Friday, November 6, 2009
How the Quad Receives Its Due
Just yesterday at the 2009 NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan, 2007 World Champion Brian Joubert of France took a sizable lead in the men's short program of over two points, despite skating a program which contained fairly rudimentary choreography and a faulty landing on a triple lutz. This performance placed ahead of current U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott, who exhibited exceptional interpretation, musicality, and skating skills in his program to "A Day in the Life". Joubert's program also managed to top the slightly underwhelming, but clean, short program skate from former world bronze medalist Johnny Weir by seven points. Joubert is by no means a poor skater even if he is to take away his jumps: he has good speed, quick steps, and improved spins. His current short program is a fun program which does a decent job of connecting to the audience, but the program's transitions are noticeably inferior to those of several of his adversaries, and, more importantly, the overall look of his short seems to be designed as a vehicle to entertain, rather than as one to actually skate. On the other hand, Jeremy Abbott's short program demonstrated immaculate skating skills and a true sense of musical interpretation. Skating with clarity and abandonment, Abbott showed off his artistry most in his footwork sequences, elements which were timed brilliantly to the music. Abbott did a long turning entrance on one foot into his triple axel, far more difficult than the standard entrances to triple axels done by nearly all of the men, and exited out of the jump with the flourish that united the so-called "separate" concepts of technique and artistry into one. Abbott did not do a quad, so Joubert's superiority to Abbott on the technical score, 46.80 to 45.40, is perhaps justifiable, but no matter how one looks at it, Joubert's strength to Abbott on the program components score, 38.55 to 37.60, is inequitable. Abbott only managed to best Joubert on one of the five PCS marks, transitions (and not by much, 0.15), when Abbott arguably should have been ahead on all five. So, why then does Joubert receive a higher score? Obviously reputation has to do with it, but the reasoning boils down to more than even that. It is because Joubert did a quad jump, something that he has long commented to not be justly rewarded.
Quads used to be the norm in men's figure skating. During the quad boom leading up to the 2002 Olympics, a skater would have just as good an opportunity to medal at a worlds/Olympics withdrawing from the event if he did not have a quad in his arsenal. American Timothy Goebel landed three of them in his free skate at the 2002 Olympics and only came away with bronze. The long program of eventual winner Alexei Yagudin contained two quads and one triple axel, a performance that was criticized as "conservative" by commentator Scott Hamilton. Six years later, 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle won his first and only world title without the four revolution jump. Joubert took silver that year after having won the title the year before. Joubert was assertive in the press conference immediately following the event that the quad is not valued high enough and that he is disappointed that those who attempt it are not duly rewarded. Just prior to the 2009 World Championships, eventual silver medalist Patrick Chan fired back on Joubert's claims that the quad is not valued high enough to The Canadian Press, commenting, "Yes, okay, fine, men are doing worse accoridng to (Joubert), but if you're going to say, let's all do quads, then he better have three quads in his program and do them good. Otherwise he has nothing to say." Chan went on to beat Joubert at that competition, but it was clear from the presentation scores being given that the judges had not intended to let that happen. Prior to those worlds, Joubert made a comment to the Chicago Tribune that he felt Evan Lysacek was going to be his top rival at that event, largely because of the fact that he had a quad. Joubert's core prediction ended up being true, but his reasoning was not, as Lysacek became the second consecutive world champion to win the competition without the jump.
In spite of all this, Joubert stands out to the judges because he is one of the few who does consistently compete and land quad jumps. After all, Joubert did not beat Jeffrey Buttle's program components score in the long program at the 2008 Worlds because of his inferior skating skills, transitions, and musicality. There was little reason for the judges to prop him up for the event, as Joubert had only finished third at the Europeans and fellow French countryman Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder had already won the dance event. Buttle even skated after Joubert in the long program at that competition. But it was the quad that aided Joubert there, although not to the point of allowing him to win the championship. He also did not lead the short program at the 2009 Worlds because of a sloppy quad-triple combination nixed together with unspectacular choreography, but the mere fact that he tried a quad stood out over those who did not, such as Lysacek and Chan. Joubert also did not beat Patrick Chan's program components score in the long program at said competition for a bleak program in which he fell on a double axel. Likewise, current Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko has taken full advantage of his mastery of the jump throughout his career, and he has scored highly with the presentation mark on numerous refrigerator break programs. The same thing is occurring now, as he scored quite well on program components at the 2009 Cup of Russia even after a three year layoff, a period when several of the men upped the ante with things like skating skills, transitions, and choreography.
Now, this is all not to suggest that one can just learn a quad and be destined to become an Olympic champion. Canadian Kevin Reynolds has certainly had a difficult time proving that. However, for such established skaters like Joubert and Plushenko, the jump helps out in pivotal ways. The increase in value of the quad from 9.0 to 9.8 is one plus, but its add onto the program component mark is much beneficial to both men, particularly when the intentions of how the program components are supposed to be scored do not meet either skater's strength. Joubert and Plushenko are actually better than most when it comes to presentation; they are just not exceptional, but the judges never seem to see it that way. There are also many other factors that play into a skater being overscored, whether it be his reputation, home crowd advantage, political ties, et al. In a technical sense, however, the quad does nothing but help a skater, and not just on his technical mark. Patrick Chan is correct. Brian Joubert should not think that the quad is not valued high enough; nor should he want other men to do it (he can do that after he retires). The quad is his greatest gem, not only in his skating, but also in his score.
Live commentary of pairs, mens, and ladies free from NHK Trophy to come tonight/early tomorrow morning. I put new polls up a few days ago.
That is all.