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Sotnikova crowned but judging under scrutiny

Updated: 2014-02-22 07:57
By Reuters in Sochi, Russia ( China Daily)

Sotnikova crowned but judging under scrutiny

There had been rumblings for days that Russian figure skaters were being marked rather generously at the Sochi Olympics, judges seemingly awarding scores with their hearts rather than their heads after being carried on a wave of national euphoria.

Just how much the heart ruled the head became clear on Thursday when, amid deafening roars and frenzied cheers, Adelina Sotnikova became the first Russian to win the women's title with a surprising free skate score of 149.95.

The fact her victory margin in the long program was judged to be 5.76 points more than overwhelming favorite Kim Yu-na and 7.34 points ahead of bronze medalist Carolina Kostner - who had both produced stirring performances - left even the experts and former champions bewildered.

 Sotnikova crowned but judging under scrutiny

Adelina Sotnikova reacts after the women's figure skating free program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on Thursday. Sotnikova won Russia's first Olympic women's figure skating title. Yuri Kadobnov / Agence France-Presse

"That is a big, big number. You have to think being in Russia in front of a Russian audience has definitely helped. She (Sotnikova) skated well, I don't know if she was eight points ahead of Carolina Kostner," three-times former US national champion Johnny Weir said while commentating on NBC.

Katarina Witt thought she was about to welcome 2010 gold medalist Kim as the newest member of the 'back-to-back Olympic champion's club' but when the scores flashed up to show the Russian had won, the German was left equally befuddled.

"I am stunned by this result, I don't understand the scoring," Witt, the 1984 and 1988 champion was heard commentating on German TV from her booth at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

And why was everyone left speechless with the result?

It was because Sotnikova was the only one of the trio, who had been separated by a negligible 0.8 of a point following their short skates, to suffer a snatched landing following one of her jumps.

While the nine-member judging panel would be eager to point out Kim only attempted six triple jumps compared to Sotnikova's seven, that did not explain why Kostner finished so far behind the Russian even though she too executed every one of her 11 jumps, including seven triples.

"I saw a lot of very nice, decent landings (from Kim) and I am speechless," American Ashley Wagner said after finishing seventh.

"People don't want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean. It is confusing and we need to make it clear for people.

"People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anony-mous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base."

A year after Patrick Chan suffered a backlash after winning the men's world title despite a performance in which it seemed he spent more time on his bottom than on two feet, Sotnikova's win again set tongues wagging.

Within seconds of the decision being announced, Twitter went into overdrive with people divided over who should have won while loyalties and past records of those on the judging panel were scrutinized.

One judge was identified as having served a one-year suspension for trying to fix an event at the 1998 Olympics, while another was named as the wife of the president of the Russian figure skating federation.

Considering the sport's murky past, it is little wonder people started to delve deep.

It has been more than a decade since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic judging scandal plunged the sport into a credibility crisis it is still trying to recover from.

The accumulative scoring system that was introduced after the 2002 Olympics as a replacement for the 6.0 system, that was open to corruption and vote swapping, was supposed to have made things more transparent.

But it is a scoring system that is harder to understand than the theory of relativity and to make matters worse, judges are able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity as no one knows which score was given by which official.

(China Daily 02/22/2014 page16)