Saturday, March 19, 2016

Was Kafka's dog an ice dancer?

L to R:  Hansi Szokoll, Dog (name unknown), Franz Kafka

Dear constant reader:  As you may recall, I'm going to compete for the first time in about a month.  Yesterday my idle curiosity led me to the ISI's web site for a look at the rules governing competitions.  Now most competitions are straight forward: there's a winner followed by individuals or teams placing 2nd, 3rd, etc. all based on a logical points system of some sort and it's pretty much cut and dried.

In ISI's figure skating competitions this assumes that there are more than one individual in a given competition group.  That is almost always the case if the discussion is limited to kid skaters.  With kid skaters the scoring problem can be too many competitors in a group.  ISI takes the goldilocks approach of not too many, not too few, just right and discourages more than five or so per group.  Groups are based on age, gender, skill level, type of competition etc.  If, for example there are more than five teams or individuals in a group and there's no good way to pare that number down, the first five will be graded and the remaining teams/individuals will be scored as "tied" for 6th place.  No kid wants to come in 12th or 38th no matter how much they deserve it...

But what about the case of a 69 year old male, doing a solo ice dance?  What are the odds of that guy having another warm bodied skater to actually compete against?  Can you say "snow ball's chance in Hell"?  Does that guy breeze to a gold medal no matter how poorly he skates?  No, no, no, Mon'Ami.  ISI rules state that in the case where there's only one contestant, the skater skates against "The Book".  The Book?  Yes, The Book.  ISI has developed a calculus grading each possible type of competition, toting up a score for all the required elements, edges, turns, the duration of the program, etc. within a particular competition, let's say Free Style-1 for example,  and the best possible score (perfection) is 100%.  In order to be declared a winner, the skater competing as the sole entrant in a group must score at least 80%.

Although it sounds a bit bizarre, there's the real possibility that I could be the only entrant in my group but could still manage to come in second!  A score of 79.9% will do it.  Thankfully ISI revised their scoring rules in 2010 or else there would have been the possibility of me coming in 3rd if I stink up the house and my skating is scored at 60%.  So, there will be no "give me" at this competition! If Franz Kafka had written a short story about figure skating I'm sure he'd have touched on this very subject.

This little corner of scoring Hell is generally reserved for adult skaters.  Kid skaters are pretty much shielded from skating against The Book due to their sheer numbers.  My course of action is clear cut: I either have to get my Canasta Tango up to the 80% level or start encouraging adult male skaters (the ones who skate worse than I do) to enter the District IV competition.  Where's the Devil when I have a soul to sell?


  1. I once did a competition where a boy, about 7 or 8 competed against the book and came in 4th. His mother complained loudly and one judge said, "We can make him 5th if you like."

    1. Might explain why there are so few boys skating!

  2. That is incredibly harsh! I think the best course of action would be to allow you to skate twice, and then judging which version was better. If that is too "soft," they could make you do a costume change in between... Of course, losing to yourself can't be much fun either.

    1. Probably be best to just to settle for 2nd place, chalk it up to experience and avoid the hassle of taking skates off/on and changing clothes! During a busy competition weekend the organizers aren't interested in much faffing about. Things have a bad habit of falling behind schedule as it is.