Episode 30: World Team Trophy 2019 - Transcript


Yogeeta: You're In The Loop. We're here to discuss the ups, downs, and sideways of the sport of figure skating and maybe give you +5 GOE along the way. Let's introduce this week's hosts.

Evie: Hi, I'm Evie and I'm questioning the concept of time because the season's already over. How the hell did that happen? You can find me on Twitter @doubleflutz.

Yogeeta: Hi, I'm Yogeeta and I slept through all of World Team Trophy so I don't know why I'm on this episode. You can find me on Twitter @liliorum.

Niamh: Hi, I'm Niamh and the end of the season is here, and I for one am glad. You can catch me mourning my favorite programs on Twitter @rivrdance.

Evie: Okie dokie, you guys! This is our last competitive episode of the 2018-19 season, which is insane. We've got a bit of news to go through before we start many rants that will be featured in this week's episode. The first bit of news is that Japanese Pairs team Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara have decided to part ways unfortunately. They announced this just after Worlds happened. It's really sad. Of course, Ryuichi had a concussion just after Japanese Nationals which caused them to miss out on Four Continents and also Worlds. Then, they decided to split up as a team. I'm sure they'll be sorely missed as a team.

Niamh: U.S. Pairs team Nathan Bartholomay and Deanna Stellato-Dudek have split up after Nathan's struggle with injury in the past few seasons. Of course, we wish them the best of luck with whatever they decide to do next.

Yogeeta: U.S. Dance team Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons have split after Rachel’s decision to step back from skating to focus on her mental health. She disclosed on an Instagram post announcing the split that she had been struggling with an eating disorder for quite some time now. Michael does intend to keep competing with a new partner, and we wish both he and Rachel all the best.

Evie: Russian skater Anastasia Tarakanova has left her coach Evgeni Plushenko’s training camp and has apparently returned to her old coach Svetlana Panova. I heard that she'll be able to find a bit more happiness over in Panova's camp. We wish all the best for her.

Niamh: More skating news, the Synchro World Championships happened this week in Helsinki, Finland. The podium was Team Paradise from Russia, Marigold Ice Unity from Finland, and Helsinki Rockettes also from Finland.

Evie: This competition was so fun to watch, and I know we here at In The Loop don't do a lot of talking about synchro because none of us are super comfortable or familiar with the rules system. We're all at that point where everything seems really cool.

Yogeeta: I think I'm just in the state that everything is terrifying or I wish they were doing more jumps, which they cannot do. This is really fancy ice dance.

Niamh: Watching a synchro competition is just a constant state of panic that they're all going to bang into each other.

Evie: Yeah definitely. The intersections are terrifying. I don't think an element makes my heart rate go up so far as the intersections. They're the number one thing. Just the atmosphere in the arena was insane. The screaming and cheering especially from the Finnish teams. I thought my ear drums would burst because they're literally shrieking. You can see all the Finnish flags from the audience and that excitement over a competition is something you don't see in the other disciplines of figure skating, not to the same degree. Even if the most popular figure skaters are going out and performing at a big event like Worlds, I still think that synchro beats the hell out of it on the level of excitement and emotion. I want more of that infectious joy in crowds, not just for synchro but everything else.

Yogeeta: What you're saying is that synchro has better fans.

Evie: Yeah, basically.

Niamh: A perfect example is the Worlds arena in Helsinki was the same arena as Grand Prix Finland and even though Yuzuru Hanyu and Alina Zagitova was there the atmosphere was completely different.

Evie: It was completely different. It was like this joy; everyone was supporting everyone there. The crowd turnout even for the early groups was quite large. It felt like everyone was so happy to be there. I want to get into synchro more guys.

Yogeeta: We support your new love of synchro Evie.

-end segment- 5:01

START: The issues with the IJS

Evie: Let's go on to the main topic of this week's episode. The competition we're going to be covering is the last competition of the 2018-19 season: World Team Trophy. As it's the last competition coverage we're going to be doing, we're going to be taking a look at a problem that has become really quite evident as the months of the season has gone by. It's been discussed more and more regularly between fans in the sport on social media. We see a lot of talk about this on Twitter, and this of course is the judging system of figure skating -- the IJS -- and how it's been implemented and understood by the judges, the athletes, and the fans of the sport.

Yogeeta: So you might be wondering, why is this a discussion happening right now after World Team Trophy? WTT is known as a competition that has confusing or egregious scoring. It's pretty much joked that the scores and placements at this competition are on par with a competition like Japan Open. The scores don't affect your ranking for the season. You can only really set world records here and the scores you can get at WTT are pretty egregious. An example of this is Evgenia Medvedeva's world record scoring program in 2017, especially the Short Program which had a small error on the double Axel but she still had a world record.

Niamh: It is important to note that although there's this view on WTT as a more chill and unimportant competition like Japan Open, the scores here are still counted towards personal bests and world records. It's an official ISU competition and therefore the scores given at the competition do have wider consequences for the entire season and all results.

Evie: Although scoring discourse in regards to WTT can be deemed a bit unimportant due to the nature of the competition, similar trends in scoring have been seen throughout the season. Most recently at Worlds, and the issues that have risen from this scoring have sparked a lot of discussion among fans about how the judging system is used in figure skating today.

Yogeeta: Before we go into details about the issues that we've seen in the IJS, we have to talk about its background and inception. The original goal of IJS, when it was created in response to the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, was to be a more accurate and objective -- objective being the key word -- judging tool to prevent widespread abuse in scoring. Having concrete rules for the value of the elements was supposed to solidify the basis for the judgment of the skater as it gives a much deeper understanding of how an individual skater did. Unlike the 6.0 system that awarded scores purely on a ranking basis with no transparency whatsoever.

Niamh: It left room for subjectivity with some of its GOE criteria and, of course, PCS, which required a more holistic understanding of the attributes of a skater's performance. The system did, at least on paper, lend itself to a much higher degree of objective scoring versus subjective scoring. Following the 2017-18 season and the end of the Olympic quad, the GOE scoring system, ranging from -3 to +3 was replaced with a new system ranging from -5 to +5. These changes were implemented in order to allow for more accurate scoring to be awarded since the sport is becoming increasingly technical as we go on.

Evie: Has this change really worked effectively though? For the most part, skaters are still receiving scores that don't really correlate to the performances given. The +/-5 system was put in place for more accurate scoring, but we still see cases of elements receiving higher GOE than perhaps they were expected to be. And especially in the later half of this season, the events at both Four Continents and Worlds had some questionable choice in judging in regards to GOE and also the technical panel calling. There were a lot of things to discuss in relation to that. If you're interested, you can go check out our other episodes on those specific competitions where we break down the problems we found while watching this competition in relation to the scoring.

Yogeeta: Before we go into details about the issues that we've seen in the IJS, we have to talk about its background and inception. The original goal of IJS, when it was created in response to the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, was to be a more accurate and objective -- objective being the key word -- judging tool to prevent widespread abuse in scoring. Having concrete rules for the value of the elements was supposed to solidify the basis for the judgment of the skater as it gives a much deeper understanding of how an individual skater did. Unlike the 6.0 system that awarded scores purely on a ranking basis with no transparency whatsoever.

Niamh: It left room for subjectivity with some of its GOE criteria and, of course, PCS, which required a more holistic understanding of the attributes of a skater's performance. The system did, at least on paper, lend itself to a much higher degree of objective scoring versus subjective scoring. Following the 2017-18 season and the end of the Olympic quad, the GOE scoring system, ranging from -3 to +3 was replaced with a new system ranging from -5 to +5. These changes were implemented in order to allow for more accurate scoring to be awarded since the sport is becoming increasingly technical as we go on.

Evie: Has this change really worked effectively though? For the most part, skaters are still receiving scores that don't really correlate to the performances given. The +/-5 system was put in place for more accurate scoring, but we still see cases of elements receiving higher GOE than perhaps they were expected to be. And especially in the later half of this season, the events at both Four Continents and Worlds had some questionable choice in judging in regards to GOE and also the technical panel calling. There were a lot of things to discuss in relation to that. If you're interested, you can go check out our other episodes on those specific competitions where we break down the problems we found while watching this competition in relation to the scoring.

