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SOCHI, Russia – Give it up, South Korea.
The International Olympic Committee said Saturday it received a "protest letter" from South Korea over the scoring in the ladies individual figure skating competition. Russia's Adelina Sotnikova beat out South Korea's Yuna Kim for gold on Thursday.
At issue is the scoring in the free skate where Sotnikova received an extremely high mark – 149.95 – more than enough to beat Kim's 144.19. The score was the best of any skater in a free program this year (Kim's is the second-best) and was more than 18 points higher than Sotnikova's season's best.
[Photos: Adelina Sotnikova dethrones Yuna Kim]
It allowed Sotnikova to win gold going away, 224.59 to 219.11, after trailing Kim slightly (by 0.28) after Wednesday's short program.
As is custom in figure skating, conspiracies have arisen over the judges – too much Eastern European representation, the fact the Russian judge is married to the Russian coach and the presence of a judge who previously was suspended for a year. There's also the fact the judging may have been influenced by the rowdy pro-Sotnikova home crowd.
All of this is true, yet still not particularly relevant.
And while these national Olympic committees have a long tradition of partisan grandstanding, that doesn't make this any less silly. Or futile. (In an unofficial act, some two million people have signed an online petition seeking an investigation, but that is just fans being passionate.) The South Korea committee should be better than that.
To argue that the result was so inherently wrong that it requires an official protest from a nation is to ignore that this is a subjective competition where the winner can always be debated.
It's hugely popular around the globe because fans love watching each performance and making their own choices on whom they like better and whom they like best. Figure skating is about enjoying the show and then the debate. It's part of the deal. In figure skating, esoteric things like beauty and grace matter. That isn't true in a downhill race. So no one ever really knows who was best.
More specific to Thursday, there was a real and reasonable debate over who was best. Many believe Sotnikova was superior. Others favor Kim. Whatever. This wasn't the case of an inferior skater clearly being elevated over the deserved champ.
It's not like Sotnikova was falling all over the place. She had one awkward landing but otherwise ran a clean program that was full of energy and artistry. It was brilliant. She also came gunning for gold, with a program that was more technically challenging than Kim by a significant amount – 3.94 points.
Sotnikova knew how to rack up points in the new scoring system, so she arrived at the big event with everything she had. 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.
Who skated better is, as always, in the eyes of the beholder. Kim was her typically elegant self. Sotnikova was too, however, and if there is ever a way for judges to err, it should always be toward the skater that tries more daring feats. Sotnikova attempted and delivered more triple jumps than Kim.
"I skated very well and my technical score is higher than Yuna's," Sotnikova told the Russian media Friday, defending herself against the storm of criticism. "My jumps were more complicated, especially in the second part of the cascade, rotations for the fourth level. That means I was better in technique. I skated very well."
For South Korea to file protest letters makes it sound like this was somehow a clear-cut issue and that Sotnikova was unworthy. If that was the case, then go ahead. But it isn't and thus this is just an unnecessary insult to a 17-year-old who did nothing but electrify the competition with the performance of a lifetime.
You can argue that the roars of the home crowd influenced the judges, but they have to hold the Olympics somewhere. Besides, South Korean skaters will receive the same advantage in 2018 when the Winter Games are hosted in PyeongChang. As for all the conflicts of interest or supposed geo-political deal making, it makes for great alarmism but little else.
Can you argue that Sotnikova's score was too high? Sure. It was a huge mark. That said, was it done solely via a nefarious judge or two or even three? Doubtful.
Under current rules, the scores given by individual judges are not made public. However, with a gap of 5.48 between the two skaters, it is likely all, or nearly all, the judges favored Sotnikova.
Mathematically it would take an outrageous overscoring/underscoring for two or three judges to sway the mean of a nine-judge panel that significantly. Statistically, it makes far more sense that all the judges saw Sotnikova as a very, very strong skater and the majority favored her. Since you can win gold by 0.01, the margin doesn't matter and never did.
[Photos: Regular jobs of Sochi Olympians]
So in the end this was, at worst, a judgment call in a sport reliant on judges. This time they liked the Russian. That's how it works.
Figure skating should attempt to make its judging as fair, as consistent and as transparent as possible. But perfection is impossible. If they want to be hailed as an athletic competition, where winners are determined, and not just the Ice Capades, then the shortcoming has to be accepted. Just roll with it.
"We like our skater better" isn't the basis for a protest letter.
Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal as fair and as square as it gets in this sport. It's time for South Korea to accept reality and spend their energy congratulating Yuna Kim on her silver.
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