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Should Athletes Who Fall Get a Medal?

Should Athletes Medal Even If They Fall?

While watching the figure skating events at this year's Winter games, a few friends mentioned that if a skater falls, they shouldn't medal. Many of them were pointing to Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who skated his way into third place despite falling in his long program. Meanwhile, American Johnny Weir skated a flawless short and long program but ended up in sixth place.

The idea of an athlete not winning a medal because of a fall is not a new sentiment, and is only one reason sports with judges are controversial. During the 2008 Summer games, China's Cheng Fei received bronze in the women's vault despite landing on her knees. Like Takahasi, many of Fei's competitors gave solid performances and stuck their landings. But what sets Fei and Takahasi apart is that their overall performances are much more difficult than their competitors who gave clean routines.

What do you think . . .

Image Source: Getty
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wackdoodle wackdoodle 7 years
Here's the deal I struck with a number of newbies and outsiders to the sport of figure skating - If you have not read the USFSA rulebook which includes the ISU rules as well then do not presume or pretend to understand ice skating and do not make comments as if you know all about the sport. Each year the rulebook grows in length - this years was over 3 inches thick of explanations of point values for elements, deductions, rules requiring conduct and costuming etc. I have read 2010 years USFSA rulebook as well as the rulebooks for the past 17 years since my nephew became a competitive figure skater in the USFSA. There are things that the causal spectator will never understand about the sport or its judging because one - you don't want to and two you prefer to think that figure skating is easy or not athletic. People think that that casual skate that you take at your local rink is comparable to preparing and competing or even understanding a thing about the complexity of competitive figure skating and it is not. The fact that I have read the rulebook doesn't make me any better than anyone else as I am not the competitor. I can only tell you how it works. And why what you think you see isn't what the skater sees or what the judges see. There is a disconnect between the viewing audience and the reality of figure skating. There is a saying now in figure skating which is "A fall is not a fail." Also, "not falling doesn't mean you will medal." Mr. Weir knew that his program had a lower degree of difficulty than the other top 5 men competing in this years Olympics. Even with Johnny's excellent and inspired completion of his program he knew that there was a maximum point value he could maintain and that it was fair less than the starting point values of the other men. As my nephew was telling me Johnny knew that the only way he could win the gold was if the other Top 5 men in the world failed to show up at the rink period or got themselves disqualified. Even then Johnny would then be up against the men after him and whether or not their planned programs have a higher point value than Johnny's planned program. Let's see if I can even remotely explain this - for every sanctioned competition competitors are aware of what the minimal elements are required for the programs. They know how how these elements are to be used during the each section of the competition (they know that they have to have such & such footwork before proceeding into an edge jump etc). They know the correct technique for each element of there program, if they have good coaches and the proper training proper stroking, spinning and jump technique as been drilled into their brains from the time they first went to skating school. The skaters are aware of the value of each element of their program and how their planned program will fare in the grand scheme of the score and how they can place in a competition. Each competitor is aware that the more difficult the program they plan and the better they are at properly completing each element the higher their score will REMAIN. When each competitor applies to compete in a competition they submit a program sheet that says EXACTLY how their program will be done. Example they state that they will start with a outside edge sit spin with position change and proceed into their serpentine footwork into their first double or triple axel. They have to list each specific element and where in the program it will occur. All of this allows the judges to know what to expect from the skaters, what the skaters are hoping for score was (medal or not) and allows the judges, ref and other score personnel to watch for proper completion of elements as well as allowing for the judges to watch for artistic interpretation. OK still with me? If skaters plan an easy program with the minimal level of difficulty then they are aware as Johnny Weir was that they will not have a realistic or even a remote chance to medal. It doesn't matter if the program is performed flawlessly, if the level of starting difficultly is not there then excellence is a wonderful thing for the skater BUT the skater is aware that they have little chance of winning or placing in the competition. Which is fine for many skaters because they are trying for a personal best, personal perfection and trying to show themselves and the judges that they can do a clean program. A jump is or spin has been preassigned a specific point value. This point value is the starting value for every competitor who decides to attempt said element. What the laymen to figure skating fails to under is that a fall does not mean the jump was a failure. A fall means that there will be a specific number of points deducted from that maximum point value for that element. falling out of spin has a specific deduction, falling on footwork has a deduction and just plain falling while stroking has its own deduction. What this means is each skater is telling the judge what their goal is for the competition, where the hope to place and when the judging staff can expect each element to occur. What they cannot tell the judging staff is how well they will perform the program or if they can be artistic while being athletic. Can the skater make ice skating look easy? Most skaters succeed at this and that is the problem and the success of figure skating. Once the lay public thinks that skating is easy. so easy they could do it then they have opened the door for people who do not understand the rules or the method to the madness that is figure skating. They open it up for people to ask questions like this - shouldn't a clean program count more than a program where a skater fell? The answer is no - if your program is simple in elements and you complete it with ease while someone else goes for maximum difficulty and falls a few times or misses an element - the skater has tried harder to achieve more and shown that even on the failed elements their skill surpasses the perfect skater with the easy program they are rewarded for that. I believe that the scoring system in Figure Skating is now on par with the scoring/judging system for competitive diving and ski events where there is judging. Competitors aren't reward for simply not falling or for getting the audience to get invested in their program, competitors are rewarded for aiming high and how close they come to achieving the perfection of each element. My nephew who practices