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Sochi Olympics: Adelina Sotnikova of Russia wins figure skating gold

In women's figure skating, Adelina Sotnikova beats Yuna Kim for gold. Questions about judging system persist.

February 20, 2014|By Philip Hersh
  • And emotional Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts after her gold medal winning performance during the ladies' free skate Thursday at Iceberg Skating Palace.
And emotional Adelina Sotnikova of Russia reacts after her gold medal winning… (Matthew Stockman / Getty…)

SOCHI, Russia — Elvis Stojko was ready. It was moments after the women's Olympic figure skating competition and Stojko had a detailed result sheet in hand. He began to tick off, element by element, why he felt Adelina Sotnikova of Russia deserved to beat defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and Carolina Kostner of Italy.

"Adelina came loaded," Stojko said. "Did the other two have more beautiful skating? Absolutely. But it's a sport, and this was totally fair."

It was no surprise that Stojko, a two-time OIympic silver medalist from Canada known for his athleticism, might have such an opinion about an outcome certain to be among the most questionable and debated in figure skating's checkered judging history.

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His feeling that Sotnikova had earned her surprise victory Thursday according to the math of the scoring system was shared by several other former skaters, including Olympic medalists Philippe Candeloro of France and Paul Wylie of the United States.

But even they had questions about the judging, which smelled of home cooking to sate a roaring Russian crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

"I don't have a problem with the result, other than the [margin] of it," Wylie said. "The expectations were they were going to crown Queen Yuna one final time, and when it didn't come to pass, it's like, 'How did that happen?'"

Sotnikova, 17, ninth in last year's world championships, became her country's first Olympic women's singles champion by 5.48 points over Kim. The Russian's combination of big jumps, speed and power made the case for building that margin in the technical marks, and it led the judges to get carried away so she didn't lose it on the component scores.

"The scores are given by the judges," Kim said. "I am not in the right position to comment on it. There is nothing that will change with my words."

Sotnikova finished with 224.59 points to 219.11 for Kim. Kostner was third at 216.73. The three had gone into the free skate separated by less than a point.

"Maybe Yuna didn't get enough points in the short program because they didn't want to repeat what had happened in Vancouver, where we knew before the free skate who was going to win," Candeloro said.

Gracie Gold of the U.S. was fourth, with teammates Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds seventh and ninth. It meant the U.S. women went without a medal in consecutive Olympics for first time since 1948.

Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, who had become a global sensation for her brilliant skating in the team event, fell in both singles programs and finished fifth.

The International Skating Union has created a scoring system so mathematically complex it is incomprehensible. On top of that, it allows judging and technical panels to have massive conflicts of interest (one judge on Thursday's panel, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to the former Russian Skating Federation president) and include cheaters (another of the judges, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, had been suspended for his role in prejudging an event.)

"That's figure skating at its finest," Wylie said.

That the judges' scores are anonymous only adds to such cynicism.

"The sport needs to be more accountable," Wagner said.

Kurt Browning, a four-time world champion, was tasked with trying to explain it to the Canadian TV audience.

"I wasn't sure I understood because I see so much quality in Yuna, and I see a young woman in Adelina with unrefined moments," Browning said. "But I think I was smart enough to stand up and look at the marks before I said anything."

Browning saw clear explanations for why Sotnikova's technical marks were 5.85 points better than Kim's, including the South Korean getting reduced base values on a spin and a footwork sequence. What perplexed him is how Sotnikova's component scores Thursday could be nearly nine points higher than her average component scores in four previous competitions this season.

"You don't learn to skate that much better that fast," Browning said.

Sotnikova made one small technical mistake, a two-footed landing on the third jump in a combination, for which she was penalized.

"I was waiting for the mistakes she usually makes, and she never made them," said 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, commentating for NBC.

"I looked at the way the component score (rules) are written, and Adelina checks off every box. It's not as aesthetically pleasing as Yuna or Carolina, but she does everything the judges are looking for."

Even so, Hamilton admitted his jaw dropped when he saw the component scores.

Sotnikova's free skate showed much more refinement than her helter-skelter short program, even if she hammed it up at the end with a wave at the judges. They acknowledged that with the second highest free skate score in history.

Twitter: @olyphil

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