Niamh: In accordance to the question, has it worked? The only example of the change working that I found this season was the reward it has given Jason Brown, specifically in his Short Program, which is consistently getting 96. He's got it a few times now, versus his 94.32 in the old system which was his personal best. For me, that shows that quality skaters can get higher marks in the new system, which is what I feel it was trying to do. Another example is Satoko Miyahara and her layback spin GOE, which is consistently getting nearly all 5's and 4's, and in fact was the first element under the new system to receive unanimous 5's.

Yogeeta: I will argue that at the start of the season, I thought that the new system was working relatively well. It wasn’t until post-Nationals that we really saw this crazy jump in scores for skaters like Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou. If we compare the quality of the elements and the scores they were receiving during the Grand Prix series, it actually seemed like the system was working as it was meant to be on the surface. Obviously, there will always be debates about PCS, but at the very least, the GOEs seemed to be more fairly attributed at the start of the season.

Evie: Yeah, when you look at Nathan's scoring in the first half of the season. His scores weren't exactly pitch-perfect correct. There were obviously issues of PCS and GOEs that we saw in competitions but it wasn't so egregious that it was really worth calling out at length, I feel. With Vincent, he's kind of known for not having great early seasons. His Grand Prix season for this season and the last were kind of chaotic to say the least. He was all over the place. He really only starts to get into his program and get his things together around Nationals, so it's not surprising to see how the scoring system might have appeared to work in the early half of the season in relation to his scoring at least because he wasn't performing close to clean skates.

Yogeeta: I still blame 90% of this on Nathan's 342.

Evie: At U.S. Nationals. Definitely when it comes to men's scoring inflation over the past couple of competitions, that can definitely be attributed some blame. But what’s interesting to note is that major issues in scoring that were present during the last Olympic quad seemed to have been exacerbated by the introduction of this new system. In Ice Dance for the last couple seasons, we've had increasingly high amounts of perfect scores given to Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron to make them, to a point, almost unbeatable. Especially in the Free Dance in 2016-17 and last season, their scores were getting to the point where the judges were scoring them perfectly nearly every time they stepped on the ice when that didn't match with what was happening in reality. We saw that happen this season, which we're going to talk about once we get to actually talking about WTT later.

If you look at ladies, we had the start of a smaller technical revolution beginning with Evgenia Medvedeva in 2015-16 season where high technical content and consistency was being rewarded extremely well by the judges, even if the skaters had issues like edge problems on jumps or if a skater was brand new to the senior field. If a skater had extremely high consistency or come out from juniors with a reputation for being completely consistent, winning a lot of medals, and continuing that in the senior field and has the type of technical content that makes her already hard to beat, the judges will automatically lift up their scores even more. Of course in the men's field, you have the scores Yuzuru Hanyu received for his NHK and GPF performances of Chopin and Seimei. Since those skates, scores in the men’s field have been on a rapid incline to match those original high scores, sort of like the judges are trying to catch the rest of the field up to those original high marks to make the field, in their eyes, more level. At some point, that didn't necessarily correlate with the actual quality of performances that were being put out on the ice.

Yogeeta: It's interesting that the opposite of what's happening in ice dance is happening in the men's. [Sounds a bit confusing on audio, had to listen a few times to understand.] In ice dance, judges are just propping up Papadakis and Cizeron whereas in men's, they're like Yuzuru Hanyu must be beaten. We need to catch up all the other men.

Niamh: Instead of starting the new system completely from square one, these issues only seemed to grow worse as the system kept going. We’ll go into more detail about these issues later when we discuss WTT itself.

Yogeeta: Let's talk about the problem with subjectivity versus objectivity and the way that the IJS is understood and used by judges today. The main issue in our understanding of judging is there is a substantial difference in understanding between the judges and skaters of the sport itself and the fans like us who have taken the time to read and learn the rules of the sport based on the handbooks designed by the ISU of how the IJS is meant to operate. Taking a stance purely based off what has been written in the handbook, the scoring system is meant to be applied in a much more controlled, objective manner that is, at some times, pretty absolute. For example, the manner in which GOE bullets have designed in which you seemingly have to fulfill certain bullets before you can hit +4 or +5, or the judging of the skating skills or transitions categories in PCS, which are meant to be calculated in a more objective manner because they are a technical program component compared to the other categories. It’s natural then, for a fan who has this knowledge, to question the scores given that don’t align with what is written in the handbooks because there seems to be some discrepancy between what a fan knows and what the judges seemingly have to know. The language that’s used in the rules of the handbooks can be read as being absolute and binding.

Evie: It’s interesting to look at the language being used in the writing of the GOE bullets using words like ‘must’, especially in regards to the +4, +5, you have to hit those because the handbooks and the scale of values is all we have access to as fans. So you know, it’s not a crazy logical leap to read these and think of them as concrete rules. We’re told by other parties involved in the sport, usually by actively competing and retired skaters that the judging system in practice is much more subjective than it appears on paper and that the handbook and scale of values are really just there as a guideline, not an absolute set of rules. The bullets for grades of execution, for example, are supposed to be used as a guide to help aid judges in the decision-making process, not as a concrete set of rules that judges must align their marks with. It certainly does read at least to me that the way the scale of values is written, the way the handbooks are written very much reads like a concrete, absolute set of rules.

Niamh: The only one I can think of that doesn't read as concrete is the PCS one when it says for the rules about major errors, it says ‘should’ not be awarded, rather than ‘must’ not be awarded. It’s the only one that, to me at least, read as subjective. Also there is a common line of thinking in regards to subjectivity where PCS is concerned including the scoring of Skating Skills and Transitions. The nature of PCS means more subjectivity is needed in the score due to it containing categories like Performance and Interpretation which are abstract concepts that not everyone may agree with; there’s no universal definition of what is a good performance, what is good interpretation. Skating Skills and Transitions however are based much more solidly in an understanding that they should reflect what’s clearly shown out on the ice in a technical, more quantifiable sense. You can count the number of difficult transitions used between elements and you can look at how skaters use their edges effectively in their stroking, their speed and ice coverage. These are all elements that can be measured in skating. However, it seems as if the placement of these scores next to those that require a more subjective viewpoint restrict the amount of objectivity that can be given to Skating Skills and Transitions; at least that’s the conclusion that can be drawn from reading protocols or listening to current and former skaters discuss the way in which they’ve experienced judging.

Evie: You look at the comment that was made by Eric Radford, who is a former Canadian pairs skater, Olympic Bronze medallist and recently elected member of the ISU Athletes Commission. He tweeted a few weeks ago on the subject of subjectivity in judging and stated that Grade of Execution most certainly is subjective, as well as Skating Skills and Transitions, the effectivity of both can truly only be felt, not quantified; this is why one judge has a skater at +4 and another at +1 or +5. He deleted the tweet shortly after publishing it but the sentiment itself still stands. These measures that from an outside perspective seem quantifiable or even fair are actually the opposite in reality. I can’t speak for everyone but personally when I read that, especially from someone who was recently elected to a position in the ISU itself, reading this kind of made my confidence take a knock.

Yogeeta: Oh god, same

Evie: It was really disheartening to read someone so close to the sport, so involved in the sport share these sentiments

Niamh: This belief of how the system operates at least and I think what us as a podcast mostly share as an opinion takes away from the integrity of the sport. And the fact this is accepted as a norm in the wider figure skating community, including what we’ve seen from actual ISU members themselves doesn’t speak well towards the validity of figure skating in the long run. We already have so many people in the sporting and wider community in general that figure skating isn’t a sport because subjectivity is a major issue in the judging process. And the fact the judging system itself is filled with bias and federation politics forever feeds into this argument. And while bias and politics are somewhat inevitable in all sports, the manner in which they run rampant in figure skating only seeks to damage the image of the sport itself. I know as a fan, I’ve often had people come up to me and say, ‘Oh why do you follow this, it’s not a real sport.’ and it’s getting to the point where all of their arguments are real.

Evie: It’s always going to be tricky with sports that do require some measure of subjectivity in judging to be recognised by the wider sporting community because you know, in a lot of generally popular sports, there’s always a clear measure of when someone’s won something. But when you have figure skating that requires talking about performance and interpretation of music and actually the act of performing itself, performing a program, there’s something artistic that you don’t see in a lot of other sports, especially Olympic sports in general. It’s quite hard to make an argument for the fact it is in fact a sport if there isn’t some measure of objectivity in the judging itself.

Yogeeta: As fans, we really only have the technical handbook as our guide to scoring, as well as the videos the ISU releases regarding GOE. So we don’t actually receive the training the judges get, nor do we actually know what goes on behind the scenes with the federations. As such, we try to score based on the handbook which, at least for singles and pairs, is mostly objective criteria for the various elements. Our comments on social media and this podcast run with this notion because, as fans, we don’t have any additional resources to guide our understanding of the sport.

