To figure skating, just do the math

Hughes' gold medal a study in place value

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002


SALT LAKE CITY - The long list of questions about figure skating judging got a little bit longer Thursday night when Sarah Hughes came from fourth place after the short program to win the gold medal.

Here are a few questions you might have:

How did Hughes win exactly?

Why was Michelle Kwan in first place overall on the scoreboard, ahead of Hughes after she skated but in third place, behind Hughes, after Irina Slutskaya skated?

What is factored placing?

Why did Slutskaya choose that dress?

The last question is unanswerable. The others are difficult, but let's give it a try anyway.

The short program is worth one-third of the final score and the long program is worth two-thirds. To get a skater's final standing, multiply her standing in the short by 0.5 and her standing in the long by 1.0. As in golf, low score wins.

So, a skater who is placed fifth in the short and second in the long has a factored placing of 4.5 (2.5 plus 2.0). OK so far?

That means Sarah Hughes had a factored placing of 2.0 after finishing fourth in the short. For her to win the gold medal, she would have to win the long program, giving her a factored total of 3.0 (2.0 plus 1.0) and Michelle Kwan, the leader after the short (0.5), would have to finish no higher than third. If Kwan finished second in the long program, she would have finished with a factored placing of 2.5 (0.5 plus 2.0) and edged Hughes.

Until Slutskaya skated, Kwan was in second place in the long program and that's why the scoreboard still showed her in the overall lead. It wasn't until Slutskaya finished ahead of Kwan and behind Hughes in the long that Kwan was knocked to third place and her overall factored placing trailed Hughes.

Here, then, are the final, factored standings:

Skater Short Long Overall

Hughes 4 (2.0) 1 (1.0) 3.0

Slutskaya 2 (1.0) 2 (2.0) 3.0

Kwan 1 (0.5) 3 (3.0) 3.5

Cohen 3 (1.5) 4 (4.0) 5.5

In the event of a tie, as between Hughes and Slutskaya, the ranking for the long program is the tiebreaker.

Now, how it is determined who places where?

Add up the two marks and give each skater a ranking judge by judge. The tiebreaker in the long program is the second mark, for artistic presentation.

For instance, in the long program, judge No. 9, Joe Inman of the United States, voted like this: Hughes 11.6 (5.8, 5.8), Slutskaya 11.5 (5.8, 5.7), Kwan 11.4 (5.6, 5.8) and Cohen 11.3 (5.6, 5.7)

Judge No. 2, Tatiana Danilenko of Russia, voted like this: Slutskaya 11.7 (5.8, 5.9), Cohen 11.6 (5.8, 5.8), Kwan 11.5 (5.7, 5.8) and Hughes 11.5 (5.8, 5.7).

After all the scores were in, Hughes was ranked first by five judges, second by one judge, third by one judge and fourth by two judges for the long program.

Slutskaya was ranked first by four judges, second by two judges, third by two judges and fourth by one judge.

By a computer formula that figures something called comparative points, based on each skater's head-to-head results that day, the rankings for the long program came out like this: Hughes 44 comparative points, Slutskaya 42, Kwan 40, Cohen 38.

So, Hughes won the long, got a factored placing of 1.0, had that added to her factored placing of 2.0 for the short, beat Slutskaya, who got 1.0 and 2.0, in the tiebreaker, and picked up the gold medal.

What could be simpler than that?

Long-program ordinals:

Country Hughes Slutskaya Kwan

Germany 1 3 2

Russia 4 1 3

Slovakia 3 1 2

Denmark 4 1 2

Italy 1 4 2

Belarus 2 1 3

Finland 1 2 3

Canada 1 3 2

U.S. 1 2 3

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