Evan Lysacek points to figure skating’s shortcomings


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It was not a surprise for figure skater Evan Lysacek to speak on Wednesday of going to the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The confusion was understandable because Lysacek has been hanging out with gymnasts who did compete in this past summer’s Beijing Games.


The surprise was that Lysacek simply corrected the slip instead of using it as a segue to promote Sunday’s NBC television special, ‘Progressive’s Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular,’ in which he appears with such Beijing Games gymnastics stars as Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.

After all, during a 25-minute teleconference, Lysacek’s willingness to promote the folks who put bread on his table was quite evident in his repeated props for AT&T, the new title sponsor of next week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

(The event had no title sponsor last season after State Farm ended a 12-year commitment to the U.S. figure skating federation.)

Lysacek even managed to give the sponsor a plug for helping the sport make the best of a bad situation -- the general public’s puzzlement about the New Judging System.

The question concerned whether Lysacek missed the notion of perfection, as acknowledged in the old system by a score of 6.0. He indirectly answered yes.

‘Regardless of how I feel, the truth is the 6.0 was a brand for figure skating worldwide, and it became a commonly used phrase: ‘I would give it a 6.0,’ Lysacek said. ‘Anyone could flip on the TV and know a 5.9 is pretty good and a 4.1 is not very good, so it was easy to follow, to cheer your favorites.

‘Losing that brand was very difficult, and I think we have seen that hit quite a bit here in the U.S.,’ Lysacek said. ‘But it is really encouraging for us now to have AT&T onboard, the

support they are putting behind skating. It shows people still are appreciative of the sport regardless of how it’s scored.’

A few minutes later, Lysacek talked about how the quadruple jump had become a ‘brand’ for men’s skating over the last four to eight years.

That seemed mildly ironic because Lysacek also made it sound very unlikely that he would restore it to his programs as he tries to win a third straight U.S. title. He landed a quad in both of the last two years.

‘When I talk to people on the street about skating, there’s one word they know, and that’s the quad,’ Lysacek said. ‘From a business standpoint, I think it is important we try to promote athletes working on the quad. It is something recognizable to the general public ... I will decide at the championships, the AT&T U.S. Championships, whether it is worth it to put in in.’

It would be if the knuckleheads who run international skating made it worth significantly more than a triple lutz (how about twice as much instead of 9.8 to 6.0?), a no-brainer jump for elite men.

Then there would be sufficient reward for the risk of trying what Lysacek calls a ‘quote-unquote, ‘death-defying element’ ’ that he feels displays skating’s appeal as a sport even to the casual fan -- and brings applause rather than the silence of incomprehension.

And just in case you think it’s only me bringing up issues about the judging system’s failure -- mathematical, metaphysical and esthetical (the last of which I wrote about in Tuesday’s Fabulous Forum) -- listen to what three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir said Wednesday about another reporter’s question about balancing the art with the endless technical requirements:

‘The sport of figure skating has become some kind of national math contest, and this judging system is killing the sport,’ Weir said. ‘The free program is supposed to be free, to put an image out there and tell a story, and it’s next to impossible to do, unless you write the whole story on your costume ... The art of figure skating is lost because of this judging system.’

I then asked Weir if the system’s demands were partly responsible for the injuries decimating the sport.

‘To compete in this system, you have to be prepared to run a marathon every day, so it’s no shock to me that people are getting injured or getting sick,’ Weir said. ‘Injuries will come easier when you work yourself to the bone on a daily basis. This system is slowly killing everyone off.’

But the sport’s pooh-bahs are deaf to such criticism, even when it comes from their current champions, preferring to hear only the sound of unjustified self-congratulations.

Call it a failure of communication.

Maybe the new sponsor has a remedy for that.

Like demanding judging changes that would lead to a good return on its investment.

-- Philip Hersh