Controversy has been building over the win by Adelina Sotnikova at the Women’s Olympic figure skating competition on Thursday. The 17-year-old Russian beat out favourite to win South Korean, Yuna Kim by 5.76 points, but many are claiming that the judges gave more generous scores to Sotnikova. An online petition asking for an investigation into the scoring has gained over 1 million signatures, but what are the actual issues in play?
Judges in figure skating score their points anonymously. It has been claimed that this is done to ease the pressure on those who may give less favourable scores to competitors and the resulting backlash this causes. However, now petitions are asking for the scorers to be announced following the Russian win, as two people scoring the competition possibly had their own motives for acting favourably for a Russian win. It has been suggested that the anonymous position helps conceal those judges with a secret agenda.
The nine judges for the figure skating are chosen from a pool of a possible 13. On the day of the competition, judges from South Korea, the US, Sweden and Great Britain were changed before the skating began. This has led to allegations of Russian corruption that is fuelling the controversy over Sotnikova’s win. The replacements in the judging booth included Alla Shekhovtseva, who just happens to be the wife of the president of the Russian Skating Federation, who no doubt would be extremely pleased to see Russia take the gold and Yuri Balkov a Ukrainian who has been previously been suspended for trying to fix a skating competition in 1998. Balkov is also known to have connections with Moscow. One of the judges who was removed from the program was Diane Stevens who called out a different Ukrainian judge trying to swing the votes his way in a competition in France two years ago.
The scoring sheets themselves show marked differences for Sotnikova. Two judges on the figure skating panel gave her very generous scores throughout and pushed down the numbers for Kim. The figures for execution, where Sotnikova suffered due to her sloppy steps, were also more favourable in this area. The resulting score for Sotnikova was one of the highest ever given in the sport. Her marks were also significantly higher than in previous competitions.
For viewers, the matter rests with Sotnikova’s execution as she landed poorly coming out of one of her turns and her jumps were messier than Kim’s more technically brilliant performance. The win lead American figure skater Ashley Wagner to remark that there was a problem with the judging. She commented that skating should not be a sport where someone can “fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean.” Sotnikova was previously behind Kim in terms of scoring up to the Olympics, which also has resulted in confusion over her win. However, Sotnikova performed one more jump than Kim, which pushed her into a higher difficulty bracket and may have allowed for the leniency on the side of the Russian. In addition, Yuna Kim was made to wait for several minutes longer than usual while the judges supposedly toted up the scores. This move could have been done to put off the South Korean favourite. All together, speculation rests that the win for Russia was a controversial one with favours given to the home competitor. It is unsure whether an investigation will actually go ahead.
Yuna Kim announced her retirement on the same day as the competition.
By Sara Watson