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Scandalous outcome: Skating judges steal Kim’s title, hand it to Sotnikova

by Jack Gallagher

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?

No way.

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.

  • answerfrog

    Don’t agree. Kim skated not to lose or fall down. Sotnikova skated to win.

    Good technical explanation of how the Russian won:

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/02/20/sports/olympics/womens-figure-skating.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/02/20/sports/olympics/womens-figure-skating-jumps.html

    • Peter McGreevy

      I do agree with this story, if the New York Times gives a good technical explanation maybe they are trying to make some money.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/adelina-sotnikovas-olympic-gold-medal-win-over-kim-yu-na-will-be-endlessly-argued/2014/02/20/ba928286-9a7a-11e3-80ac-63a8ba7f7942_story.html

    • Tsubame

      The base values werent as different as the explanation makes it out, if you actually know the BV. That is also not factoring in the GOE (grade of execution) scores at all, which is where it becomes subjective and very fishy. Yuna got deductions for things like looking stiff, whereas stumbles and less than complete rotations gave only minimal GOE deductions.

      The objective scores really cant be gamed, the last time that Russia cheated at figure skating showed that. However, there are still enough figure skating scores that are subjective and can be tampered with quite easily. That is where the controversy lies, not in the objective BV of their program.

    • charlotte

      Not to mention about the artistic point of Kim, GOE is nonsense, as well. I’m not questioning about the basic component – the triple jumps, which is already obvious. But How can you possibly explain Sotnikova’s two-foot landing and wrong edges which din’t get any kind of proper deduction at all rather earned ridiculously high GOE than Kim’s absolutely clear and stable jumps??? That’s a real comedy…… truly….

  • tim le

    NYT’s analysis is based on only one skating coach, but compare to rest of the figure skating experts and analysts, and even those players who were there in Sochi agreed the result is outrageous and spoiled.

  • Barton

    A debatable result, but not as cut and dried as you describe. Kim was great. So was Sotniskova. It is a judged sport. It is subjective. Either skater getting the gold would be defensible.

  • Shar16

    I’m skated expecting to win. Adelina was hungry, and that mistake on the last DOUBLE of a 3-2-2 jumps was not going to cost her no more than ooo.1 points. The person who should have won was Carolina. Beautiful and clean SP with a 3f-3t, and a clean 7 triple LP. That’s who was robbed. It should have been Caro-Adelina-Yuna in that order.

    • Jillian Andrews

      Sorry, Carolina was fabulous, I wouldn’t put her behind Yuna

      • Shar16

        That’s what I said. That Caro should have been before Yuna and Adelina. Read before commenting.

  • happyjapan

    Corrupt judging in Sochi? Whodhathunkit? Complete surprise.

  • Jae-hwan Jung

    I dont know anything about skating and how it is scored, and probably those reading this article is same as me. Thats why I first trusted the judges’ score. However as experts from all over the world is now being skeptical about the gold medalist’s score, I cannot help but think that the home turf’s privilige might have been applied for her. Now I re-think and start to question her skill. For she had been so great, why are ppl questioning?

  • ted

    Yes. a play. very sad play… As a true champion she never lost her dignity to the last moment.

  • Jim

    And this is why skating and all other events decided by judges, rather than an objective criteria, should be removed from the Olympics as competition sports. We can argue about fouls that were called that shouldn’t have been, and vice versa, but in the end of the day, who ever got to the finish line first, put the ball/puck in the goal, lifted the most weight, jumped the highest/farthest, etc. is the winner by an objective criteria. Skating, and a whole host of other “sports” in the Olympics are designed to be subjective, and those should be eliminated, even if it means eliminating ones I like to watch. Just because something is physically difficult and requires years of training to do properly doesn’t mean it’s a sport. Ballet is not a sport. Ice sculpture is not a sport. And neither are figure skating, virtually all the snowboarding events, aerials, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, ski jumping (as it is currently configured), diving, wrestling (as it is currently configured), the various martial arts, etc.

  • HirosFan
  • lily rose

    Just wonderful and amazing article!

    You’ve wrote everything I want to say.

    I really can’t forgive the so-called judges who have constantly given various forms of mental violence to Yuna for many years in many, many games.

    Certainly, this wasn’t the first time at all.

    I’ve always thought how the young little girl could stand it without going crazy and how could she find a reason to continue skating under the awful pressure and unfairness in that kind of circumstance.

    The judges blew the greatest chances to develop figure skating history and draw more fans worldwide as they’ve kicked out the greatest skater in history.

    In fact, more precisely, they’ve actually never wanted the little Korean girl to do it but she’s just stood out by herself.