Evie: However, judges do seem to take other things into account when making their decisions in competitions, you know - the reputation of the skater, the federation that they’re from, who coaches them, stuff like that. This leads to major discrepancies between a score that a fan thinks the skater should receive, versus the score the judges actually give them. And this especially becomes an issue when certain skaters are overscored, or perceivably overscored, and others are underscored in the same competition because the validity of the winning skaters comes under question.

Niamh: Personally for me, and I know a lot of other people on social media, one of the highlights of this season actually had nothing to do with skating - it was Javier Fernandez at the press conference after the Short Program at Europeans in which he questioned the scores he received and the call he got on his quad Salchow. His questioning of the scores is unusual to see because many skaters tend to, at least perceivably, fear backlash from the judges or the institution of figure skating as a whole if they questioned the scoring given to them at a major event. However, Javier was in limited danger considering that he was retiring, this was his last competition from retirement. But similar sentiments about scoring could not be shared by, for example, a skater from a smaller federation with a shorter history in competition because there would always be that fear that their comments could affect them in future competitions and unlike skaters with larger federations who are there to protect them, the smaller ones don't have anyone that's going to help politic or stand up for them.

Yogeeta: For others, the judges actions are forcing some skaters to think that they are below their class when they're at the top of their game. One of the biggest examples of this has been Shoma Uno. He has been a skater who has previously been marked quite favorably by judges at past international events. But as the judges start favoring other skaters, he’s been pushed down and, especially after not podiuming at Worlds, he’s been giving several interviews about how he feels like no longer one of the top skaters, despite the fact that he's still the number 2 ranked skater in the World.

Evie: And looking at Shoma, he won gold at Four Continents and he medalled at the Grand Prix Final, he won Japanese Nationals - he had all of these really great achievements over the season and yet after Worlds he was crushed so much by the scoring and by the reality, or at least his view on the reality, of his place in the Men's field that he just felt dejected and that's really awful to see because he's one of the most proficient skaters in the field currently. To see someone feel so bad about what should still be a thing to be celebrating is horrible and no one should have to go through that. This isn’t only on just on the judging panel, the judges giving GOE and PCS - scoring isn’t just solely in their hands. The technical panel also plays a huge role in the scoring issues that we see today. Technical calls, by their nature, are meant to be almost solely objective decisions based off clear and established facts. Determining underrotations, downgrades, or levels should be done with a clear understanding of the nature of each element and the rules it must conform to in order to get the highest amount of points. If a jump is landed on or above the quarter, it's underrotated. If a Pairs lady doesn’t have her head low enough in a death spiral, the level should go down. If an ice dancer exits a prescribed turn in a pattern in the Rhythm Dance on a flat edge, they shouldn’t receive the key point and so on and so forth. There are measures of subjectivity in these calls, such decisions when an underrotation is borderline and the tech panel is allowed to act in what they believe is in favor of the skater, but for the most part, the job of the technical panel is based in an understanding of objectivity in calling.

Niamh: However, this pillar of objectivity in the calls made by the tech panel at events has seemingly lost much of its foundations. We are seeing an increasing number of elements with numerous or clear errors that remain uncalled by the tech panel at both smaller and major ISU events. We see it here at World Team Trophy, as we’ll discuss in detail shortly, but we've also seen it at probably the majority of events throughout this season.

Yogeeta: When we talk about the tech panel and their inconsistencies, it’s important to note that when discussing the calls that we as viewers of broadcasts have more access to angles and replays in order to determine underrotations and edges than the actual tech panel does. Whether or not the final decision comes down to the inability to make an accurate call due to a camera angle given to the tech panel, or due to other more questionable forces, the fact that we as fans have more resources than the actual panel tasked with making these calls is extremely concerning, as we’ve noted numerous times in the past.

Evie: When calling is inaccurate not only does it reflect poorly on the skaters receiving unfair judgments, but it also affects the credibility of the field and the sport as a whole. The fact that most fans have an expectation that judging is not always going to be a fair process in this sport is worrying to say the least. Humans are fallible, judges aren’t perfect - we all know this and we don’t expect them to always make the right calls or decisions, especially while in this current judging climate. But deliberately making it so that objective calling and scoring is more difficult or impossible at times is, what I think, extremely damaging to the sport and the fanbase as a whole. What’s the point in continuing to follow a sport where skaters are constantly given unjust scoring or calls and where the results vary wildly from competition to competition depending on who's on the panels? Following this and seeing this, it's quite taxing, to say the least.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I shouldn't have to look at the tech panel and be really excited when Shin Amano's on the panel. Everyone should be Shin Amano.

Evie: Everyone should be Jonathan Guerreiro's mom. (Yogeeta: Yes!) It's quite disheartening that we have to go through this, especially when the IJS is, if you read it, a quite solid system if you base it just solely off what's written in the handbooks. If it's applied effectively, it would be a really solid judging system but it's not being used to its full advantage because judges aren't applying it fairly.

Yogeeta: The answer is clearly that we need robot tech callers and robot judges.

Niamh: That's the next Congress.

Evie: Listen, they have to argue about whether music can be brought on a USB to a competition - I think we're a couple of centuries away from robots at this point. Let's be honest.

Niamh: The fundamental misunderstanding on the way that the IJS is meant to operate has caused a lot of tension between fans of the sport - and at the moment it's not even between just fans of the sport, it's between fans and the actual skaters! Actual skaters are getting involved in the conversation. The IJS in its current iteration and method of use by judges is working in a similar system that the ISU originally said they were trying to avoid when creating the system after the issues with 6.0 came to a head. The 6.0 system was too subjective and the method in which it was used, by its limited criteria and anonymous judgments, let scoring abuse run rampant in its time.

Yogeeta: The IJS is having similar issues today, wherein a judging system with a large measure of objectivity given by laying out quantifiable, clear methods of calculating scores for the sport is being basically ignored by the institution in favor of pushing a more subjective school of judging.

It's allowing questionable scoring that does not align with its own guidelines to run rampant because, in your own words, "scoring is subjective." Introducing the +/- 5 system only seems to create an avenue for more misuse, as many critics of the system's introductions stated when it was first pitched.

[30-37:30] Kat

Evie: And it's interesting that especially when critics of people who argue on the basis of objectivity in regards to scoring, when they say that the Grade of Execution and [Scale] of Values- the handbook- they're guidelines, if we're going to treat them solely as guidelines- optional guidelines that the ISU has put out as the "ideal" way the judging system would be applied, that you don't necessarily have to adhere to, but it is here in case the judges need help in judging. But if you take take these guidelines, this "ideal" and compare it to what's actually being shown in the sport now, there is a clear gap in understanding between them; they're so opposite to one another that it's quite confusing that while the argument that these documents are at their core "guidelines," the fact that they're not even remotely being reflected in the scoring itself should still signal a problem to those that argue for that fact. The question that arises from all of this is, what's the point in creating such a detailed judging system in response to real and serious issues that plagued the sport for years when [the ISU] as an institution are just going to misuse it and continue to misuse it? And we've seen the last couple seasons that judging is broken in a lot of the disciplines, and it's getting worse as the years go on. That's really frustrating and really sad to see as fans, because we all want the sport to be a fairer process.

-end segment- 32:16

START: Pairs

Evie: We're going to move onto talking about World Team Trophy and the results there, but we're also going to talk about the ways in which scoring throughout the season have evolved and have changed with +5/-5 and how that's going to affect us going forward into next season and the rest of the Olympic cycle. So starting off, we're just going to mention the podium for World Team Trophy, which was, in first, Team USA; in second, Team Japan; and in third, Team Russia. France was in fourth, Canada was in fifth, and Italy was in sixth. So starting off with Pairs-

Yogeeta: [Vanessa] James and [Morgan] Cipres!

Evie: James and Cipres!

Yogeeta: I am so happy they got their redemption after what happened at Worlds because that was heartbreaking for them. They were really able to pull it together one last time, and to be fair, World Team Trophy seems to always been when they pull it together, because they did this in 2017 with two stellar programs there as well that were also personal bests.

