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TES standards could shut out small federations

Higher minimum technical scores will mean smaller fields at ISU championships

Irish skater Clara Peters views the new technical elements score requirements as a challenge instead of a deterrent.
Irish skater Clara Peters views the new technical elements score requirements as a challenge instead of a deterrent. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(07/25/2012) - The International Skating Union (ISU) wants quality, not quantity, at its world championships, and if the new minimum technical elements scores (TES) it set in ISU Communication No. 1742 stay the same, it will get its wish.

Previous required minimum scores kept almost no skaters from competing at worlds, allowing federations to field teams every year -- no more.

In some cases, the requirements have been nearly doubled:

Short Program/Short Dance
Ladies: 28 (was 15)
Men's: 35 (was 20)
Pairs: 28 (was 17)
Ice Dancing: 29 (was 17)

Free Skate/Free Dance
Ladies: 48 (was 25)
Men's: 65 (was 35)
Pairs: 45 (was 30)
Ice Dancing: 39 (was 27)

In order to enter the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, a skater or team must hit these technical minimums at least once in any international competition on the 2011-12 or 2012-13 ISU calendar. The scores may be gained for the short in one competition and for the free in another. Program components scores (PCS) are not considered.

At the 2012 World Championships in Nice, France, just seven ladies, seven dance couples, 12 pairs and 14 men gained or surpassed these scores in both parts of the competition. Some high finishers who did not: two-time world champion Mao Asada, who placed sixth, and European silver medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (seventh). At the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships, only the top three finishers in the ladies free skate hit the mark.

While Asada, and Bobrova and Soloviev, met the TES standards in previous competitions, many skaters -- including veteran competitors like nine-time British champion Jenna McCorkell, Canadian champion Amélie Lacoste and Viktor Pfeifer of Austria -- did not. In some instances, the scores could prevent a federation from fielding any competitors at worlds. It would also restrict the judges' pool for world championships and the Olympics, because in order to have a judge sit on a panel, a country must have a competitor entered in the event.

Irish champion Clara Peters, one of the skaters who could be shut out of worlds and the Olympics, considers the new minimum score a challenge to be met.

"Last year and years before, the scores were achievable for pretty much everybody, and now they are a lot higher," said Peters, who did not reach the final in Nice, placing 29th in the short program. "The way I have to look at it is, 'OK, I have to do more. I need to work on the spins, I need to work on the steps, I need to work on the jumps. I need to get everything together and really push.' "

Things have come to this pass because at the 54th ISU Congress, held in Kuala Lumpur the second week of June, a majority of member skating federations voted to abolish the preliminary (qualifying) round at worlds in favor of entering skaters and teams directly into the short programs or short dance. This vote was likely prompted by housing costs: If entered in the main draw, the organizing federation of the world championships, and not the member federations, would pay for the skaters' hotel.

It would also have meant that 50 or 55 ladies and men, including 20 or 25 that would have been eliminated in the preliminary round, would compete short programs at worlds, something the ISU Council did not want.

"Our competitions are not festivals," ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta has said on several occasions.

While still in Kuala Lumpur, the Council raised the minimum points required for worlds -- as well as for the European Championships and Four Continents Championships -- and introduced a minimum standard for the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

At the recent Liberty Summer Competition in Aston, Pa., some coaches were alarmed by the new minimum set for entry to worlds.

"I think we all agree there has to be a certain minimum standard, but it should be made after the best 24 or 30 skaters have already qualified," said Craig Maurizi, coach of Estonian champion Elena Glebova. "It seems the new rule excludes almost the majority of skaters and countries."

Others pointed out that with no skaters entered at the world championships, many countries would not purchase rights to broadcast the competition. The ISU would lose money, and the sport would lose fans. Plus, the resources spent by the ISU to develop seminars to improve the quality and quantity of skating in small countries might diminish, as interest declines and some federations lose government funding.

"The whole minimum score idea is complete nonsense, because it reduces the number of countries where skating is promoted," said Uschi Keszler, who coached two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko. "This is the opposite of what the ISU wants."

Some coaches, however, are comfortable with the new TES requirements.

"If the ISU sets these requirements, we have to fulfill them, and skaters must train harder to get the points," Tom Zakrajsek said. "This is what I tell my skaters. A world championship with only 15 or 20 skaters would be OK with me; if 10 skaters/teams from the U.S. or Japan or Russia or China meet these requirements, then let the best skaters compete at worlds. If you look at certain other sports, nations can have more than three entries at their world championships, or the equivalent competition, depending upon the athlete achieving a minimum standard."

Jim Peterson, coach of British pairs champions Stacey Kemp and David King, who placed 19th after the short program at 2012 worlds, thinks the pairs' minimum scores are attainable for many teams.

"Although the revised tech scores are tough, I believe the responsibility falls again on the coaches to build programs and develop elements that accentuate the strengths of our skaters," he said. "If a pair team has issues with jumping, it is now all the more important to create lifts, spins and death spirals that are at a no-nonsense Level 4 with positive GOE. There is a great variety of elements in pair skating and just as many opportunities to build points."

(The Council did leave itself an escape clause: Communication No. 1742 states it may change the minimum requirements during the season, if it determines insufficient skaters will qualify for the ISU championships.)

Another challenge for smaller federations will be qualifying skaters for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Around 80 percent of the Olympic spots will be determined at the 2013 World Championships, and countries denied entrants would have no chance to qualify a spot. They would all have to enter the Olympic qualifying competition, the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, but only six or so spots per discipline are awarded there.

Some coaches at Liberty expressed concern that judging panels might raise grades of execution in an effort to boost skaters past the minimum and to keep themselves in the world and Olympic judging pool. Meanwhile, senior "B" competitions, including the new 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City in mid-September, will gain importance.

"The whole idea of the senior 'B's' is to give more skaters the opportunity to do competitions," said Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of athlete high performance. "U.S. Figure Skating will give as many of its skaters as possible the chance to reach the new minimum standards."

Even as she looks to the future, Peters -- who is planning to add a triple Salchow, and perhaps another triple, to her programs this season -- is sad to think her days competing in the preliminary round at worlds are over.

"I enjoyed them because you had the 12 or 18 or so skaters who were considered the 'big girls' in the class -- the 'cool kids' -- and then you had the 20 or 30 or so who got a chance [in the preliminary round] to join the cool kids," she said.

"In Nice, I was 11th in the prelim and 12 went through, and it was an amazing accomplishment. My long program there was the happiest moment I ever had in skating. To skate a very good program and have the crowd enjoy it, that's what I live for."