Judging scandal already? Virtue and Moir take gold medal in Ice Dance at the World Figure Skating Championships 2012

Though we don’t normally write about sports at CalTV Entertainment, I have been a lifelong fan (thanks Mom!) of figure skating and think it entertaining enough to write about here.  Of course, as anyone who knows me will attest, it is also the source of yet another bitchy rant of mine.  Yes, I am complaining again.  But frankly, I think I channel some inner reservoir of linguistic rage that brings joy to my friends and the lives of others (even if only to become a lightning rod for haters), so please to enjoy: What the fuck is going on at the World Championships?!

The first medals have been awarded at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France and they have already stirred up controversy.  Many sports commentators have often ridiculed figure skating as not being a real sport because a team of judges awards the medals and the judging has long illustrated that it is influenced by widespread corruption and bias that runs rampant (and if we’re being honest, a heavy antipathy to U.S. ice-dance teams).  The strange results in the ice dance part of the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships certainly won’t convince anyone that the new judging system has erased predetermined results. With no one from the U.S. (despite having the strongest overall ice dance team in the world) on either the judges panel or the tech panel (both of which had Canadian and European judges) for the ice dance competition, we saw many teams, including those at the top of the standings, achieve season best scores.  Except for the American teams. (Davis and White, the top American team, scored 5 points less than their season’s best for each of their cleanly skated and exceptionally performed programs, to come in second).

Though this may sound like nationalistic griping, I must add, it is rare that my favorite skaters are American (in fact I’m usually over the moon about European skaters).  And no one disputes that the Canadian and U.S. ice dancers are evenly matched on a technical level (except for some biased superfans who never seem to really see what goes on).

The rivalry between Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S., and their training partners Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, was kicked up another notch by the ice dance judges’ awarding the gold medal to a subpar performance by the Canadians (with a five point margin no less), over a near flawless performance by Davis and White that had the audience delivering a particularly prolonged standing ovation.  Adding insult to injury, the judges also awarded a bronze medal to an error-laden free dance by the home team of Pechalat and Borzat (over the 4th place team that performed WAY better), just to confirm that the scores the judges came up with didn’t match the performances we saw.

By their own admission, Virtue and Moir’s performance was filled with “bobbles and stumbles” which at one point Moir admitted to playing off as part of his character to cover up, including a particularly bad one that somehow evaded the judges’ notice.  While no performance is perfect (no matter how much a great performance appears to be) and artists are always their own worst critics, from watching their gold-medal winning program here, it would be hard to disagree with Virtue/Moir’s self-assessment that their skating “didn’t come naturally.”  You could feel nervous tension and their desperation to win throughout the performance in a bad, palpable way.  It makes sense that they would have earned a season-best if compared to their falls earlier in the season, but it even outstripped their scores a month ago at the 4 Continents Championships where they skated cleanly.  The writing was effectively scrawled across the wall that no matter what the U.S. teams did, Virtue and Moir would have to fall a couple of times this year for them to lose the gold at Worlds.  Last year, when Davis and White became the first U.S. ice dance pair to be crowned World Champions, they had to skate flawlessly combined with mistakes from Virtue and Moir in order to take the title.  Few in skating will say it openly, but there has always been a bias against U.S. teams in the ice dance and pairs, disciplines traditionally dominated by European countries.  (For much of that time, they didn’t always compare with their European competitors, but that has not been the case for many years).  And of the two North American nations that compete regularly in these fields, the judges have only ever truly embraced Canada.  The new judging system was supposed to eliminate these biases by awarding specific values to every single move, but it does not eliminate bias in the judging of these moves (the fluctuation in the grade of execution scores and difficulty levels was highly suspicious at this competition). It also randomly picks some of the scores from the whole panel and doesn’t identify the judges or the tech judges with their scores, so if a bias is operating no one will know who is responsible (or if the entire panel is biased).  Again, with no U.S. judge here on these panels for ice dance, where the U.S. had the best chance of taking medals (despite the long-standing precedent to have judges from the best-performing countries because they set the technical bar for everyone to measure up to), it raises more troubling questions.  No one likes “conspiracy theories” but skating has shown itself to frequently fall victim to such conspiracies (like the one that kick-started the switch from the old 6.0 system to the new “Code of Points” system).