Evie: And now we see them after such an amazing season with a really sad end point at Worlds where they missed the podium due to the errors they had in the short program, the fact they weren't able to make up that deficit, and while they didn't have two clean programs here-- that's not surprising, they're not short program skaters, they've always kind of struggled in there--but they did pull together two really great skates, and I think their free here was probably up there in terms of performance quality with Grand Prix Final's or Euro's [free skates], I don't think it was necessarily better than any of them, especially Grand Prix Final-- I think that was the main "oh my god" skate.

Yogeeta: Oh yeah, their Grand Prix Final free skate was emotional.

Evie: Their free skate win here was definitely deserved. [Natalia] Zabiiako/[Alexander] Enbert, the Russian pair, they're extremely good technical skaters and all of their elements are so clean and lovely- stereotypical Russian technical amazingness, their twist is awesome, the landings on their throws are great- but they don't have that PCS skill, at least in Performance/Interpretation.

Yogeeta: Slightly interesting to see their components scores though, because Zabiiako/Enbert won Performance and James/Cipres won skating skills? I would think it would be flipped?

Evie: Yeah, it definitely should have been flipped around - I was looking at those scores going like, huh??? What? That makes no sense!

Yogeeta: I love James and Cipres, they're one of my favorite Pairs teams, but they're not technical skaters. They are performance skaters.

Evie: It's just very confusing to see and while Zabiiako/Enbert completely deserved to win in terms of skating skills and transitions, but performance and interpretation?

Yogeeta: Not so much.

Evie: Yeah, you'd have to have a pretty good argument to convince me that were the case. And then if you're looking at other teams in the field, we kind of had a match up between the Canadian team, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, vs the Italian team of Nicole Della-Monica and Matteo Guarise. Both of these teams are kind of in the same place in the field-- they're scoring around the same at most major events-- and it's not surprising to see how closely they scored in both the short and the free here. I'm personally not a huge fan of either team's programs, especially the free skates -- I think they're both lacking in certain respects. Moore-Towers/Marinaro's Pink Floyd one, I love the music, I'm a massive Pink Floyd fan, but they don't sell it to me. Then Della-Monica/Guarise, their free skate is quite traditional, soft, classical-ish music, but they don't seem like a cohesive team. It still kind of feels like they're two separate skaters, skating the same program together on the ice. They're still a really good technical team: their twist is really awesome they've been working with Nina Mozer for the last couple of years, so it's good to see they've got such a nice twist, they got their throws really excellent, and their lifts are really good - especially in comparison to the Canadians; the Canadian Pairs, their lifts could, at some points, be really quite terrifying.

Yogeeta: Yeah, they get really wonky sometimes.

Evie: And I think the Italian pair have a bit more stability and ice coverage, and I can understand why they scored on about the same level, but in my opinion, I think the Italian team should have placed above the Canadians. They did in the short, but they didn't in the free and it was by a very small margin.

Niamh: It was a point wasn't it?

Evie: Yeah it was about a point. And I think that even though the Italians did have an issue on one of their side-by-side jumps, the quality of their other elements kind of negated that, at least in my opinion, so yeah. I personally would have liked to see the Italians place above the Canadians in there.

Yogeeta: Well, shout-out to Riku [Miura] and Shoya [Ichihashi] because they did well considering that was their first senior competition.

Evie: They're so cute.

Yogeeta: They're adorable. I wish Japan would actually invest in their Pairs.

Evie: Mood. And yeah, this is their first senior competition, and that's awesome. And they have to go senior next season since Shouya is going to be ageing out of juniors. I'm interested to see how that's going to work.

Niamh: I just fear their pressure level considering they are now the only Japanese pair team.

Yogeeta: I don't think they have any pressure to worry about. Japan doesn't care about their Pairs or Dance disciplines, I'm sorry.

Niamh: That's very fair.

Yogeeta: Okay so, let's talk about where we feel Pairs will be going in our next season, which isn't as bad as the rest of the disciplines - solid win there! So Pairs as a discipline doesn't have many as issues regarding scoring as the other disciplines. There are obviously instances when the judging and the Grade of Execution of elements don't always align with the bullets, and sometimes the components are questionable, even at this event. But unlike the other disciplines, where there are wide-spread serious issues that actually affect the integrity of the sport itself, Pairs is pretty chill. Even at World's, I thought that [Cheng] Peng and [Yang] Jin should have been third, but they didn't really lose by a considerably large margin, or anything crazy like that.

Evie: Yeah, it was Peng and Jin coming in fourth, and then Sui and Han not winning the Short Program. Those were the two main issues with the Pairs competition at Worlds that I had problems with. The rest of the field was kind of fine.

Niamh: Pairs is the one discipline that still has hope.

Evie: Yeah.

Yogeeta: It's really sad because it's also the discipline that I least care about. Unlike ladies and men where I love everybody, I only really like a few of the Pairs teams, and I don't really pay as much attention to Pairs.

Evie: Honestly, this is something that I've been thinking for a while. I think one of the major things about the fact that not many people are comparatively into Pairs as other disciplines is partly for the fact that the field isn't as deep, and there isn't as much scoring issues to discuss, like have discourse about. You know what I mean? There's not enough discussion about things that went wrong, so people aren't being encouraged to watch things, and watch other competitions because it's relatively tame in comparison to the others. Which is sad, because honestly for the last couple of seasons I haven't been really following Pairs, and then I made it a conscious effort starting the end of last season, and this season to follow it, and I've gotten really, really attached to the discipline as a whole. And I want more people to watch it because it's genuinely fantastic, and there's so much talent.

Niamh: Unlike in Singles where the technical revolution is, at least, underway, the elements that Pairs skaters do don't have much variation. Most Pairs have pretty similar layouts or the exact same layout. Very few quad twists performed in competition, quad throw attempts are few and far in-between, and very few skaters are attempting higher scoring jumps like the flips or Lutzes for their side by side jumps. The biggest value of the Pairs field as a whole just doesn't really have much in the way of fluctuation in comparison to the other disciplines, where layouts can vary drastically, which in turn means points and scoring will vary drastically.

Yogeeta: Some of this is the fault of the ISU and their updates to the base values and the +5/-5 system, because, previously, we've seen quad twists and quad throw in competition because they needed those to actually score higher. But now it's actually less likely to be seeing those because if you mess them up, you are punished very heavily. Less teams are going to be more likely to attempt these, especially because they're pretty dangerous to be trying to begin with. So, unlike the quad revolution in the men's, where even with the new base values and the more punishment, we're still seeing the quads, it's not really as worth it for the Pairs teams to go forward with the quads. The quad revolution was started in Pairs and this new base value system actually stopped it from even going forward.

Evie: Like we saw in our interview with James and Cipres at IDF a few months ago, they said that they weren't planning to put the quad throw back in their programs because at the moment it's not worth the risk it is to train it, because it's simply not going to be rewarded, and that's kind of - at least to them - a problem. I kind of have to agree that, especially if the technical revolution was to begin in Pairs, right now there's no basis for it to start, because there's no good reason for Pairs to be attempting these really difficult dangerous elements that have very serious cost to messing them up. There's just not that much point when they're not going to rewarded for it in competition. And in Pairs the layouts are very, very similar. You'll usually see similar kinds of throws, the side by side jumps are usually always sals and toes, you don't see a lot of other teams doing them, with the exception of a couple of outliers. Like at the top of my head, Suzaki and Kihara when they were together they did side by side triple Lutzes, and then you have the USA team Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc who do side by side triple loops. They're kind of the outliers, but the majority of the teams do sals and toes. In Ice Dance also, layouts are practically identical there too, and you often see skaters fall into order based on reputation in regards to the way they're scored because, due to the nature of the discipline of Ice Dance, the risk of having major mistakes in programs is far less than Pairs or singles. You don't see as many falls in ice dance, because it's the nature of the way that the discipline is skated. There's not going to be those high-risk jump or throw elements. But in Pairs, there's still quite a decently large margin for error in elements, much higher than dance. These team standings can fluctuate a lot more, because the variance in quality of execution of the elements is a lot higher in the Pairs discipline.

Yogeeta: Pairs scoring really only becomes an issue, or a combination of issues that the singles and ice dance extend over, in which a high base value coupled with high consistency. You could argue that a few seasons ago many of the ladies were also competing with similar layouts, which include a triple-triple, maybe two triple-triples, and therefore had similar layouts, programs, similar to Pairs right now. But, for example, Evgenia started seeing astronomically rising scores because her consistency was so high, and no one was really ever able to compete with her. Even though she deservedly won everything, her scores, namely PCS and GOEs, were kind of off the charts, and set precedent for scoring subsequent ladies like Alina quite similarly.

