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Olympics / Sports

Confusion and controversy reign in women's skating

SOCHI, Russia -- Elvis Stojko was ready. It was moments after the women's Olympic figure skating competition, and Stojko had a detailed result sheet in hand. He began to tick off, element by element, why he thought Adelina Sotnikova of Russia deserved to beat defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and Carolina Kostner of Italy.

"Adelina came loaded," Stojko said. "Did the other two have more beautiful skating? Absolutely. But it's a sport, and this was totally fair."

It was no surprise that Stojko, a two-time OIympic silver medalist from Canada known for his athleticism, might have such an opinion about an outcome certain to be among the most questionable and debated in figure skating's checkered judging history.

His opinion that Sotnikova had earned her surprise victory Thursday according to the math of the scoring system, adopted after the 2002 pairs skating scandal, was shared by several other former skaters, including some known more for their artistry and style, such as Olympic medalists Philippe Candeloro of France and Paul Wylie of the U.S.

But even they had questions about the judging, which smelled of home cooking to sate a roaring Russian crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

"I don't have a problem with the result, other than the (margin) of it," Wylie said. "The expectations were they were going to crown Queen Yuna one final time, and when it didn't come to pass, it's like, 'How did that happen?' "

Sotnikova, 17, ninth in last year's world championships, became her country's first Olympic women's singles champion by 5.48 points over Kim. The Russian's combination of big jumps, speed and power made the case for building that margin in the technical marks, and it led the judges to get carried away so she didn't lose it on the component scores.

"The scores are given by the judges," Kim said. "I am not in the right position to comment on it. There is nothing that will change with my words."

A week ago, 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek of the U.S. had wondered whether Kim's lack of a triple loop jump in the free skate might hurt her. That proved prophetic: Kim did six triple jumps, Sotnikova seven, and the seventh was a triple loop for which the Russian earned 6.7 points.

Sotnikova finished with 224.59 points to 219.11 for Kim. Kostner was third at 216.73. The three had gone into the free skate separated by less than a point.

"Maybe Yuna didn't get enough points in the short program because they didn't want to repeat what had happened in Vancouver, where we knew before the free skate who was going to win," Candeloro said.

Gracie Gold of the U.S. was fourth, with teammates Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds seventh and ninth, respectively. The U.S. women went without a medal in consecutive Olympics for the first time since 1948.

Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, who had become a global sensation for her brilliant skating in the team event, fell in both singles programs and finished fifth.

Canada's Jamie Sale, who received a pairs gold medal at the 2002 Olympics after a French judge admitted she was pressured to fix the outcome in favor of Sale's victorious Russian opponents, tweeted she had just watched the women's free skate again and "I STRONGLY DISAGREE w/results like MANY others. #ISU now what?"

The International Skating Union has created a scoring system so mathematically complex, it is incomprehensible. On top of that, it allows judging and technical panels to have massive conflicts of interest (one judge on Thursday's panel, Alla Shekhovtseva, is married to the former Russian Skating Federation president) and include cheaters (another judge, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, had been suspended for his role in prejudging an event).

"That's figure skating at its finest," Wylie said.

That all the judges' scores are anonymous only adds to such cynicism.

"The sport needs to be more accountable," Wagner said.

Joannie Rochette of Canada, the 2010 women's bronze medalist, found Thursday's result "weird" but would not comment on the judges because she was, like many fans, simply confused.

"I don't know how this works," she said. "I thought I did."

Kurt Browning, a four-time world champion, was tasked with trying to explain it to the Canadian TV audience.

"I wasn't sure I understood because I see so much quality in Yuna, and I see a young woman in Adelina with unrefined moments," Browning said. "But I was smart enough to stand up and look at the marks before I said anything."

Browning saw clear explanations for why Sotnikova's technical marks were 5.85 points better than Kim's, including the South Korean getting reduced base values on a spin and a footwork sequence. What perplexed him was how Sotnikova's component scores Thursday could be nearly nine points higher than her average component scores in four previous competitions this season.

"You don't learn to skate that much better that fast," Browning said.

Sotnikova made one small technical mistake, a two-footed landing on the third jump in a combination, for which she was penalized.

"I was waiting for the mistakes she usually makes, and she never made them," said 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, commenting for NBC.

"I looked at the way the component score (rules) are written, and Adelina checks off every box. It's not as aesthetically pleasing as Yuna or Carolina, but she does everything the judges are looking for."

Even so, Hamilton admitted his jaw dropped when he saw the component scores.

Sotnikova's free skate showed much more refinement than her helter-skelter short program, even if she hammed it up at the end with a wave at the judges. They acknowledged that with the second-highest free skate score in history.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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