Flade offers perspective on first half of 2016 seasonReporter shares thoughts on Grand Prix series, potential scoring changes
In 2016, fans and figure skaters alike have witnessed changes to the main governing body of figure skating. The biggest of these changes came in June, when Jan Dijkema became the new president of the International Skating Union, following a 22-year reign by Ottavio Cinquanta.
The 71-year-old Dijkema, who said he's planning to hold a two-year term in office, was formerly the ISU vice president for speed skating. The new president acknowledged that the organization needs many reforms, with one being the abolishing of anonymous judging, an act already implemented for all ISU competitions.
Icenetwork discussed these changes and future developments with Tatjana Flade, a reporter who undoubtedly understands the intricacies of figure skating. Flade has been a member of the ISU media team since 1998 while also writing numerous works of fiction and non-fiction.
Icenetwork: How would you evaluate the first half of the 2016-17 season?
Tatjana Flade: In my opinion, the Grand Prix series went well. We saw the stars like Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernández, Patrick Chan, Evgenia Medvedeva and Satoko Miyahara compete at a high level.
The Grand Prix is the stage for rising stars and newcomers from the junior ranks that are ready to be discovered, and it was exciting to watch someone with Nathan Chen's talent. The Grand Prix Series also featured the comeback of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who surprised quite a few people by returning in a strong manner after a two-year absence.
Icenetwork: What are your personal highlights from the 2016 Grand Prix Series?
Flade: I was especially impressed with how strong Virtue and Moir returned to the competitive scene. They've always been extraordinary competitors, but coming back is not easy, and they managed not only to return to their previous level, but improve at each event. They looked good at Skate Canada, better at NHK Trophy and extraordinary at the Grand Prix Final.
Icenetwork: Trophée Eric Bompard was renamed Trophée de France due to the end of the partnership between the sponsor and the ISU. In icenetwork's recent interview with Mr. Bombard, he seemed a bit disappointed with the way the agreement ended. What are your thoughts on the break?
Flade: It is very sad that figure skating, and in particular the French federation, lost a long-time loyal sponsor. I remember the old days when there was a fashion show during the gala with Bompard models. I have met Monsieur Bompard in the past, and he always seemed personally interested in the sport and the skaters. I hope that maybe one day the French federation and Monsieur Bompard can renew their partnership.
Icenetwork: How would you assess the legacy of former ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta?
Flade: Ottavio Cinquanta led the ISU through many changes and has contributed a lot to the development and modernization of the sport. The creation of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating and ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating series, and the implementation of the ISU judging system and Olympic team competition were important milestones in the history of the sport that are connected to Mr. Cinquanta. He sometimes had strange ideas and suggestions, like abolishing the short program, but at least he was not afraid of thinking outside the box.
Icenetwork: Anonymity of judges was abolished at the ISU Congress this year. What is your opinion on this decision?
Flade: The idea behind the anonymity of the judges was to protect the judges, to give them more independence from their federations. I don't really think it worked well as the anonymity was something that was constantly criticized by the public.
Frankly, I don't think it really makes a big difference since the judging wasn't anonymous everywhere anyway. We'll probably just have media and fans discussing some judges and their decisions, but we should keep in mind that most of the judges are trying hard to make the best and fairest decisions, and that the focus is on the athletes and their performances. Obviously, poor judging needs to be identified, and there has to be the right reaction to it.
Icenetwork: Do you feel the Four Continents Championships need to be reformatted or moved to a different location?
Flade: I've never heard that and don't think it makes much sense. Nobody would think of dividing the European championships into Western and Eastern European championships, for example, and there are fewer countries involved in Four Continents than in Europeans. The timing of Four Continents might be a problem for some skaters, but on the other hand, there are always athletes that have to do back-to-back Grand Prix events. Why would a smaller competition with less athletes and less countries attract more sponsors?
The Four Continents were established in 1999 in order to give Asian and North American skaters the equivalent to the European championships, to give them more exposure and the opportunity to earn prize money and world ranking points. The event has really grown over the years and now is a high-level, exciting competition.
Icenetwork: Do you think the present voting system of the ISU favors the larger countries and hinders the progress of the smaller nations?
Flade: I think it is important that the "small" figure skating countries also have their voice and a chance to develop, as they can certainly provide important input. If only the big skating countries count, interest in the smaller countries may lessen and then we'll be left with a "monoculture" where only the United States, Canada, Russia and Japan have influence.
In the long-term, a monoculture becomes unstable. It is important to develop skating in as many countries as possible to attract more spectators, fans and sponsors. Also, it is usually not just about "small" against "big" members but about the countries that have different interests and may form alliances.
Icenetwork: This year, you released your book Ein perfektes Paar, which focuses on Aliona Savchenko and former partner Robin Szolkowy. Can you tell us a bit about it and whether or not you plan on releasing an English version?
Flade: I had followed the careers of Aliona and Robin from the beginning, even when they still were skating with other partners. I thought their unique career and their story deserved to be told. It was an exciting project with Aliona and Robin, especially since their parents and coaches all participated.
I do plan on publishing an English version. The problem is that translating it takes more time than I thought. At the moment, I do not have the time to put my focus on that publication.
Icenetwork: Over the past few years, many coaches have left Europe and moved to North America to work. In your opinion, what should be done to increase the attractiveness of figure skating in Europe once again?
Flade: I believe a main problem is that figure skating has a lot of competition from other sports, not only in Europe, but also in North America. Figure skating needs to draw attention and to really think big.
Our sport basically has everything to be attractive for a large audience: interesting athletes, athleticism, music and dance. It can't hurt to think outside the box and to try new competition formats and rules. In the past, we've seen some interesting changes and ideas, such as the development of the short dance as opposed to compulsory dance, the use of vocal music and the changing of costume rules. Hopefully things like this will continue to change for the better.
Figure skating is still attractive in Europe. Several organizers have proven that it is possible to stage a successful championship that attracts lots of spectators, even without having major skating stars of their own, as they've done in Poland and Sweden. The conditions for coaches are unfortunately not as good as in North America, though. The coaching profession should be more attractive and provide a better income.
Icenetwork: As 2016 comes to an end, what are your hopes for athletes, coaches and fans as we head into 2017?
Flade: I wish everybody a very successful second half of this season and then all the best for the upcoming Olympic season. I hope skaters can train and compete injury-free, coaches and choreographers can develop their athletes, and fans can enjoy great performances at the upcoming championships.