Niamh: As far as I can see right now, Pairs has remained relatively unscathed by runaway scoring because we haven't seen a team with extreme consistency and higher base value. Although there are definitely some similar trends we've seen in other disciplines on an individual basis. I'd argue that Sui/Han are probably the most consistent pair in recent years. But because they've sat out of so much competition, they haven't really had the time to build the momentum and overall impression of consistency back to back because of so many injuries and such and such. But it's been really interesting to see James/Cipres PCS and overall scores rise this season. Because they suddenly began winning two years ago (two seasons ago), they weren't on the same level of consistently winning and podiuming.

Evie: And now that as their consistency has gone up and their medalling chances have gone up, and the fact that their scores have just been having a gradual increase over the season as well as their PCS. They've been getting in the low 9s and the high 9s for the performance and interpretation and stuff. It's interesting to see that kind of rise, but also interesting to see even though they've dominated the field throughout this whole season they're still not completely unbeatable. Unlike what we've seen in some other fields where we have people who have done pretty well this season but can also be kind of seen as unbeatable.

Yogeeta: Well yeah, James/Cipres cannot skate a Short Program for their lives. I'm sorry, I love them but they cannot skate a Short Program. (Hosts laugh)

Evie: I guess it's going to be interesting to see how Pairs scoring continues to develop under the +5/-5 [system] over the next season and the next couple of seasons and if new issues might arise that we haven't really consider yet that might only come to a head under this new system. There's always the opportunity for misuse. It's funny almost to think about how the IJS was created in response to the Salt Lake City Pairs' scandal and the fact that the scoring system as it's applied today is being used the most effectively in the Pairs discipline. (Hosts laugh) So I guess it kind of worked in that respect ? So I mean one point on the wall for them, but just zero in all the other categories.

-end segment- 47:16

START: Ladies

Yogeeta: Moving onto one of those other categories, let's talk about ladies and how I don't know how program components even work anymore.

Niamh: Yaaaay...

Evie: Oh boy the top three ladies in the Free Skate: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Bradie Tennell, and Kaori Sakamoto all had 71 PCS. You know Kaori only won the PCS by 0.16 in the free.

Yogeeta: Kaori is a superior skater to both of those, I am so sorry Kaori that you had to deal with this.

Evie: Like the PCS ranges in the Short Program were quite close as well but they weren't like crazy close.

Yogeeta: Kaori clearly won PCS in the short.

Evie: Oh yeah that was like the one good thing.

Yogeeta: The one good thing in this competition. Kaori getting the program components she deserves.

Evie: I think that especially with Liza and Bradie, y'know I think in terms of skating skills and transitions and stuff, they're pretty close to one another. I think Bradie's skating skills are actually a bit stronger than Liza's. I mean Liza obviously has the advantage when it comes to performance and interpretation over Bradie. Kaori is the best out of all 3 of them in all of the kind of categories, at least in my opinion. And seeing them put so close together isn't astounding, it's not completely shocking...but the fact that they were all within in the same point, they were all in 71 just makes me scratch my head in confusion. I'm just like how could you score them basically all exactly the same for Free Skates ? Huh ? Liza and Bradie were both pretty clean in their Free Skate and Kaori did have a couple of tight landings, especially in the first couple of jumps?

Yogeeta: But that shouldn't affect her program components!

Evie: Oh yeah well I definitely completely agree with you, I'm just saying this is the way is the way judges already think about PCS. Where PCS is completely dependent on how the technical elements are executed. There's definitely an effect on that and that's a whole other separate issue that shouldn't even be happening in the first place!

Evie: Let's change course and talk about a very positive thing about this event which was Rika Kihira's Short Program. It was amazing! I think we can all agree that that was one of the best ladies Short Programs we've seen in quite awhile.

Yogeeta: That was like the one world record that was truly deserved at this competition.

Evie: Yes it was so good to see. Especially because she was kind of having issues with her triple Axel in the warmup, I don't think she landed one in the warmup of the Short Program? At least I saw her fall on a couple of them. And then she landed a perfect one when it came time to actually skate and it was awesome. Even though, as we've said previously, this Short Program isn't the best...I still think that when it's performed to its absolute max it carries it carries a lot of emotion and a lot of meaning and just Rika is such a beautiful expressive skater with such a good solid technical foundation that she's just so entrancing to watch.

Yogeeta: Her technical foundation is like the best of all the ladies in the field. I don't think I ever have to worry about underrotations with Rika. I don't have to worry about edge calls.

Evie: Yeah the only time you really have to worry about underrotations with Rika is if she falls on a jump. Up until this competition she's had a perfect success rate with her non triple Axel triples. And unfortunately she did fall on a triple Lutz triple toe in the Free Skate here and that was really awful to see. Going on to Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, she had two really solid skates here. Kind of like...I feel it was like her kind of showing the Russian Fed that she's still got it.

Yogeeta: She just always shows up post Olympics and she has her best seasons. It's her brand now " I don't skate well in the Olympic seasons, but post Olympics I am amazing!".

Evie: Post Olympics is mine! Yeah it's definitely....the decision to not send her to Worlds was definitely serious and probably a big blow to her confidence. But she still went out there and skated like the two best skates of her career.

Yogeeta: Yeah I agree.

Evie: I don't think I would have given her the scores that she got.

Yogeeta: Oh yeah but I don't think I would've given most people any of the scores that they got at this competition.

Evie: You know that's kind of a given with World Team Trophy.

Yogeeta: But my biggest issue with the scoring at World Team Trophy is it starts a precedence that "Oh they got this score once, they can get it again."

Evie: Yeah!

Yogeeta: Even if they didn't really deserve to get it the first time around.

Niamh: World Team Trophy is just kind of a case of your score...and then +10.

(Hosts laugh)

Evie: Although her score was quite high in comparison to what might have been closer to reality, I think that she still executed some of the best elements she's ever done. Like her triple Axel in the Short Program was awesome! It was amazing! And the Free Skate was a really amazing level of technical ability. It's just so good to see that even after she had that disappointment when she didn't make the World team that she's still willing to show and prove that she's still one of the best skaters in the Russian ladies field.

Yogeeta: And it's important that she's doing it now, before the junior ladies with the quads move up to seniors next season.

Evie: Moving on to some more scores that were a little bit confusing.

Yogeeta: Oh boy!

Evie: Yikes! Bradie Tennell...

Yogeeta: A 150! I don't think I would ever give Bradie a 150 on her best day.

Evie: I think it was probably the best Free Skate that she's done all season. But there were still errors in it that weren't called at all by the technical panel. Like we talked about this at Four Continents when she won the Short Program there with elements that were questionable in terms of rotation and then also at Worlds where she had similar issues. And here in the Free Skate at least to what I saw on the broadcast and in the replays, both of her triple Lutz triple toes were pretty visibly underrotated. You could see her skate hook around to finish the last quarter. But then again it's not quite that surprising that we didn't see them get called because it's kind of been a bit of precedence for it not to be. It still wasn't exactly confidence boosting to see the 150 in the free.

Yogeeta: yeah I wouldn't have given her a 71 PCS.

Niamh: No.

Yogeeta: I think that while she has definitely improved from last season, she hasn't improved that much. Especially in her performance and interpretation I still feel like she's just performing to the music and not with the music.

Evie: I think that these programs have been really good tools for her to improve her performance and interpretation especially in comparison to the ones she had last year, which really didn't match to her skating kind of aesthetic ? So I think that that was a good choice for her. But yeah like you said Yogs, I don't think that she's improved that much to warrant the scores that she received here. I think it's definitely no question the best that she's performed this Free Skate in the season, but yeah just look at the scores and the protocols and I go "Huh?".

Yogeeta: Moving on to Kaori Sakamoto. She should've gotten second in both segments and I will stand by this.

Evie: If Bradie's underrotations were called in the Free Skate, I think that she definitely would have been up second in the free. And then in the Short Program, I think purely based off the quality of her elements and the PCS...and we've talked about Kaori getting robbed on Grade of Execution in the past, it's quite a running theme for her in international competitions. I think that if her overall quality was rewarded to the degree that it deserves she definitely would've been second in the Short Program behind Rika.

Yogeeta: I am happy for one thing this season with Kaori, and that it has risen her PCS quite high from where she was last season. And it's well deserved and I hope it sets a future precedent for more Japanese ladies to actually get higher PCS as they should be.

