THE WINTER GAMES

A Question Of Judgment

SKATERS’ MARKS WERE OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL

Brian Orser March 2 1992
THE WINTER GAMES

A Question Of Judgment

SKATERS’ MARKS WERE OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL

Brian Orser March 2 1992

A Question Of Judgment

THE WINTER GAMES

SKATERS’ MARKS WERE OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL

Brian Orser

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All eyes were on Japan’s Midori Ito from her first practice in Albertville. She began by skating extremely well, but hour by hour, as the event drew closer, she started missing some of her jumps. On the morning of the original program, Ito changed one of her jumps from a difficult triple Axel to an easier triple Lutz. I had a bad feeling right away: it is an unwritten rule that you do not change a step in your program, let alone a

jump. And sure enough, on the night of the short program, she fell on the triple Lutz and finished fourth. In the long program two days later, she fell again, this time on a triple Axel. But Ito fought back with a strong performance—strong enough to win a silver, but not to catch Kristi Yamaguchi. The 21-year-old American skated a brilliantly choreographed program, and when she landed off balance from a triple loop, everyone looked nervous except Yamaguchi herself. She radiated the confidence of the Olympic champion she became—the first American winner of the

Yamaguchi’s win had a special resonance in Canada, as well. Although a native of Fremont, Calif., she attends the University of Alberta and trains in Edmonton in the same arena as Kurt Browning. And her program was choreographed by Toronto’s Sandra Bezie, who four years ago worked with my archrival, Brian Boitano. Still, overall, it was a disappointing night: as in the men’s event two weeks ago, the skating was not as good as expected. Nancy Kerrigan, a 22-year-old American, was not nearly as polished as she had been in the original program, slipping from second place to settle for a bronze. Karen Preston, the 20year-old Canadian champion from Mississauga, Ont., had been unhappy when the judges placed her 12th in the original program. And she later told me that the stressful time between her warm-up and her free program was the worst 25 minutes of her life. But she turned that into a positive and skated wonderfully—it was clean, she did not miss anything—to finish eighth. Her teammate, Josée Chouinard, took ninth place. Josée, 22, from Laval, Que., had a couple of falls; she has the talent to be among the best, but she is not doing it when it counts.

Reputation: The judging has been a matter of contention throughout the Games. After the original program, I agreed that Preston should have been placed higher. And after Ito fell in the short program, she was lucky to land in fourth. I assume the judges felt that she is a former world champion, she is one of the favorites, she has paid her dues. I totally disagree with that mentality, but for some mysterious reason it was the judging trend at the Albertville Olympics. If the judges considered only the event and not the reputation of the skater, then the real Olympic champion would always be crowned.

Sometimes, however, the judges find themselves in a difficult position. When the top skaters perform up to their abilities, their job is easy: they simply award the high marks that they have mentally reserved for the worldrenowned performers. But because the judges try not to give the same marks to two different people, sometimes—late in the program—they feel forced to give either a too-high or a too-low mark. The system works against relative unknowns. That is what happened two weeks ago to Canada’s Elvis Stojko, who, skating last, performed a superb long program. That left the judges with the choice of either ranking him extremely highly or finding whatever hole they had left—which turned out to be a very unfair seventh.

As for the skating itself, the only event that held true to form was ice dancing, in which the top contenders all performed well. The gold medal went to Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, a husband-and-wife duo from the Unified Team who skated with total confidence, charisma and technical brilliance. Their rivals, Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay, the Quebec-raised brother-andsister team now representing France, came in second. In the past, the Duchesnays have captivated the audience with their innovative, controversial routines, stretching the rules by using too many lifts, or skating apart from each other for longer than the prescribed time. Before the Olympics, French officials told them to stay within the limits, forcing them to take an uncharacteristically cautious approach. In the free program, they skated to the wellknown music from West Side Story. And they faced extra pressure competing before their home crowd—a situation I can sympathize with, having performed in Calgary in 1988. In their short program, they seemed to be holding back—although it was clean and error-free, it didn’t have their usual flair.

‘Chained’: Their choreographer, Christopher Dean, the 1984 Olympic dance champion who is married to Isabelle, said later that he felt he was “chained to the rules.” And after winning the silver medal, Paul Duchesnay suggested that ice dancing might work better as an exhibition than as a competition sport. “It should be performed for the enjoyment of the public,” he said. “It’s too subjective—you can’t judge it objectively and it becomes a question of individual taste.”

Canada’s team of Mark Janoschak and Jacqueline Petr also skated a fine performance in Albertville. During an earlier practice session, 21-year-old Petr suffered a gash to her leg that required a total of 22 stitches. But at the

suggestion that she could opt out of the event, she dropped her crutches and walked out of the medical centre in the Olympic Village. Even in great pain, she dealt with the problem like a real trooper and Olympian. Ultimately, she and her 23-year-old partner competed as well as they could, considering that they had not practised their free dance program in a week. They were happy with their performance—but not with their 12th-place finish. I told Jacqueline that they should both be proud of themselves for finishing the event at all.

As! watched the presenta tion of medals, I relived some of my own Olympic moments. I felt for the Duchesnays. As an athlete, there is no greater challenge than to go for the gold in your home country. Placing second is hard. The Calgary Games were truly

the ultimate in competitive experiences for me. And I know that in time, the Duchesnays will feel the same. They will put everything in perspective and retain happy memories of the Albertville Olympic Games. 0