Scoring Has Kinks to Be Ironed Out

The International Skating Union's proposed cumulative scoring system continues to evolve, and proponents said it would continue to change as input from skaters and coaches was incorporated.

Among the newest wrinkles are eliminating the top two and bottom two of the nine scores randomly chosen to count from a 14-judge panel and averaging the remaining five; limiting skaters to 11 jumps and four spins in a program, and perhaps identifying judges to enforce their accountability.

The cumulative system, proposed by ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta during the Olympics to reform a system that was suspect even before the pairs judging scandal erupted at the Salt Lake City Games, is likely to be voted upon at the 2004 ISU Congress. It could be used for ISU events in the 2004-05 season.

In the meantime, the U.S. and other countries are using a system in which nine judges rank skaters for technical and artistic content and award scores as high as 6.0. At other events, scoring is done with an interim system in which marks are chosen randomly and are listed in ascending order without being linked to the judges' names.

U.S. judge Joe Inman described himself as "a convert" to the proposed system and said most judges dislike the interim system. "It is secret, and that's what doesn't make sense to me. I don't like secrecy," he said Thursday. "I think [the proposed system] does have possibilities to be better."

ISU consultant Ted Barton said the organization would offer books, videos and an interactive CD-ROM to skaters, coaches and fans to explain the proposed rules.

Scoring will be done by judges using touch-screen computers. Elements will have a predetermined base value and judges will add grades of execution. They will also rate technical aspects, choreography and interpretation. Totals will be posted on arena message boards, and skaters will receive detailed printouts of their scores.

"We need to know for sure a judge is not manipulating the system," Barton said. "The ability to manipulate is virtually zero."

Phyllis Howard, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., said she considers it "still a project." She added, "Next year is a critical year. A lot of the technical part still has to be worked out. I'm not trying to sell this, I'm trying to dig into the details."

New Outlook

What calamity will next befall figure skater Angela Nikodinov of San Pedro: Plagues? Pestilence?

Still mourning the death of her coach and confidant, Elena Tcherkasskaia, Nikodinov finished fourth at last year's U.S. championships and didn't make the Olympic team. Named an alternate to the world team, she dislocated her shoulder and couldn't accept an invitation to compete. She dislocated it again preparing for this season, then got sick with a virus while recuperating. She had an allergic reaction to her medication and missed her Grand Prix events.

"The last year was a building experience for me, not as a skater but as a person," said Nikodinov, a balletic skater who finished third at the 1999 and 2001 U.S. competitions. "I'm so much stronger because of everything I've been through. It brought reality into my life. Skating is not everything. Obviously it's a big part of my life and something that I love to do and is my career, and hopefully will be for years to come. But skating is not going to last the rest of your life.

"It's been a hard year, but I feel great. I've come a long way."

The first dislocation, suffered when she fell on a triple salchow, wasn't a huge setback. She trained all summer in El Segundo with Frank Carroll but fell on the same jump in September and suffered the same injury.

"Once it pops out, the only way to prevent it from happening again is to have surgery, but in September I didn't want to think about it," she said. "Recovery time can be up to two months and I didn't want to take the chance that I'd miss the whole season, so I decided not to have the surgery then."

She was off the ice a month, during which she caught the virus and developed a cough that kept her from sleeping. She also had a bad reaction to antibiotics.

"It's like, what more can go wrong?" she said.

There was a lot more. When she returned to the ice, she could do only the most basic moves and still feared for her shoulder.

"I wasn't in my own body," she said. "I almost had to relearn how to skate. It was very frustrating, but I'm lucky I had Frank there, pushing me and understanding what I was going through.

"You don't know how far your limit is," she said, "and if you take it too far, there's no going back, and you're done for the season. Some days I was fired up and anxious to get training again but he knew I wasn't physically ready for it."

She withdrew from the Cup of Russia and NHK Trophy events, then returned in the Sears Open in Red Deer, Canada, in December. She was fourth, and mostly glad of the chance to perform her "Afternoon of a Faun" long program choreographed by Lori Nichol. She also began working with Galina Barinova, whose prima ballerina background was similar to Tcherkasskaia's.

"I was reluctant at first, and it was a little difficult," Nikodinov said. "But she helped me tremendously just getting my confidence back. Some days were harder than others.... Sometimes encouraging words change your whole attitude."

Nikodinov finished 11th after the short program here. Normally she'd be nervous about finishing in the top three overall to qualify for the World Championships, but her priorities have changed.

"For me, it comes down to performing your best and not stressing about anything else," she said. "It's taken me a long time to realize that.... I'm lighter in mind and lighter in body, and I hope everything just flies."

Here and There

Jill Bakken, who teamed with Vonetta Flowers to win the first women's bobsled gold medal last year at Salt Lake City, will miss the rest of the bobsled season because of a back injury. Flowers, who missed the first half of the season after giving birth to twin boys last summer, will return to competition and will slide with Jean Racine. U.S. bobsled and skeleton competitors won seven medals in the first half of this season.

Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling gold medalist Rulon Gardner will compete in the Titan Games, Feb. 14-15 in San Jose.... The 43rd edition of the L.A. Invitational track and field meet will be held Feb. 15 at the Sports Arena. It will feature Bernard Lagat of Kenya, a four-time winner of the L.A. mile.

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