Evie: And I hope that as she continues to grow as a skater that her PCS will reflect that growth.

Yogeeta: I think she'll have two great programs next season. This season her Short Program was really not as well composed as her Free Skate and I think that next season she'll definitely have a greater opportunity to make an impact with the judges. Especially with a Shae-Lynn Bourne Short Program. So I hope that she continues to evolve and I know she will. And her coach said that she might have a triple Axel next season?

Niamh: Oh my gosh.

Evie: I'm excited to see.

Yogeeta: Well her double Axel is amazing, so I'm all for her having a triple Axel. We'll see how she evolves as the next season goes.

Evie: So looking into next season and the seasons after that, in regards to the problems that we might see arise or get exacerbated in the ladies field, we all kind of feel like we're going to be seeing a technical revolution in ladies starting next season when all of the Russian juniors come up from the junior ranks into the senior ranks, those kids that do have the quads. And we also have Elizabet Tursynbaeva who just landed the first ratified senior quad. More and more Japanese ladies are aiming for the triple Axel. Rika Kihira you know, she's also going to be aiming to add quads into her programs as well. So there are all of these possibilities for how the technical development of the ladies discipline as a whole is going to go over the next few seasons. It's going to be an interesting trend to follow in regards to how the scoring changes in the field.

Yogeeta: Especially it'll be interesting to see how the GOEs on these elements play out. Especially since falls on quads are meant to decrease the value of these quads more under the +5/-5 GOE system. It will also be interesting to see if the rise of quads will also follow a rise of PCS like we've seen with the men's. We've already seen the Russian junior ladies getting rather high components this season. At the level of some the top senior ladies, like Anna Shcherbakova got 66.29 in program components at World Junior Championships. So we'll see how their move to seniors will actually further impact their PCS.

Niamh: And if we compare it to the rise of the technical evolution of mens, that was heavily correlated with PCS can now hit over 9s in various program component scores categories without a quad. So I wonder if we will see a similar correlation with the ladies. What also might be interesting is if someone comes up from juniors or someone in the current field begins to hit quads in their programs consistently. We saw a crazy rise in scoring with Evgenia Medvedeva, so will that continue? Will that happen again? And how would that potentially affect scoring in the ladies field with the seasons to come if a situation like that arose?

Yogeeta: Another thing that we should probably keep in mind is that given that the past few seasons ladies have had a pretty similar of technical content, many competitions have actually been won on the value of their program components. So by upping the technical content we'll soon begin to see an imbalance between technical scores and technical components. We already see this with the Russian junior ladies. And so ladies skaters who rely on their strong components will actually be left behind if the technical scores start going dramatically over 40 in the short and 80 in the free. We may need to see a rebalance of program components happening in the future if this technical revolution actually proves successful.

Evie: Yeah I think we'll have to wait and see what the next few seasons will bring us in regards to how the technical content of the ladies field in general changes and evolves. But, honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the advancements continue, if the Ladies keep adding to their repertoires - I think the ISU might consider matching the PCS levels in Ladies to [align with] Men. I think that could possibly become very real in the future of scoring, maybe not in this Olympic cycle, but possibly in the next.

-end segment- 1:00:05

START: Ice Dance

Evie: Shall we move on to Ice Dance now?

Yogeeta: Yes! Let's do it, I guess.

Evie: I just have to say: where was this tech panel at Worlds a couple of weeks ago? Because this was probably the fairest Rhythm Dance calling since Euros happened. The tech panel was pretty consistently strict with levels throughout the competition, which was really good to see after Worlds happened. We shall never speak of that again.

Yogeeta: Throwback to our questioning of the tech panel and why we're always asking "Where is this tech panel at this other competition?" We should not have to ask that question.

Evie: We shouldn't have to ask it. But, of course, even with this tech panel, we did still see judging, in general, that was kind of questionable. Let's talk about [Gabriella] Papadakis and [Guillaume] Cizeron's Free Dance score.

Yogeeta: (sarcastic) Just give Papadakis and Cizeron the Beijing Olympic Gold medal now and call it a day.

Evie: Yeah, it's definitely yikes, to say the least. They scored another world record with this Free Dance for a program that, unlike when it was performed at Euros or Worlds, didn't get full levels. Gabi only got a level 3 on her One Foot Step Sequence. So I question that judgment call, and also the fact that Judge 6 gave everything a +5 and every component a 10.

Yogeeta: I want to know whether Judge 6 was even watching or they maybe just went "Oh, they probably got perfect everything, let's just not even watch this competition."

Niamh: Listen to the crowd's cheers and if they cheered it meant it was a +5.

Yogeeta: Judge 6 was also the French judge, so they might have also been exiled if they didn't give them all +5s and 10s. (Hosts laugh) Just saying.

Evie: Like it's not surprising to see them get these really high marks, but Papadakis and Cizeron have only competed for a handful of times this season because they were sidelined earlier in the season by Guillaume's back injury right before NHK. So they didn't compete in as many competitions as they usually do, and over those competitions they did make appearances at - or at least at international competitions, I'm excluding Nationals in this point. Over those competitions, we only a 3 point increase in the score that they got for the Free Dance. That's it. That is the only difference that we've seen. A 3 point increase. And all those scores have been World Records in the low to mid 130s - which is already extremely high.

Yogeeta: Also this is the start of a new judging system!

Evie: And it's the start of a new Olympic cycle as well! We've still got three more years until the Olympics roll around.

Yogeeta: So what you're telling me is that I should just wait for Papadakis and Cizeron to just show up to competitions and get perfect scores every time they compete because that is what the state of figure skating will be in Ice Dance for the rest of this quad?

Evie: They are the class of the field right now. There is no one at the moment that really can beat them at anything. I'm just kind of resigned to it at this point. But there are lots of younger teams, or even older teams, whose technical content and PCS skills are improving and could theoretically pose a threat to P/C in the future if they continue to polish what they have. But, looking at the standard that's been set at this competition and through the last few competitions and seasons past, even if they improved to an outstanding level, I still don't think that they would have that chance to outscore Papadakis and Cizeron because the judges, I don't think, are willing to entertain that possibility.

Niamh: I just don't see how Ice Dance can continue with scores like this? If a new team breaks out in Seniors with excellent technical elements and performance, the perfect scores have already been handed out. How do you go better than all +5s and all 10s?

Yogeeta: You can't, you can't.

Niamh: And even if Papadakis and Cizeron get better next season, how can they get higher than they already have? They can't. There's nowhere for them to grow.

Yogeeta: Well this is just based on a terrible precedent that was set in the previous years with Papadakis and Cizeron. I am still angry about their Short Dance score at the Olympics.

Evie: If you also look at the way the scoring played out for Dance at this competition, Papadakis and Cizeron's Free wasn't the only one that had perceivable, questionable judgments. We saw [Victoria] Sinitsina and [Nikita] Katsalapov's Free Dance get a 130, even though that also wasn't completely clean. Nikita's twizzles and his One Foot Step Sequence were only level 3 here but they scored a Season's Best with a program that doesn't really match who they are as skaters. They definitely have the technical prowess to back up some of their marking but I think, especially when it comes to PCS, they're simply not as strong as Papadakis and Cizeron or even other people in the Ice Dance field in general. So I question the hell out them getting a 130 here. And we also want to give a quick shout out to Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto, Team Koko, for almost breaking 100 in the Free Dance here! Which is really good to see, especially since they didn't qualify for the Free back at Worlds a few weeks ago, so it was good to see them have a good skate here.

Yogeeta: Asian Ice Dance please rise!

Niamh: I know we don't talk about galas, but their performance was probably the highlight of the gala for me.

Yogeeta: Oh yeah, their gala exhibition is gorgeous.

Evie: So going on to talking about the problems about the scoring in Ice Dance over the next couple of seasons - we've seen over the last couple of competitions that the gaps between scores are getting closer and closer and narrower and narrower - and they're getting even more ridiculous this season. We saw at Worlds how crazy close the scoring got in the Rhythm Dance when nearly everyone was clean or close to clean according to the panel. 2nd place to 7th place had only 2 points between them. At that point, it kind of seemed that everyone was falling in a line determined by their reputation or the federation that they skated for. You look at [Kaitlyn] Weaver and [Andrew] Poje, or [Charlene] Guignard and [Marco] Fabbri's scores, both who were here at World Team Trophy. They’re both pretty much in the same area in the field.

