Though the Winter Olympics have officially drawn to a close in Sochi, controversy over Yuna Kim’s silver medal in the women’s figure skating event continues. South Korea’s Olympic Committee lodged a formal letter of protest with the sport’s governing body, the International Skating Union (ISU) over the weekend, accusing the judges of bias in awarding Adelina Sotnikova – representing Russia – the gold medal.
More than 2 million people have signed a change.org petition calling for the end of anonymous judging for the event, stemming in large part from anger over Kim’s second-place finish. On the other hand, professional figure skating is prone to conspiracy theories and impassioned fans – many of whom believe Sotnikova’s more technically demanding routine was worthy of gold.
Were politics involved, or are South Korean fans and officials acting like sore losers? Let’s take a look at the arguments:
Ukrainian and Russian judges inflated Sotnikova’s score
Fans of “Queen Yuna” have been quick to point to the inclusion of Yuri Balkov on the judging panel. Balkov, representing post-Soviet Union Ukraine, was banned from judging for a year after attempting to fix the ice dancing competition at the Nagano Games in 1998.
Another figure skating judge, Alla Pissev, is married to Russian Skating Federation general-director Valentin Pissev – adding even more fuel to the pro-Kim fire.
Scorecards for the event – which, as mentioned above, are kept anonymous – were obtained by the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo. It found that “seven of the nine judges gave Kim higher marks than [Sotnikova]. But the other two judges not only gave Sotnikova the highest score but by an enormous margin.”
On Kim’s score card, for example, five judges awarded her between 9.00 and 9.50 points in the “skating skills” category. The other two judges awarded her an 8.25 and an 8.50. Sotnikova, on the other hand, was given scores ranging between 8.00 and 9.00 in the same category from the same five judges that scored Kim higher. The two judges that gave Kim a low score awarded Sotnikova with a 9.25 and a 9.50.
“The [judging] panel made me wish that the United States and Canada had split up into many different countries,” said Lori Nichol, fourth-place finisher Gracie Gold’s choreographer, referring to the inclusion of judges from Ukraine and Estonia – former members of the Soviet Union – on the same panel.
One South Korean newspaper went as far as saying that Kim was under the scrutiny of an “extra judge” in the form of Vladimir Putin.
South Korea’s complaint is only symbolic, as it was filed too late anyway
Even if South Korea had a legitimate reason to challenge Kim’s standing, the national Olympic Committee’s letter was filed too late.
According to ISU rules, protests must be filed within 30 minutes of the event in question. South Korea waited nearly two days to announce its intention to challenge – and the ISU, as of Saturday, said it still hadn’t received anything.
“All ISU members know the rules of protest,” said ISU spokeswoman Selina Vanier. “That’s something that’s very clear to our members.”
Sotnikova made a few mistakes
Both casual observers and ex-skaters turned TV pundits pointed out that Sotnikova landed with two feet on one of her combinations and stumbled late in the routine. Many argue that Kim’s performance was flawless, with no visible mistakes to speak of.
Thanks to a new scoring system, however, small mistakes can be overshadowed by skaters who opt for a more challenging routine. The Sotnikova camp countered that, despite her routine’s minor hiccups, the 17-year-old put together a more difficult program with more jumps and combinations.
“The current [point] system puts far more emphasis on every aspect of a skater’s routine and rewards those who take more risk,” writes CSMonitor. “On Thursday, Sotnikova put together a program worth a lot more points than Kim’s, which means she could afford a minor bobble and still win. Sotnivoka blew Kim away with her combinations. [Her] three combination jumps added up to 27.48 points, with Kim’s adding up to 22.64 points – a massive 4.84 point gap.”
Kim was excellent, but not innovative
The 23-year-old Kim was hoping to become the third woman in Olympic history to defend her previous Olympic gold medal. Some argue that Sotnikova, six years Kim’s junior, simply injected more energy and creativity into her winning free skate.
“[Sotnikova] came gunning for gold, with a program that was more technically challenging than Kim by a significant amount – 3.94 points. [She] knew how to rack up points in the new scoring system, so she arrived at the big event with everything she had,” wrote Yahoo Sports. “Kim, in contrast, skated something close to what she did to win gold in the 2010 Olympics. Across four years she hadn’t expanded her game nor pushed the sport forward. Strategically, she was way behind before she even started.”
Regardless of the outcry coming out of South Korea, Kim refused to join the heated debate.
“The scores are given by the judges so I’m not in the right position to comment,” she said. “The most important thing for me was to take part in these games.”
Do you think that Kim deserved gold, or was Sotnikova worthy of her place on the podium? Share your thoughts in the comments below.