a change designed to eliminate bloc judging and deal-making.

Such radical ideas are evidence the ISU "recognizes the urgent need for changes to the existing system for selection of judges and the determination of results," it said in a statement.

Canada, the U.S. and Australia have also submitted "urgent proposals." Such initiatives need a four-fifths majority vote to be placed on the Congress' agenda. To become part of the ISU Regulations, any proposal would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority of members attending.

The meetings, which will include elections for president, council members and technical committees, begin Monday morning.

Although usually resistant to change, the ISU is expected to adopt at least some reforms in response to the backlash generated by the discovery of improprieties in the judging of the Olympic pairs event and past improprieties among ice dance judges.

"I think it's imperative on a number of levels that changes come out of this," said Dick Pound, an influential member of the International Olympic Committee.

IOC President Jacques Rogge, who was angered by the Salt Lake City brouhaha, also wants an overhaul of the judging system. Rogge reaffirmed the autonomy of international federations in implementing the rules of their sports but said the IOC "calls for better rules and calls for a situation that would lead to far less controversy."

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne's claim she was pressured to vote a certain way by French ice sports federation head Didier Gailhaguet drew a spotlight to the deals and vote-swapping that have long undermined skating's credibility. Le Gougne retracted her accusation, but the ISU suspended her and Gailhaguet for three years and banned them from the 2006 Olympics. Gailhaguet, however, was reelected president of the French ice sports federation last week.

Because the ISU determined Le Gougne acted improperly during the Games, the IOC awarded duplicate gold medals to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who were second to Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

The world championships were also marred by controversy. About 20 ice dance couples signed a petition protesting the fourth-place finish of Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas amid allegations the father of Israeli ice dancer Galit Chait had threatened a coach and skaters. Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky won the bronze. The ISU rejected an appeal by the Lithuanians.

Veteran coach John Nicks is skeptical the proposed changes will make much difference.

"It seems to me it's not the rules and regulations that need to change, it's the sureness and character of the judges involved," he said.

Ensuring panels are geographically balanced and judges are held accountable for their decisions is crucial to restoring credibility, said Paul Wylie, the 1992 men's Olympic silver medalist and member of a group that helped shape part of the reform proposal backed by the U.S. Figure Skating Assn.

"The sport relies on the credibility of the judging system, and I think people look at the judging system and need to believe it's for real," he said. "When bias rules, it costs skaters, the stakeholders, a great deal."

Wylie dislikes the ISU's idea of scoring from 0 up instead of from 6.0 down. The ISU proposes setting up a Scale of Value for each element and requiring skaters to submit a plan of their programs, by element and by time. Skaters would get points for each element. Each skater or pair would also get a Grade of Execution, to be added to the Scale of Value points to form the technical score.

Each judge would also assign a presentation score, ranging from 0.1 to 6.0, based on basic skills and performance skills. That mark would be multiplied by a special factor to produce a presentation score, which would be added to the technical score.

"I don't think additive scoring works," Wylie said. "... There's 41/2 minutes of figure skating to watch. You can't sit and add in your head and also get a feel for presentation."

The USFSA's proposal would keep the 6.0 but would eliminate ordinals--each judge's ranking of each skater--in favor of a median total score. It would also have a computer randomly select which judges' marks would count.

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