Yogeeta: Yeah, they tend to trade places but it's usually Weapo that lands on top because of the fact that they have a much longer history of placing highly at international events and the reputation necessary to get those higher marks, as well as the backing of one of the most powerful federations in figure skating. Guignard and Fabbri usually tend to get the shorter end of the stick because they don’t really have the same level of reputation as Weapo, since this is really their breakout season as they tended to fall behind Anna [Cappelini] and Luca [Lanotte] in the past, despite the fact that I really think that they've outskated Weapo both here and at Worlds.

Niamh: Personally for me, I find the problem is that if you looked at the entries of any given major Ice Dance competition right now and made guesses as to placements, just based solely on the reputation of both the skater and the federation, you would probably guess the majority placements correctly. You do not need to watch the actual competition, you can just guess the results!

Yogeeta: Yeah, basically. Ice Dance is the most predictable field right now and it's kind of sad.

Evie: Yeah, because the margin for error is very low, you can have a guesstimate as to who might hit their levels and what the tech panel might be like.

Yogeeta: And it doesn't even matter if they hit their levels because they'll just boost them with GOE and Program Components!

Evie: There are also major issues with the way individual levels are weighted in the current Scale Of Values in relation to Ice Dance. The fact that there is less than 4 points between a base level and a level 4 step sequence, or less than a point separating each level in a pattern for the Rhythm Dance means that teams who aren’t fulfilling the level criteria effectively still have a chance to score well if their GOE and PCS can make up the small deficit made in their levels. We’ve seen this issue in action this season, most prominently with Hubbell and Donohue’s win at the GPF, where their levels were much lower than the other competitors, yet they still scored really well due to their boosted GOE and PCS. Increasing the difference between each level for elements would be an effective way of signaling to the field that solely relying on your PCS is not sustainable in the long term and, if the calls are applied effectively, it would probably increase the quality in the field in the long run. However, this would all be predicated on the fact that the tech panel judging would have to be pretty harsh when applying levels, and as we’ve seen even at big events like Worlds just a couple of weeks ago, we can’t always expect that to be the case. Even the head of the Ice Dance Technical Committee said at a meeting at Worlds for coaches that the new judging system wasn’t working for Dance as it was for other disciplines, even going so far to say that increasing the higher end of GOE scale beyond +5 might work more effectively for the discipline. But changing those margins isn’t going to stop the misuse that’s currently running rampant in the field right now. In fact, it could just make things worse, giving judges more leeway to grant higher GOEs and increasing the scores overall. And while increasing the amount between levels would increase the scores overall, it would be more beneficial because it would also increase the level of skating overall in the discipline. And when levels are so integral to what Ice Dance is as a discipline and how it could affect the field as a whole, a decision like this could be really important. There isn’t really a perfect solution to fixing the scoring issues in Dance that wouldn’t require a massive overhaul of the system and that’s really quite unlikely right now considering we only just had that with the introduction of +/-5. So the future for Ice Dance scoring? It's looking pretty bleak.

-end segment- 1:10:09


Yogeeta: Moving onto the Men's, let's talk about Vincent and Nathan.

Evie: I think the majority of the discussion that came out of World Team Trophy centered around Nathan and Vincent's scores because, especially with Vincent, there were quite a lot of visible problems and bits the people disagreed with. I mean, the fact that the judges practically gave him 300 total is kind of outrageous to me. His Free Skate, oh boy, I can't even begin to say how confused I am about the scores he received in that.

Yogeeta: Also his Program Components! Like 88 [in the Free], what in the world... And now I'm heavily remembering that Misha Ge rarely ever hit more than 86 and I'm just crying inside.

Evie: Just like at Four Continents and at Worlds, Vincent did have numerous uncalled underrotations with his jumps, including the majority of the quads that he did here. But none of his jumps in both the Short and the Free were called, so he earned career-best scores in the process.

Yogeeta: What even was the point of having a tech panel?

Evie: It's just really confusing. I saw some people kind of brush it under the rug with that common thought process of "World Team Trophy is kind of a joke competition, you don't need to worry about the scores given here." But his scores here and at Worlds have been setting a precedent for next season - and even Nationals affected how he was scored going into Four Continents. They're setting a precedent that's quite high and doesn't necessarily match up with what Vincent is performing on the ice every time he goes out to skate. It's really quite worrying.

Yogeeta: So Nathan's scoring here in comparison wasn't as awful, but it's still bad. The fact that we've just gotten used to Nathan getting 9s in Program Components...

Evie: In my opinion, marking him lower in PCS, or saying that he should be marked lower in PCS, isn't necessarily an insult. It's more speaking to the fact that he, as a skater, still have a lot of room to grow and improve and my personal belief is that harsher marking in both GOE and underrotation calling and PCS marking - the harsher the better. Because at the end of the day you're telling the skaters exactly what they need to work on and it gives them that incentive to work on the areas that they're lacking [in].

Yogeeta: I just keep going back to Yuzuru and his flip because he just kept getting edge calls back in the day on that flip and that gave him the incentive to fix his flip - and now he has a wonderful flip! But judges aren't doing that anymore.

Niamh: Nathan's PCS, if he's consistently beating some of the top people in the world for PCS, there's an issue.

Evie: It was kind of interesting to see his scores in relation to his technical layout because he did have a somewhat easier layout here. He was struggling with some of his jumps during Stars On Ice, the ice show just after Worlds, and then also in practices here, so he only did a couple of quads. His Short Program only had one quad in it, but he still got pretty decent scores for both programs. I also just wanted to say just as an aside, RIP his triple Axel streak which, for one thing, is kind of amazing?

Yogeeta: I'm so impressed with Nathan and his triple Axel streak! This was his worst jump last season, he barely had a 50% accuracy hit rate on that triple Axel. The fact that he had a nearly perfect streak going until World Team Trophy is amazing and props to him.

Evie: The fact that he was able to turn his weakest element into one of his strongest this season and one of the most consistent while also not being in constant contact with his coach is kind of outstanding and amazing. That's really commendable and I think that, even though his scores were somewhat questionable, it's definitely something that should be celebrated this season in regards to Nate's progress. I also just quickly wanted to say in regards to the Short Program, for one thing, I'm glad that he brought back the old "Caravan" costume for World Team Trophy.

Yogeeta: Oh yes! Praise be!

Evie: One of my major problems with "Nemesis" in the last season was that the performance quality dipped as the season went on. I was really impressed with it the first couple of times that I saw it and then as the season went on when he became more honed on the technical side of things and trying to land his jumps, that performance kind of got neglected in the process. But I'm really glad a similar thing, at least in my opinion, didn't happen to "Caravan" because it always had that really high energy and that never faded in every single performance he did of it. So I'm really proud of Nate.

Yogeeta: I'm just going to say praise be Nate going to Yale because he actually learned to chill this season and I think it worked out so much better for him [in comparison to] last season.

Niamh: Can we just send everyone to Yale?

Yogeeta: Honestly, Shoma, you need to get some chill, man!

Evie: Speaking of Shoma, let's have a talk about his technical content in both of his programs here. We heard after his performances at Worlds that he was planning on the possibility of upping his technical content for World Team Trophy and for the next season ahead. And he did what said, he came out and did two quad flips in the Free Skate, one in combination, he did the quad Sal, he tried the terrifying triple Axel-quad toe combination as well - which I believe gave me a small heart attack in the process. I really admire Shoma's guts for trying this layout, especially with such a quick turn around between Worlds and this event.

Yogeeta: I think Shoma's going about this the completely wrong way. (Hosts laugh) Because his solution to not getting on podiums is "I should up my technical content!" I think Shoma's issue isn't his tech. I have issues with his technical content, but at the end of the day, I don't think his issues truly lie on his technical content. It really is the programs that he's given and the packaging that he's had the past few seasons and I really think that he, instead of trying to add more quads and more terrifying combinations and quints, oh my God, he should be going back to the basics. To be completely honest, I've never heard Shoma talk with so much excitement about a program that he did about "Lemon" at Stars On Ice. Let's be real, let Shoma skate to his J-Pop and his video game soundtracks. Let him skate to something that he actually really loves! (Evie: I support that!) If he's happy about it and excited about it he won't just be focusing on the technical content, which I feel like I felt so much of that this season from him that I didn't get as much of the performance aspect I'm used to from Shoma. He's always been a strongly musical skater. There are aspects of his Program Components I've been like "What?" at, mainly his Transitions, but I've never ever questioned his Performance scores. I feel like as he continues to try and improve technically, which in my opinion is a terrible idea because a lot of these jumps that he's attempting to add combos to aren't even his strongest jumps, he should be instead trying to improve in other areas because, at the end of the day, what has always stood out to me about Shoma isn't his technique - it's about his performance.

