Russian 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal in women’s individual figure skating on Thursday night, beating out Yuna Kim in controversial fashion.
Kim was the favourite going into the event, and the overall impression was that she was unbeatable if she skated cleanly.
On Thursday night Kim did skate cleanly … but she lost to a Russian who’d never won a major international competition.
In the immediate aftermath of the result, a number of people in the media cried judging controversy. Christine Brennan of USA Today called it the worst decision since Salt Lake City in 2002 — the infamous event that forced the sport to adopt a more objective scoring system.
But when you break down the scores, it’s clear that the decision wasn’t all that egregious.
Sotnikova finished with a score of 149.95 in the free skate. Kim got a 144.19.
They were basically even in the subjective “component score” portion of the judging. Kim got a 74.50, and Sotnikova got a 74.41.
If the assumption is that the judges screwed over Yuna, they didn’t do it in the part of the judging were you give out points for abstract things like skating skills, choreography, and interpretation timing.
Sotnikova won it in the technical score, largely because her routine had a higher degree of difficulty.
The technical score is fairly objective — each element has a specific value, and if you complete the element, you get the full value. There’s also a “grade of execution” score where judges add or subtract points based on how perfectly or imperfectly a skater completed each element.
Every routine has a total base value — the maximum amount of technical points a skater can earn for simply completing all of their elements. Sotnikova’s was 61.43. Kim’s was 57.49. The Russian’s routine was harder, in other words, so she had an inherent advantage going into the event.
That 3.8-point difficulty difference accounts for the majority of the final score difference between the two skaters.
Going into the event, Kim had to out-skate the Russian by about four points to make up that base value deficit and beat her.
The question is, did she?
The commentators felt that Kim was spectacular outside of a little bit of stiffness toward the end of her routine. Meanwhile, Sotnikova brought down the house in the best skate of her life, but had a slight bobble on one of her landings.
This isn’t a case where people think it was fixed because Sotnikova committed a huge error and still won. It’s a case where two skaters threw down two clean, world-class routines.
Sotnikova had a harder routine and she didn’t mess up.
The event was really close. But to say that this was some sort of undeniable injustice is an overstatement.
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