SOCHI, RUSSIA – Yuna Kim got robbed on Thursday night. Plain and simple.
What happened to her at the Sochi Games was a complete and utter disgrace. Another black eye for figure skating.
The elegant and magnetic South Korean superstar gave a wonderful performance in very difficult circumstances, not making a single mistake, yet came away with only a silver medal in what can only be deemed a scandalous result.
Russian gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova was impressive in her free skate, but was she five points better than Kim?
How over the top was Sotnikova’s score in the free skate?
Sixteen points better than her previous personal best.
Give me a break.
What should have been a glorious moment for Russian skating was taking on a decidedly different tone the morning after, with some very disturbing information emerging.
USA Today’s Christine Brennan reported that Ukrainian Yuri Balkov, who was kicked out of judging for a year after being tape-recorded by a Canadian judge trying to fix the ice dancing competition at the 1998 Nagano Games, was one of the nine who determined the outcome of Thursday’s free skate.
Another was Alla Shekhovtseva, a Russian judge who is married to Russian Skating Federation general director Valentin Pissev.
I spoke with several journalists in the Main Press Center on Friday morning and it was nearly unanimous — they almost all thought that Kim had beaten home favorite Sotnikova.
Before I even made it back to my hotel after the competition, the debate was already beginning to rage.
With the arrival of Kim and Mao Asada many years ago, skating in Asia has been enjoying a boom. But the sad reality is that in many other places it has been languishing.
The results in women’s singles here will only make promoting it harder. Every time something like this occurs it does exponential damage.
Millions of people around the world are watching and presuming it is all legitimate. Skating is a great sport — one that teaches important values to youngsters about dedication, hard work and sportsmanship — and to see it besmirched again is very disturbing.
What are the young skaters and fans who watched the free skate supposed to think?
What bothers me most is that here was this great champion, an incredible symbol for skating, giving it her all one more time. Kim is a millionaire many times over and certainly didn’t need to compete. She is set for life.
But she knew she was still young enough to give it another go and wanted her fans to have another chance to see her on the greatest stage. She put her legacy on the line in a bid to become only the third woman ever to retain the Olympic title (after Norway’s Sonja Henie and Germany’s Katarina Witt). It was a gutsy move.
Brennan, the author of the highly acclaimed skating book “Inside Edge,” didn’t mince any words in her analysis of the free skate, telling it exactly like it was.
“What happened tonight in the women’s figure skating competition was worse than the 2002 Salt Lake City pairs judging scandal because, this time, we’ll never find out who might have done what because all the judges’ scores are now anonymous,” she wrote.
Brennan also quoted Joseph Inman, an American international skating judge as saying, “I was surprised with the result.”
The International Skating Union’s move toward transparency in 2004, when it changed its scoring system, has backfired and actually had the opposite effect. In the old days you could tell who was responsible for what score, now you can’t.
There is a random draw before both the short program and free skate at the Olympics to determine the nine judges from a pool of 13 in attendance.
American skater Ashley Wagner, who finished seventh, was upset with the results that saw her finish seventh behind Russian teen Julia Lipnitskaia, who fell during her free skate.
“People don’t want to watch a sport where you see people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” Wagner said. “It is confusing and we need to make it clear for you.”
Wagner acknowledged that skating could use more support from the public.
“To be completely honest, this sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it,” she stated. “People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can’t depend on that person to be the one who pulls through. People need to be held accountable.”
Wagner said that she wasn’t the only one who was surprised at the result.
“I saw several nice landings (by Kim) on the jumps … some of us were speechless (at the result) afterward,” she noted.
Some analysts have pointed out that Kim did only six triples to Sotnikova’s seven in the free skate. Fair enough, but how about the Russian two-footing the landing on her double loop — it was clear as day to everyone there.
Kim nailed both of her programs and should have retained her title. That is the bottom line.
Three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss sensed something amiss with this Twitter comment on Thursday.
“Yuna — two clean skates as defending Olympic champ wins gold, right?”
That’s the way it is supposed to be.
Legendary American skater Dick Button, a two-time Olympic champion (1948, 1952), has been an analyst now for decades. The messages he tweeted said it all.
“At one point, I had doubts regarding Yuna Kim — not after today. She was superb, elegant, charming. Never a wilt.”
His feelings about the gold medalist were different.
“Sotnikova was energetic, strong, commendable, but not a complete skater.”
What folks need to understand is that Sotnikova didn’t just emerge from oblivion. She has been around for a few years. She is a four-time Russian champion and the 2011 world junior champion.
But in her three seasons skating on the senior circuit, she has never even won a Grand Prix event, much less medaled at a major international competition.
She has qualified just once for the world championships as a senior, finishing ninth in 2013.
Did she suddenly become great overnight?
Good enough to beat Kim in the Olympics?
Your common sense will tell you no. Once you arrive there, the rest is not difficult to deduce.
Kim showed her true class with her comments after the free skate. She could have stirred up controversy, but was magnanimous in defeat.
“The score is given by the judges,” she said. “I’m not in the right position to comment on it. And my words can change nothing.”
The reality is the trap for Kim was set on Wednesday night with the unfairly high score that Sotnikova received in the short program.
Kim was fabulous skating to “Send in the Clowns” and should have had a lead of at least four points heading into the free skate.
Instead, both Lipnitskaia and Sotnikova received inflated marks and the former was less than half a point behind Kim in second place.
It was as if once it became apparent that Lipnitskaia wasn’t going to be a contender for the gold, the impetus swung to push Sotnikova.
There is nothing that damages sports more than predictability, the preordained result. That’s what you saw on Thursday night.
Kim could not have gotten out of the Iceberg Skating Palace with the gold medal if she had left with it in an armored car.
I almost felt as if I were watching a play where Kim was going to be brought out and sacrificed as the final act.
That would have gone along with the story line, but Kim would have none of it. She displayed the heart and courage of a true champion in an amazing effort.
What happened next was a damn shame.