Evie: I totally get where you're coming from in regards to this, but I think just looking at the way that he's been scored in this season and the way that he's felt about the last couple of competitions, I can definitely see why upping his technical content is the more "easy" option, I guess? Especially when technical content is so highly prized in the Men's field and in the environment of figure skating in general, I can definitely see why he would be so eager to up his content, even if it could potentially diminish the other aspects of his skating or cause more problems for him down the line.

Yogeeta: I think the other issues with upping his technical content is that he does it and then he doesn't get the scores he's expecting because he messes up and then goes "Oh wait, I need to create more technically harder routines," which is what we've seen him talk about for these past few weeks.

Evie: I wanted to actually say something about his technical content, the comments that he made after World Team Trophy because he did say that he was interested in possibly going for the quad Lutz next season or in a future season. Look, he obviously has technical issues with his Lutz and has for many seasons and that's why he hasn't put it in his programs but honestly, if I was in Shoma's shoes and looking at the amount of quad Lutzes with similar issues that still get ratified, I would be all for trying for it because the chances of it still getting decent marks if he lands it are decently high. Which is obviously not a good way of thinking about it and not at all how the system is meant to operate, but in the current climate, that is kind of the line of thinking and so I don't think Shoma should be shunned for thinking about that.

Niamh: It was when he said he was going to try the quint in practice, the media had been talking about it.

Yogeeta: I don't want to hear about quints! I don't want to see quints! I never want to hear those words be said by anybody!

Evie: Hear no quints, see no quints - just no quints! (Hosts laugh) Moving on quickly, just a small shout out to Keiji Tanaka.

Yogeeta: He lived!

Niamh: Thank you, Keiji!

Evie: He performed two of the best programs of the season, possibly of his career, here that was just so good. We don't see Keiji perform that well that often so it was just so good to see.

Yogeeta: I just want to call out my crazy Italian Junior boy, Daniel Grassl, and his planned protocol with his quad loop-triple toe combo that he didn't do.

Evie: Yeah, Daniel's technical content is just a general yikes.

Yogeeta: Let's talk about some problems that we might see next season for the Men. First and foremost, the Vincent vs Nate dilemma. So despite Nate being the two-time World Champion, two-time Grand Prix Final Champion and all around reason why figure skating is still somewhat relevant in the United States - the US judge at World Team Trophy gave Vincent higher scores than Nate in both the Short and the Free. What are you doing? Between the two, Nate is hands down the better skater. Even with his watered down jump layout, his programs are still better than Vincent's. US judge, what are you doing?

Evie: That was really confusing to see the US Fed, or at least the US judge here, side with Vincent over Nathan considering both of their histories. I think it's going to be interesting how Vincent's scores, in particular, develop next season in relation to Nathan's. There is the possibility that Vincent could have another disaster Grand Prix Series like he's had for the past couple of seasons. But I think when it comes down to Nationals next season, the scoring could get very close if both of them are on their A-game and at that point, I honestly can't say who would come out on top if that were the case.

Niamh: Can we skip the US Nationals?

Evie: And then like we just said in regards to Daniel Grassl, we have chaotic Junior Men pushing their technical content even further in order to prepare themselves for the Senior field. We have Daniel, with the quad loop-triple toe on his planned layout which he never actually did, and then we also have Adam Siao Him Fa from France, who was also at this event. He did a quad Lutz in the Short Program and I literally did a spit take, I was not expecting it! (Hosts laugh) And then there's the possibility of him also adding in the quad flip next season because he's done it in practice. I'm just concerned about the health of these Junior men if the field as a whole continues to develop technically.

Yogeeta: Next season's really just going to be a mess with all of these Men attempting to up their technical content even more. I just foresee lots of falls and pops galore and I'm just praying that we don't get injuries.

Niamh: And with the two US Men propped up so much, between the GOE and lack of calls in their jumps, to their very overscored components - will it even be even possible for other Men to survive slash win?

Evie: I'm kind of worried that a similar situation to what's happening in the Ice Dance field right now might occur within the Men. Where they'll prop up one or a few of the skaters with extremely high scores and then everyone else is going to fall behind them in tight quarters with their rank determined by reputation. I think if the trends in scoring continue, that might be a real possibility for future seasons and I really don't want that to happen.

Yogeeta: But at least in Ice Dance, Papadakis and Cizeron are clearly above the class of everybody else.

Evie: But yeah, that's kind of the future that I'm seeing.

Yogeeta: I don't want this future, Evie.

Evie: I don't want it either!

Yogeeta: Alas. (Hosts laugh)

Evie: In conclusion to all of the ranting that we’ve done over the last long period of time, you might be wondering what is the point of continuing to argue for a more objective method of judging, or continuing to rescore or make comments, like we’ve done on this podcast, solely based off the technical handbook or Scale of Values when the ISU is clearly not listening to the arguments being made in the name of improvement. At the end of the day, it’s because the IJS as a system is a pretty good foundation for scoring and, at its core, is quite just when it’s applied effectively with a more substantial degree of objectivity.

Yogeeta: We have seen what can happen when the IJS works right. We’ve seen beautiful skates be given the scores they deserve, whether it was this season, or in the past. We are in the midst of a mind-blowing technical development in both Ladies and Men, and whilst the judging and scoring may be discerning, it is important to celebrate the athletes.

Niamh: Are we going to see major changes in the way that this scoring system is used in the future? Probably not. It’s unlikely considering the current way the judging system is used serves its purpose; to allow for the justification of egregious marking by brushing it off with the argument that judging is, at its core, a subjective endeavour. What can we as fans do about this? We can continue to question the scores given on the basis that they are not just or fair to the athletes or the sport. We can contact our local federations, or even the ISU, to discuss our issues with the system as a whole.

Yogeeta: And, of course, we can continue to support our favourite skaters through these troubling times. Figure skating is a wonderful sport, it’s created so much happiness and joy for all of us, and just because the situation we’re in right now might seem bleak, we should still all celebrate and support the athletes that make following this sport feel worthwhile.

-end segment- 1:25:52

START: Shout Out of the Week

Evie: Okay so our Shout Out of the Week for this week is to all of our listeners and our followers for your amazing support during this season! Especially a big thank you to everyone who has donated to us on our ko-fi. We really couldn't do this without the support that we receive from everyone. Obviously, we do this podcast for ourselves in the fact that we all are friends with each other and we like to discuss the sport, but it also brings us all a lot of joy when we see people react to the comments that we give on the podcast, or [when we] provide educational resources in the form of thematic episodes. That's all stuff that really makes all the work we put into this podcast worthwhile. And so we really just wanted to thank you all! We're going to take to a couple of weeks off after this episode because I think we all deserve a little bit of a break. But once we're back we're going to continue with what we did in the last off season, which means thematic coverage on topics that we want to cover and what you guys want to cover as well! So if you have any specific requests for topics that you want to see covered by us in the next couple of months you can contact us through the website, we've got a contact page with a form there. You can also tweet at us on Twitter or send us a DM through there, or email us a contact@inthelopodcast.com. So yes, we're looking to do a lot of interesting episodes in the off season, as well as fun stuff like minisodes and maybe some more Q&As and possibly some really fun things we haven't tried yet.

-end segment- 1:27:27

START: Outro

Evie: Thank you for listening, we’ll be taking a break for a few weeks but we’ll return in May with brand new offseason content for you all!

Yogeeta: If you want to get in touch with us, then please feel free to contact us via our website inthelopodcast.com or on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find our episodes on Youtube, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.

Niamh: If you enjoy the show, and want to help support the team, then please consider making a donation to us on our ko-fi page, and we’d like to give a huge thank you to all the listeners who have contributed to our team thus far.

You can find the links to all our social media pages and our ko-fi on the website.

Yogeeta: If you’re listening on iTunes, please consider leaving a rating and a review if you enjoyed the show. Thanks for listening, this has been

Evie: Evie,

Yogeeta: Yogeeta

Niamh: and Niamh.

Yogeeta: Thanks for a great season, guys!

Evie: See you soon!

Niamh: Bye!