Scotty James not huge fan of recent halfpipe judging

Scotty James
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The snowboarder who wears boxing gloves in the halfpipe hit back at the judges on Thursday.

“I feel like there have been times I was a bit shafted,” James said in reference to the judging this season at a press conference in PyeongChang.

The 23-year-old from Australia has consistently finished as the runner-up this season to several different riders. The results from his last three contests: second to Jake Pates at Breckenridge, second to Shaun White at Snowmass, second to Ayumu Hirano at X Games.

While his main rivals, White and Hirano, have been focusing on back-to-back double cork 1440s, James has breaking new ground with his switch backside double cork 1260.

Despite the fact that it has less rotation than White and Hirano’s 1440s, the switch backside 1260 is arguably the most technical trick being done by any halfpipe rider because of how the rider is spinning when they start the trick. Switch backside spins are so difficult that many riders do not even include a single one in their halfpipe runs.

The only rider who has landed the switch backside 1260 is James, and he doesn’t think that trick, or his runs in general, are getting enough respect.

NBCOlympics.com: Scotty James now a top threat for halfpipe gold

“I think the biggest thing that frustrated me is that I have been working my whole life and then some silly people behind a desk dictate some scores,” James said.

Halfpipe runs are not just judged on one trick, of course. Judges are considering the entire package — factoring in things like amplitude, variety and execution — when they input their scores.

But James’ main grievance isn’t necessarily about his own scoring. He admits that he’s had words with the judges about the way they scored another rider. In particular, the perfect 100 that the U.S. Grand Prix judges gave to White at Snowmass in January.

“Not because of getting second place — I am not a sore loser,” James said. “I was just curious as to [why they gave Shaun the perfect 100 score]. Personally, and I have spoken to a lot of other snowboarders, it’s pretty tough to get a perfect score. I didn’t agree with that at all.” (Watch his run)

James’ comments are indicative of a schism between how judges and riders perceive the scoring system.

To the judges, the scoring system is entirely fluid and changes from competition to competition.

Here is how Tom Zikas, head snowboard judge for X Games and other major contests, explained this philosophy:

“The numbers of the actual scores are more about a ranking. The numbers are a vehicle to place these riders how they should have ranked that particular day. So basically from event to event, you can’t say, ‘Well he got a 100, there’s no better run that can be done,’ because snowboarding progresses every day. So we have to adjust our range of scores to every single contest because snowboarding improves. So what is a 90 at an event one day — by the end of the season, a 90 is going to be a much better run.”

According to Zikas, the decision to award a “perfect 100” to a rider is likely the result of the judges believing it to be the best run in snowboarding history — up to that point anyway.

At the next contest, the scale is going to adjust, and that same exact run is likely to get a lower score. At least, that’s theoretically how it works.

From James’ point of view, the notion of “perfection” is not just based on that one day. In a sport where constant progression is ingrained into the culture, he seems to be suggesting that the athletes should always have something more to strive for and that “perfect scores” take away from that.

“I have openly said [to the judges] this is not what you do,” James said. “These perfect scores are great and all, but it’s not really encouraging for us when we go out there and compete. Where do you go from there?

“Shaun, if he looked at that run, he would tell you that wasn’t a perfect 100.”

In competition, just two riders have received a perfect 100: Shaun White (twice) and Chloe Kim. Part of the reason for that is because perfect scores can only be awarded on the final run of the contest. But it could also be argued that Ayumu Hirano’s 99 at X Games last month was a perfect score as well, since judges could not have given him anything higher with one rider still to go.

Despite the criticism, James also made clear that he had a lot of respect for both the judges and for White, even if he disagrees with the way the judges decided to score White at that particular event.

“He achieved a lot of amazing things in snowboarding,” James said of the two-time Olympic champion. “He has been a pioneer in the sport for a long time.”

James, White and Hirano will be the top favorites when the men’s halfpipe competition kicks off Monday night (Tuesday morning in Korea) with the qualifying round.

As Ilia Malinin ponders quintuple jump, figure skating may face an urgent matter

Ilia Malinin
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SAN JOSE, California – The subject of a five-revolution jump was sure to come up, now that Ilia Malinin has become the first person to land a fully rotated quadruple Axel, which has four and one-half revolutions in the air.

