Figure on some strange scoring in skating, as elsewhere

Phil Jackman

February 11, 1992|By Phil Jackman

The centerpiece of network coverage of the Winter Olympics tonight will be figure skating -- pairs long program.

If this sounds like an evening of sedate entertainment with a sophisticated audience rendering polite applause and everyone playing kissy-face, you ain't been paying close attention lately, Bucko.

The Albertville Games were less than 40 hours old yesterday when cries of horrible officiating were ringing through the Alps. Most wondered why it took so long.

The complaints came from the freestyle skiing event, ballet division, and it isn't even a medal sport. Judging from some of the marks given the night before in the short program of the pairs skating, some of the competitors had every right to scream bloody murder.

As we all know, or have been told, judging can be so subjective, especially when technical skill and artistic impression, the components of figure skating, are involved.

But two people, sitting no more than 10 feet apart and, it is assumed, watching closely could hardly be as diverse in their judgment as 4.9 and 5.6, could they? It happens often.

Of particular note Sunday night was the Unified Team pair of Eugenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov being dispatched to fifth place and probably out of reach of the medals despite skating a reasonably difficult program cleanly. The music wasn't bad either, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five."

The call was nearly as bad as that received over the weekend by Dave Tiberi in a boxing match seen on ABC. Tiberi won about nine of 12 rounds against IBF middleweight champion James Toney, but somehow ended up on the short end of a split decision.

We digress. By now, we should know better than to be shocked by extremely questionable officiating. Remember the Nationals in Baltimore a few years ago when a pairs team unwittingly gave a great imitation of drunks on roller skates only to go virtually unpenalized and sent on their merry way to the World Championships a month later?

Almost without pause, we are bombarded with complaints of lousy officiating, the poor zebras proving defenseless targets literally every day of the year. And there's a very good chance it might have started when a group of judges were asked which of several skaters was best.

The Winter Olympics started in 1924 in Chamonix, France, but even before that, when figure skating was included in the Summer Games in 1908 (London), there was trouble.

After opening day compulsories, the Swede Ulrich Salchow (for whom the jump was named) was adjudged to be best by three of five judges against rival Nicolai Panin. The Russian didn't see it that way, so he withdrew in protest against the judging.

In 1956, pairs teams from Austria and Canada were clearly the class of the field, splitting the votes of eight of nine judges. They got no help from the ninth judge, a Hungarian, who dutifully voted for his/her countrymen. The audience revolted, pelted the judges with anything it could get its hands on and the ice had to be cleared three times before skating could resume.

Say things go smoothly tonight. The first round of the men's and dance competitions started today and they're certainly not immune to controversy.

Ah, contention, now that's what makes for interesting competition.

* TODAY'S TIP (attention CBS): The Bonnie Blair gold-medal tape package had all the right ingredients, but why not show such things earlier so kids can get a peek?

* THUMBS UP: The touching comeback story of Japanese speed skater Ye Qiaobo, who unknowingly was fed steroids by a doctor and was sent home in disgrace from the 1988 Winter Games . . . TNT going for action, when available, not simply going for studio gab.

* THUMBS DOWN: Showing skier Mark Girardelli as he wiped out on the Val d'Isere downhill at least two dozen times. Give the guy a break . . . CBS showed just 11 minutes of actual competition during the 9-9:30 time slot last night . . . The fact the network can embargo events TNT cable might want to do during its daily 1-6 p.m. show for its taped show in prime time . . . The customary hometown barroom scene for a medal winner (Bonnie Blair) . . . The promotions ads for "Fish Police."

* QUICKIES: Be assured you're missing virtually nothing by ducking the 7-9 a.m. show. CBS said it would be doing some stuff live, but takes just cursory swipes at some of the action. And that fat weatherman has got to go . . . Chalk one up against Charles Kuralt. His piece on bad ID pictures on credentials fell flat . . . It's probably about time Tim McCarver asked someone what he's supposed to be doing . . . They must have little crime in Champagne, Ill., what with half the police force on TV all hours of the day and night.

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