I have always had a problem with Virtue and Moir on artistic grounds (aside from the fact that this judging bias gives them a huge buffer to guard their placement on the podium against the errors they make, which several teams usually do not enjoy).  When they aren’t taking the easy way out by eschewing the problems of creating narrative or characterization with their programs (instead choosing to vaguely embody a mood provided by the music with predictably timed choreography, like their programs to Pink Floyd, Mahler, tangos and their Latin-themed programs), they always seem to miss the specific qualities of the music when they do try to tell a story.  I just don’t believe them emotionally on the ice.  There is always a disconnect between the story of the music and the story on the ice, which lacks authenticity or a sincerity of expression (their awful overacting never helps either).  I always felt that their Umbrellas of Cherbourg program, the one that garnered them instant international acclaim and numerous medals, was deeply flawed in conception.  It missed the dramatic themes of the music, while obliterating the niceties of its structure: pairing absurd smiles, jaunty footwork sequences and upper body movement, as well as increased speed, with the dramatic melodies and famous main theme that specifically relate the despair of the painful and irreparable splitting apart by war of the characters of the story (while not using ANY of the livelier sequences of Michel Legrand’s score).  Music that tells the painful tale of being separated and the impossibility of coming together again was never an ideal choice for a story-based program, which highlights the very problem I have always had with them- they exploit music for the familiarity of it’s character/s and abandon the more difficult work of truly combining their moves with the music to tell a story.

Something about their programs this year have the same problem.  They seemed like sad pretenders to Latin dance in their short program (using music from their failed free dance last season); their lazy reliance on floppy hip wiggles reeked of roquefort rather than “Mujer latina” (one of the musical selections they chose).  They had the elements, but their choreography and performance completely lacked any genuine sense of character.  In the Free Dance, they mangle the delightful story of Stanley Donen’s Funny Face, somehow missing the frivolity and the seriousness of Audrey Hepburn’s snobby bookworm turned model under the influence of Fred Astaire’s Avedon-esque fashion photographer.  Their program often made me wonder if they’d ever even seen the film or if they had any idea what it was about if they had.  Needless to say Tessa Virtue, despite her remarkable beauty (her eye makeup, and Meryl Davis’, deserves a gold medal by itself), is no Audrey Hepburn, and her performance on the ice never succeeds in calling to mind either Hepburn or her character in Funny Face.  Likewise, Scott Moir is light years away from holding a candle to the magic of Fred Astaire, and similarly fails to conjure anything approximating his spirit in this free dance. Their choreography seems to waste the sweeping romantic swells of the Funny Face score on footwork or the belabored fishing for points that often clogs skating choreography nowadays (combined with the kind of excessive arm and upper body gesticulations that pops up to pepper the paltry material of a bad night at the Improv).  It almost seems like they hear a different piece of music than the one playing when they skate.  They never capture the true flourishes of this music with their movement, often fighting rather than flowing with it.

So why do the judges prefer them to Davis and White?  Nobody seems willing to answer that question forthrightly, but it seems the eastern bloc judging we thought the new system had corrected is still capable of enabling judges to cherry pick the teams they want on the podium in the exact places they want them.  Go ahead and hate me for saying it, but I don’t care.  I don’t expect U.S. teams to take all the medals in every discipline, I expect only the best to take the medals, wherever they come from.  It still pains me to think that Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel (my favorite male skater of all time, tied with Canada’s Toller Cranston) took backseat for much of his career, in the judges’ purview, while the wildly overrated and not nearly as difficult programs of Evgeni Plushenko sucked up all the gold medals.  Or that Tara Lipinski is a freaking Olympic and World Gold Medalist for her awkward, gangly and artless jumping showcases posing as performances while the likes of true artists languished in her tiny shadow.  If figure skating wants to be taken seriously, they need to stop playing footsie with each other, and honestly judge the footwork on the ice.

Fierce and Love,

Tyra.  d’ah, I mean Samir.

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16 responses to “Judging scandal already? Virtue and Moir take gold medal in Ice Dance at the World Figure Skating Championships 2012

  1. I am so thankful you wrote this. It had to be said
    The judging was a sham.Meryl and Charlie ‘s foot work was marked down a level?!? Preposterous! Biased against all the American athletes at Worlds and especially pairs and dance. Thank you for saying it out loud
    It really sickens me…

  2. This article is so freaking ridiculous it’s not even funny. And what makes you an expert on ice dancing? If you have such a problem with the scoring go and take it up with the judges and the ISU. You should take note that an overwhelming number of people in this sport including commentators, coaches, and other ice dancers themselves have stated that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the better ice dancers. Just because you have an immense hatred for them doesn’t change the fact that they are the best team currently competing. Another wuzrobbed, sob article from an American, go figure.

  3. This is just your opinion. I, too, am a lifelong
    figure skating fan. I am niether Canadian nor American. I disagree with your opinion that it was a judging scandal. Even though Davis and White had the more audience friendly program, their perormance was not their best like Virtue and Moir’s. Davis and White certainly performed better at the WTT, and I agree with them as winners there. Virtue and Moir were technically better than them at Worlds, and this is where Davis and White lost. If you carefully look at D/W’s edges, they were not as deep as they should have been. They lost because of the step sequences. They have not achieved a level 4 for the one of te step sequences all year. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Code of Points. I don’t see you presenting technical knowledge here.

      • “They have not achieved a level 4 for the one of te step sequences all year.” Typos are no reason to discredit your opinion, no worries.