with Evan in El Segundo and knows Johnny and many of the other American figure skaters was telling me that on paper Evan and Evengeny maximum popint values for their programs were only mere tenths of a point apart but on paper Evan already had the advantage. Evan's program without a planned quad and Evegeny's program with a quad had similar levels of difficulty except for one factor - Evegeny front loaded his program while Evan spread out his difficult elements throughout the program. Evegeny did an old style program where you throw every jump within the first minute and half to 2 minutes of the 4 minute and 30 second program then do your filler moves and easier elements after the 2 minute point. The ISU made it clear to all competitors that the quad is a small factor in the overall scheme of a program as it has been since Brian Boitano first did a quad back in the 80s. Quad jumps aren't new and many of the men can do them however as my nephew points out the injury risk factor of that jump is high as high as for any triple however if your quad is not there at least 40% but your triples are there for you 60% the best move is to do the triples. To choreograph them in the program where you can achieve the maximum points and to aim to cleanly complete each element and if you cannot cleanly complete each element then you need to show that you can continue in the face of adversity as unshaken as possible. Evan on the other hand went for bonus points by doing difficult elements jumps, front work and spins as well as having the interesting and smooth transitions between all of the elements. Evan program was designed for maximum difficulty for the entire 4 minutes and 30 seconds without the quad while Evegeny hoped to achieve the majority of his points solely from the successful completion of his quad and triple within the first few 2 minutes of the program with the remaining time allowing for him to recover from the expulsion of all that energy without any transition between them. Ughh - I'm going into far to much detail. I've got a fever right now so I'm rambling more than usual. Anyway my answer is neither yes or no because in the skating world the question that is asked isn't even a factor. It is the overall planned and then executed difficulty of the program regardless of a fall or falter in the program. I'll just say that when I watch figure skating on TV like most people with a family member deeply involved in the sport I cringe at the commentators because their attempts to explain the scoring system are usually wrong and the sport that they once competed in has changed drastically. I love Scotty Hamilton and he's considered a family friend but I'm sure he knows that when we see him at the rink after the Olympics that he will receive a series of lecturers from skaters, coaches and family of skaters about why he did more damage then good. And Scotty knows that he will face this and he'll just laugh and say he tried for the minimum amount of points rather than the maximum.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
Falling isn't the only mistake one can make when skating, but like others have said, it's the most visible one. If an athlete has a very complicated routine and only has one fall, he/she will probably get more points than someone who has sloppy landings or who doesn't attempt many special jumps. And if you get more points with your routine despite a fall, of course you should win a medal.
genipher85 genipher85 7 years
I don't think they should medal if they fall. But if their routine has jumps that might earn more points and they land those, the scores will be more than a flawless routine that has jumps that earn less points. I think they should get bonus points for not falling. Johnny Weir was cheated though, he skated beautifully!
Soniabonya Soniabonya 7 years
I'm torn on this because I understand that the scoring is a cumulative thing and the judges seem to know better blah blah blah, but a fall is a fall and should be heavily deducted. just because your pushed to do more difficult jumps doesn't mean you should. If you risk it and fail, get the deduction. Evan skated a clean performance not doing a single quad, cleanly landing the jumps he did and got gold. Plushenko, did the quad, had a couple wobbly landings but over all skated beautifully and got silver. I also agree with kia that there was more going on to what met the eye on the ice. biased judges i think. Weir is a character, love him or hate him or just be plain confused, but leave all that at the door when watching and judging his skills. And that boy has skills that, IMO, were medal worthy.
darc5204 darc5204 7 years
I think mandawahoo said it right too. It's more than just jumps, and there is a wide variation of difficulty of programs. The quality of the overall performance matters, not just a mistake on one portion.
jkat jkat 7 years
This is my problem with judging sports in the first place... The best should win, but the best is subjective, and I don't have the skill to tell the difference (other than a fall).
hotclementine hotclementine 7 years
I think there needs to be a balance, and I don't think it's black and white. With the Cheng Fei example, the gymnastics community was upset that the judging system is focusing more on making the gymnasts do higher difficulty (and therefore more dangerous) skills and taking emphasis off the artistic aspect of the sport by rewarding poorly-performed, high-difficulty skills. In regards to the figure skating, a program with one fall out of several high difficulty jumps probably does deserve to score higher than a clean program with much lower overall difficulty. There's a fine line between challenging athletes to reach a higher level and compromising the artistic integrity that is the cornerstone of a sport like gymnastics or figure skating.
Of course they should. You can skate a "clean" boring, technically easy program but I think we should reward the risk takers.
starbucks2 starbucks2 7 years
mandawahoo said it perfectly. Falling is just the most obvious mistake.
mandaleebee mandaleebee 7 years
What we see and what the judges and experienced skaters see are completely different. We don't see the severe differences between routines, or how one person is doing something much more challenging than an other. They really scrutinize each performance and detract points for the tiniest details. Its hard for us to watch someone fall and then someone not fall and see the person with the huge obvious mistake win, but I am sure there are many other factors that result in who gets a medal.
Meowphotog Meowphotog 7 years
A challenge is a challenge, of course there may be mistakes. If you take the easy way out in order for a perfect performance, why is that medal worthy?
wolfjinx25 wolfjinx25 7 years
I don't think an athlete that falls should be medaled. Weir had a flawless perfomance. I was upset that he was placed in 6th. I felt like they did it to him on purpose because he was flamboyant and controversial. Ridiculous.
kia kia 7 years
I don't know if an athlete should medal if they fall but Weir coming in 6th had a lot more to do with than what happened on the ice. It was b.s. He skated a flawless short program, had a slight mis-step when his inside line caught the ice in the long program and I did not even notice it until the announcers pointed it out. His long skate was brilliant and the most emotive of the night plus he landed all his jumps. 4th would have been better than 6th. Gah, I was upset.
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