- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Perfection isn't so perfect after all.

The magical 6.0 mark the figure skating equivalent of a grand slam, hole-in-one or 300 in bowling could soon disappear.

The sport is heading for a revolutionary overhaul of its scoring system to limit a repeat of the judging misconduct that rocked the Salt Lake City Games.

The 6.0 would be its biggest casualty.

"It is time to find something new," said Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the International Skating Union. "This is a total revolution."

The plan Cinquanta outlined yesterday would replace the judging system with a far simpler way of grading jumps, spins, footwork and other elements based on their difficulty.

It's similar to how other subjective sports, from diving to snowboarding, are scored.

The proposal also calls for 14 judges, rather than the current nine, but only the scores from seven of them would count. A computer system would select the seven marks randomly so the judges wouldn't know beforehand whose scores would be used.

"I promise this system will reduce to a minimum the prospect of bloc judging," Cinquanta said.

There was a "consensus" to approve the plan when Cinquanta presented it to the ISU council yesterday morning. But that is only the first, small step in a long process.

The ISU first has to hold workshops to explain the proposals and allow judges and committee members to make suggestions that would fine-tune the ideas, said Claire Ferguson, the U.S. representative on the ISU council.

After the workshops, the plan would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of all member federations, but Cinquanta said he wasn't sure it would be ready for the agenda at the next ISU Congress in Kyoto, Japan, in June.

The Canadian skating federation declined comment until it saw the entire proposal. The U.S. Figure Skating Association said it wanted to review the plan, too, but added it "fully supports any initiative that will increase the opportunity for all athletes in all disciplines to compete on a level playing field and be fairly judged."

"Great! Hooray! We're finally putting something together that may make us all feel will benefit figure skating judging," Ferguson said. "It will take a while for everyone to learn the various aspects of it because it is very technical. But I think it has wonderful potential."

Figure skating's subjective judging system has long been criticized because it leaves room for improprieties. Skaters start with a base mark of 6.0, and deductions are made for mistakes and missed elements. Skaters also can be marked down simply for the aesthetics of their programs.

Under Cinquanta's proposal, every technical element, such as jumps and spins, would have a certain point value. A double axel, for example, could be worth two points and a more difficult jump, such as a triple axel, could be worth three.

Skaters would get points for those required elements, as well as for execution. All of the judges' scores would be added up, and the winner would be determined by the total points.

"Anything to improve the system and the confidence people have in the system is admirable," said veteran coach John Nicks, who works with American Sasha Cohen.

"I think it is encouraging and refreshing that these suggestions were made."

But there's something sad about getting rid of the 6.0 mark. For more than 100 years, it's been universally known as the mark of perfection, just as a 10.0 is in gymnastics.

It's a cherished score, so much so that one of the enduring memories of the Sarajevo Olympics was the string of 6.0s across the bottom of the scoreboard for Torvill and Dean's "Bolero" free dance.

"The judging system was possibly a bit archaic … but we've all learned to live with it one way or another," said Robin Wagner, Sarah Hughes' coach.

But the scandal over the judging of the pairs final Feb. 11 is proof change is needed.

"The judges and others are asking for something, too," said Ferguson, a judge for 40 years. "We get weary from being criticized all the time."

Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs gold medal by the slimmest of margins, defeating Jamie Sale and David Pelletier despite an obvious technical error. But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day that she had been pressured to put the Russians first, implicating her federation.

After an outcry and accusations of vote-swapping among ice skating judges the ISU and International Olympic Committee awarded the Canadians their own gold medals. Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely.

"In an Olympics, which is so important, all of us want to see the right result," Wagner said. "So it certainly brought some things on the table, some things that need to be addressed. If it helps, I'm all for it.

"I'm not sure if it'll ever be perfect. But if it can be better, that's a step ahead."

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