        They received level 4 on more than one occasion throughout the year. The whole structuring of how a level 4 is given inherently opens the door for judges to manipulate the podium placements. If the judges start to prefer another team, you can bet V/M will suddenly find that their level fours turn into level threes.

        As for artistry, this again is a matter of taste and the complex relationships between performance, music and dance; but if it’s going to be scored it should be just as rigorously analyzed. I do not believe a great deal of analysis goes into this, I believe it is another space through which judges can still exert bias. I also think that since even V/M acknowledged that their performance was riddled with flaws, and that those flaws were visible even on TV, their GOE and performance scores are questionable at best.

  4. Well this is all opinion to be honest. Do you even know the protocols of ice dance? Breaking the scores down made sense to me.

  5. This crap you’re spewing sickens me. You just seem like a bitter loser. Poor D/W lost. Learn the rules of figure skating then talk.

  6. You sound like a bitter lil fan girl whos team lost. One could argue the same facts at many other comp. where M/C have been way overscored. Let me be clear I am American and love M/C but V/M have something ,a spark and ice connection, that you do not see in M/C plain and simple. It comes across on the ice in the most beautiful way and that will always put them above M/C!!!

    • Yes, there were times when D/W were overscored, I completely agree, and didn’t like it then either. However we are talking about this competition, and how judges score D/W in comparison to V/M when gold is on the line. Let me be clear: these are two different topics. I am glad that you enjoy V/M more. I think artistically they are figure skating’s answer to Thomas Kinkade, which for me is a bad thing.

  7. “When you watch ice dance they will have almost the same beginning of the footwork, because they have to do those deep edges with difficult turns; the twizzles. On the other hand I think it’s interesting because the fantastic champions still, even with all those rules, find new things and bring more than just the elements. That’s why I love Tessa and Scott, because when you watch them you don’t see the rules, you see the story, the emotion.”

    Source: http://www.absoluteskating.com/index.php?cat=interviews&id=2012lambiel.

    Lambiel is SO wrong. Also wrong: Tatiana Volosozhar, Maxim Trankov, Anjelika Krylova, Alexander Zhulin, Kim Yu-Na, Nicky Slater, Tracy Wilson, oh wait! Let’s disqualify her opinion as she is from Canada. Who else? Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are definitely wrong, too.

    • Oh my, skaters said they liked another skater? I guess that means they don’t like anybody else. Funny, most of the people you mentioned are from the old Eastern bloc. It further supports my argument that such a view of D/W reflects the old stereotypes and biases that have always affected figure skating.

  8. If you have a problem with Virtue and Moir on “artistic grounds” then you don’t know anything about figure skating or ice dance. The knock on Charlie and Meryl has always been that they have a dubious connection (notice I didn’t say “no connection” – but close to nothing) – they often don’t even look at each other. Virtue and Moir carve into the ice with their blades – Davis & White “pick” along the top of the ice. They move “fast” and that covers up a host of sins – skating side by side instead of face to face, etc etc. The body positions and lines created by Virtue and Moir are superior. This is ice “dance” and nobody “dances” like Tessa and Scott. The fact that they might have “felt” that they were working does not mean that this impacts anything in the Code of Points. There is no mark given for how the skaters feel. The truth is that Davis & White were over marked all year long, while Virtue and Moir were under marked including a ridiculous program component score in one competition.

    • My taste is just different than yours. They are not natural performers in my eyes. They are good skaters, but as performers they are forced, trite and predictable. I believe Davis and White just have a more natural knack for getting into character and making choreography work with the characterization.

      “Feeling” music does impact many things in Code of Points if you are capable of realizing that a deeper connection to and grasp of the music feeds into performance quality, which is represented in their musicality and grade of execution scores (something so basic it would be foolish to disagree with). If you really think it makes no difference that a dancer or skater really feels music, then why does artistry matter at all in skating? Why do they even pick music to skate to? The sport would not exist without music now. I know it’s hard to stay calm when someone says they don’t like athletes you are passionate about, but let’s not get carried away.

  9. On YouTube you can replay the performances for Virtue/Moir, Davis/White and hear the commentaries from USA, Canada, Great Britain and other coutries but in their languages of course. From what I understand Davis/White were downgraded on many technical moves which brought down their overall score. In the commentaries from various countries they explain exactly what happened. I myself cannot tell the difference between the 5 top ice dancing teams.

    • Well, in this competition, the differences were a little more obvious. And after you’ve watched and studied it enough, you can see what distinguishes the top athletes from those below them. I love Pechalat/Bourzat, but the team from Canada that ended up in 4th really deserved that bronze medal over them. As for the downgrading, that is specifically what was fishy about the judging. Doesn’t add up when D/W get level three for a move they performed better than they did when they received a level 4 for it (WTT). But I contend it was small padding in the performance scores at each stage of the event that gave V/M the gold, not just the dubious downgrade on D/W’s technical score. Either way, something doesn’t smell right.

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