by George S. Rossano
(13 January 2020) The next Olympic Winter Games are about two years away, but already the writing is on the wall for who will be the next Olympic Ladies Champion.
The next Ladies Champion will be a 16-year-old girl + 1 year, with delayed puberty (either naturally or by pharmaceutical means). She will have narrow shoulders and hips, no girls to speak of and be, if not skinny as a rail, petit. She will have a somewhat cheated triple Axel and a few massively cheated quads which will be scored as though they were the real things. She will have presentation skill, but without artistic maturity. Despite the defects in her capabilities, she will average 4s for GoEs and 9.50s for components. On the ice she will look like what she will be, a child at the peak of her pre-pubescent skill, which will last for perhaps one additional year. Today she is about 14 years old, competing most likely in Juniors, about to move up to seniors.
The ladies singles discipline is now a sport for children, partially due to biology and party due to choices made by the ISU.
Modern training methods have made it common today for females in the 14-15 age group to acquire all the triples through triple Lutz. For triple Axel and quads, however, females of all ages are at a disadvantage compared to males since their muscle mass by body fraction is significantly lower. A few females have demonstrated triple Axel prior to the end of puberty. Miki Ando gets credit for the first quad landed by a female - a quad Salchow at age 15, though that jump took off forward and was under-rotated one-half rotation on the landing.
When males go through puberty, they gain height and muscle bulk. Their general shape does not change significantly and their moment of inertia increases primarily due to their increase in mass and secondarily to their increase in size (width and depth of the body, but not height). The increased moment of inertia slows their rotation down, but they gain enough muscle mass that they can generate greater height and torque to compensate. Consequently, males have an easier time adjusting for puberty and tend to keep their jumps, though they may have to make adjustments to their technique.
When females go through puberty, they also gain height and muscle mass, but not as much as males. They also develop boobs (fatty tissue) and wider hips (bone mass). Their body shape changes significantly, and together with the increase in mass they have a much more significant fractional increase in moment of inertia. On the muscle side, average mature female athletes have 37% muscle mass by body fraction compared to 43% for men. The result is that mature females are at a disadvantage to generate the increased height and torque need to complete their jumps. They have a larger increase in moment of inertia to adjust for after puberty and they have less muscle mass (both by fraction) to do it. Thus, many females lose their triple jumps going through puberty and never get them back. Nevertheless, some do get them back and a number of mature females have landed triple Axel, going back to Midori Ito starting in 1988 (who landed 18 during her competition career).
What does this mean for the ladies competition?
Thanks to biology, you have the age group that has not completed puberty (typically 13-16) that can land jumps through triple Lutz, maybe an honest triple Axel or close, and some massively cheated quads. They compete against post-pubescent mature women who may have held onto (or recovered) jumps through triple Lutz and maybe a few who come close on triple Axel. A mature female has yet to land a true quad. Elizabet Tusynbaeva (19) received full credit for a quad Salchow at 2019 Worlds that took off forwards and was slightly under-rotated on the landing. Rika Kihira (17 1/2) attempted a quad Salchow at the 2019 Grand Prix Final and fell. This attempt also took off forwards and was just less than one-quarter under-rotated on the landing, for an attempt slightly more than 3 1/4 rotations in the air that received full base value.
Beginning with Alexandra Trusova in 2017, the ISU has accepted massively cheated quads by the ladies as fully rotated, giving them full base value. By massively cheated we mean jumps that take off forwards and may be missing up to one-quarter rotation on the landing. Changes of edge on the quad Lutzes are also ignored. These jumps receive a gift of up to 10 points each, when you include the unjustified high GoEs received for jumps with one or two major errors. A skater does three of these jumps in a competition and no one else has a chance. As long as the ISU does not score triple Axel and quads for the ladies in strict accordance with their true difficulty and value, the event will be dominated by children for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately the ISU has only itself to blame for this.
Miki Ando's quad attempt was pre-IJS. There were no quads attempted by ladies in competition from 2002 until 2017. For the quad attempts since 2017, the ISU has had a perfect tool in IJS to insure the children were actually rewarded only for completing true triple Axels and quads, but they have chosen not to do it. The ISU could level the playing field to give women of all ages in an event equal opportunity to be competitive if they changed course on how they score the ladies' triple Axels and quads, either by calling the pre-rotation or reducing the SoV. Until they do that, the mature women in the ladies event are competing only for the personal satisfaction of competing.
Copyright 2020 by George S. Rossano