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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
6.0 almost completely phased out

Associated Press

Figure skating's 6.0 mark has been, essentially, deep-sixed.

After decades of scores like 5.3 and 5.6 and, every so often, that hallowed 6.0, fans watching Skate America this weekend in Pittsburgh will see something different. Touch-screen computers in front of every judge. Marks for "program components." Scores in the 60s and 70s, and maybe even -- gasp -- triple digits.

"I think it will produce better and more well-rounded skating programs. That's my hope," said Chuck Foster, president of U.S. Figure Skating.

Figure skating had little choice but to overhaul its judging system after the pairs scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics. The 6.0 scoring system was largely subjective, allowing room for corruption.

In Salt Lake, the International Olympic Committee was forced to award duplicate gold medals after French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she'd been "pressured" to put Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze ahead of Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

The new judging system removes most of that subjectivity. Every technical element in a program -- jumps, spins, footwork -- has a point value. A triple flip, for example, is worth 5.5 points. Judges also give five marks ranging from 0.25 to 10.0 for program components -- overall skating quality, difficulty and quality of steps linking the elements, style and originality.

The scores of nine of the 12 judges are randomly selected and, after the highest and lowest marks are dropped, averaged together for the final score. Whoever has the most points, wins.

"The skaters and the coaches are enthusiastic about the new system," Foster said. "They get so much more feedback. They get a printout of what they got on each element. They get more feedback than they've ever seen before. So they know what went well and what didn't go well."

But the system, which will be used at all major international events including the world championships and Olympics, remains somewhat of a work in progress. Though the International Skating Union tested it at Grand Prix events last year and held several explanatory seminars, skaters are still getting used to it.

"We're still very inexperienced with this new system. We're constantly working to take advantage of it," said Sasha Cohen, who was forced to withdraw from Skate America on Tuesday night with a back injury.

"No matter how much you read the rules, you never really know until you get there and see what the judges put down on paper," Cohen added. "The more experience I have skating under it, the better."

Skate America begins Thursday night.

But don't go getting all weepy-eyed for the 6.0 just yet. It will be used one last time at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. The ISU didn't give permanent approval to the new system until June -- a month after U.S. Figure Skating's deadline for making rule changes for this year.

"I think it's unfortunate the United States hasn't changed the nationals scoring yet," Cohen said. "But it takes time and we have to be patient. Hopefully, they'll use the same criteria in adding up their scores" at nationals.

Foster said U.S. Figure Skating is doing everything it can to make sure American skaters won't be at a disadvantage. Skaters will see the new system at the junior and senior Grand Prix events, and Foster said "we've worked with them as much as humanly possible to ensure they are properly prepared."

Michelle Kwan isn't competing in the Grand Prix series this year, so the first time she'll see the new system is at the world championships. But Foster said he's told the five-time world champ she can have judges familiar with the new system evaluate her programs if she wants.

"We'll do anything for her, of course, anything to help her," Foster said. "We have worked very hard with all of our skaters that are going out internationally to ensure they have been prepared to skate under the new system."

From what she's seen so far, Cohen likes the change.

"What I really love about this new system is it takes the emphasis off jumping and puts it back on overall skating," she said. "It just gives me a chance to be more creative."