    On the other hand, Yuna’s talent was a disaster for her so-called rivals and people who were only looking for sponsors who can fill their pockets with a lot of money and who can give more power.

    I hope they make their own league and do not appear in the Olympics not to bring any more victims.

  • DKlong

    Sorry, the Olympics is not a coronation for lifetime achievements…It’s a one time competition…this is not the first time a young exuberant phenom gave the skate of her life to win…Kim was “perfect”…But Sotnikova, besides having a more technically challenging skate…played to the crowd (and the judges) and threw a lot of soul into the mix that Kim lacked. And Sotnikova’s jumps were fierce with the incredible distance they covered in comparison to Kim who sort of just went up and down. Remember too…in the new post Salt Lake “anonymous” scoring the top and bottom scores for each skater are automatically discarded which means the “Russian connection” judge argument falls….

    • Jillian Andrews

      If there were four russian related judges, the story’s different. If four judges all give high marks, they become generalized. And people who are comparing the quality of the jumps, Yuna should have gotten like +2 in Short program 3+3 jump. That’s what you call textbook jump. Same goes for her 3+3 in Long program too.

  • lisalink

    Here, this shows what a complete joke the PCS scores for the olympics are.
    “What, suddenly, she just became a better skater overnight?”
    – Kurt Browning
    http://imgur.com/f92llVu

  • charlotte

    Exactly, couldn’t agree more. Kim and Sotnikova are both good skaters, but there’s a level of “good” though. That’s the reason why so many experts and figure skaters themselves became so speechless when they got the result. you can simply feel with your heart with Kim’s touching performance, which can’t find in Sotnikova’s. Anyone who witnessed how Kim skates with soul and grace would know clearly who the real champion should be, would be and to be…

    I’m a dancer myself, maybe that’s the reason why I feel in that way with huge confidence, I do know someone disagrees with me, though For me and my dear colleagues, Kim is the real artist and athlete. I just wanna say that people can have different standard when seeing figure skate, but for me It’s just impossible to compare two of them. There’s too much gap between Kim and Sotnikova.

  • won

    I’m much obliged to you for your justice.. I want everyone to konw this unfair.

  • yujin

    you said exactly what I wanted to say.

  • xstratusx

    Why did Sotnikova get +3 GOE and no edge calls?

  • Chiisai (Paul) Sakanashima

    I was appalled to have found out the outcome of Yuna Kim; she skated beautifully! If I was one of the judges, I would have given her a top score only because she had earned it. This is yet another example of how people can be bought, corrupted and have a biased opinion for a “favorite” skater. Bad form judges, bad form indeed! If I were to judge the judges, I would give them a big fat “0″

  • June Parks

    Very inspring article. Seriously. the ESPN result you mentioned (in the other article) suggests that it is no longer possible to dismiss the rage are only coming from the Korean supporters. I am also tired of seeing the vulgar, simplistic dichotomy between “qualitative artistry” vs. “mathematical technique.” The problem is, NOT THAT people DON’T LIKE NUMBERS, but people do want to have more ACCURATE, UNDERSTANDABLE NUMBERS. Besides just merely repeating the mathematical result that, according to “casual observers do not understand”, why ISU does not explain the foundation of “the numbers” that constitute the basic elements of the math? The insufficient downgrade for russian skaters’ well-known wrong edges? The ridiculous level “4″ of Adelina’s step sequences (vs. level “3″ of Carolina and Yuna, who certainly have much mature skating skills); the absurd rise PCS of Adelina. If these “numbers” are that simple to achieve, why on earth have we laboriously debated over edges, rotations, landing trajectories, postures, and skills in order to finally have a set of numbers for each skater? Why do we even bother ourselves to discern Lutz and Flip? Why do we even try to translate the transition, skating skills, and musical interpretation to the numbers? ISU is insulting and trivializing the numbers they are so much relaying on. That’s a lazy and bad math. Don’t blame the math itself.

  • GoldenBoy1329

    Sounds like a bunch of crying american bs….the russian won…had to be a fix. i enjoyed her skate much more than yuna’s and she deserved the gold. shame on you all……

  • ideaman

    As a figure skating fan, I am so much disappointed with the result of ladies figure skating in Sochi. Those spoiled judges ruined the sports and have made so many disappointed figure fans leave the sports feeling disgust. Yuna was the real queen of the sport and deserved her second gold medal. However, Russians assassinated her to usurp the glorious royal crown from her while the global fans were watching the moment.

  • superchunk

    At least fox news pretends to be impartial..

  • Iconoclast

    While existence of prejudice cannot be avoided, what the majority can do especially Yuna Kim’s fans is to constantly remind her that she is the true gold medalist. That’s even better than actually getting an undeserved gold medal.