By Monica Friedlander
So who cares, right? The system used to judge figure skating is coming under heavy scrutiny for its very ability to fairly and accurately assess competitive skill and performance, and some silly fans worry about the emotional drama that unfolds in the Kiss & Cry ó or rather the lack thereof, nowadays. Thatís none of the ISUís official business, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. With audiences hanging by a thread to the less than a handful telecasts still streaming skating competitions into peopleís living rooms, the ability to hold fans glued to the screen is crucial to the very survival of figure skating as we know it.
Skating is not like other sports, where the drama happens when the runners, swimmers or skiers cross the finish line. The finish line for figure skating happens precisely while TV cameras shine their bright lights on competitors as they await the judgesí verdict in the quaint little flower-lined area with a quirky name: the Kiss & Cry. No other sport has anything like it. Thatís where the skaters await their marks, wipe off their sweat, kiss their coaches, and ó perhaps most importantly for TV ratings ó jump up and down with joy or fight tears of defeat. The audience hangs on with them for every breath and every mark for the duration of those brief minutes of intense drama.
Or so they did in the old days of the 6.0 system, which gave us the most unforgettable moments in skating history. The hopes of the skaters, their fans, and of the audience itself soared and crashed with each mark announced, each 5.7, each 5.9. Occasionally the crowd would erupt into cheers: a perfect 6.0. Can anyone forget Torvill and Deanís unprecedented string of perfect marks at the 1984 Games? Tara Lipinskiís leaps of ecstasy at the 1998 Olympics? Oksana Baiul wailing on the shoulders of her coach in shock of victory four years previously? How about Rudy Galindoís tears of joy and shock when, against all odds and in front of a home audience, he scored a few perfect marks to became the 1996 national champ?
Weíll never witness such moments again. Weíll never hear the audience boo a judge or give a mark a standing ovation of its own. And for a sport like figure skating, whose very lifeblood is an engaged, rapt audience, the consequences are catastrophic. Instead of the announcer reading out each mark from each judge, the loudspeaker curtly informs us that for the given segment of the competition the total score is 127.3. Whoopee.
The silence of the audience is deafening, and not only because the arena is often empty. What exactly is there to get excited about? The drama of competition is over with the summary, monotonous announcement of one solitary, totally meaningless, ugly, incomprehensible global score: 127.3. Art has never been assessed in a more mechanical way.
The skater, baffled as much as anyone, instantly gets up and vanishes behind the curtain, where he will have ample time to dry his tears or give free reign to his elation after the cameras have moved on to the next competitor.
So why have a Kiss & Cry at all with a Code of Points scoring system? Itís so anticlimactic, itís embarrassing to the sport. Its only purpose nowadays seems to be to show off the stuffed animals the skaters struggle to clutch onto while snapping their skate guards back on. Everything else happens so quickly, no one has time to either kiss or cry.
Skaters, coaches, and audiences are equally perplexed and unemotional during the brief moments when the spotlight visits that little area between the ice and the backstage, where skaters sit down, listen to the score, and failing to understand it, get up and leave.
Maybe we should rename it the Sit & Shrug. Itís us, the skating fans, who now cry. And so should those who dreamt up the new scoring system and who now see the fans, the networks, and the corporate sponsors walk into the sunset.
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Copyright 2009 by ISIO