And, in Malinin’s case, to land it cleanly not only once but three times this fall, the most recent with stunning command at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Malinin intermittently, said via telephone that he and the skater talked about a quintuple when they were working together in California during the high school senior’s recent holiday break.

“I was basically saying a five-revolution toe loop can be done,” Arutunian said. “He agreed and was smiling.”

“It is definitely in the back of my mind right now,” Malinin, 18, said in media conference call last week. “It’s very hard to think of it at this moment because it’s still pretty much the middle of the middle of the season. I think after the season I’ll think about it, and maybe we will see one.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

With a laugh, Arutunian described the impish plan he is dreaming of for Malinin to make the attempt.

The jump would come out of the blue.

This is the scenario: Arutunian would ask Malinin, favored to win his first senior U.S. Championship title this weekend in San Jose, not to publicize his practicing a quint on social media, as he had done with the quad Axel and many of the unprecedented jump combinations he tries.

“He would just come out and do it in a competition, and that would be a shock, right?” said Arutunian, who guided Nathan Chen to the 2022 Olympic title. “Imagine what the officials would do then.”

As it turns out, the officials would do literally nothing. Under current rules, Malinin would get zero points for the jump, as quintuple jumps are not yet recognized or given a value in the sport’s Scale of Values (SOV).

That is something U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier plans to discuss with Fabio Bianchetti, head of the International Skating Union’s singles and pairs technical committee, when the two are to meet at next month’s Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs.

“I believe Fabio and the technical committee will update the SOV soon, and if anyone is practicing (a quint) and may try it, they will get the change in before it is done in competition,” Auxier said in a text message. “With Ilia, I think that needs to be urgent!”

Even before such a rules change is made, Auxier said, if competition officials were aware a skater was planning to attempt a quint, they would ask for an emergency ruling and have the tech team add a value into the computer system used to calculate scores.

“We wouldn’t let it be zero,” Auxier said. “However, if someone did it with no warning … that would be a problem.”

Bianchetti does not feel the same sense of urgency.

“So far the prospect of executing quintuple jumps seems remote,” Bianchetti said in an email. “We are not aware of any quintuple jump correctly executed and full rotated having been done even in practice.

“Therefore there is not an urgent need to add quintuple jumps in the SOV. In any case it is something we will discuss in the near future.”

For now, then, everyone can continue to marvel at Malinin’s quad Axel. He said the jump has not become a burden and isn’t worried about fans being disappointed if he doesn’t attempt one, as Malinin has in all five of his competitions so far this season.

“Some people might think that (it is a burden),” he said. “My priority is focusing on what I’m doing in practice. I have been sticking with it, and I am planning to attempt it (in the free skate at nationals.)”

The irony is the risk on the jump seems greater than the reward, given the quad Axel’s surprisingly low base value as compared to its difficulty and uniqueness.

“I have always prided myself on looking for a challenge,” Malinin said.

At 12.5 points, the jump is worth just one point more than a four-revolution quad Lutz. Yet 23 men and women have been credited with a fully rotated quad Lutz a total of 228 times in international competition, according to skatingscores.com.

Until the SOV revision for the 2018-19 season, when no one had landed a quad Axel, it was worth 15.0. All quads had their base values lowered in 2018, but the Axel had the biggest percentage drop.

“It should definitely be worth more, and we will ask that be considered also,” Auxier said. “(A base value of) 12.5 doesn’t reflect the true difficulty of the jump.”

Bianchetti sees it differently. His perspective is affected by a general feeling many in the sport share that jump pyrotechnics have become too big a factor in determining results.

“As to the value of the quad Axel, the matter to change its value is not on the agenda at the moment,” Bianchetti wrote. “A discussion to make some changes on the value of the jumps should include a general evaluation on all the jumps, not only the quad Axel, to have a more correct proportion between the various jumps but taking also into consideration the fact that the weight of the jump elements in total is already too high with respect to the other not jumping elements and the components marks.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
U.S. Figure Skating
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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.

After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.

Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.

So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.

Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.

At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).

Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.

Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.

Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 3:30-5:45 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 6:30-9 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 7-9 p.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Women’s Short Program 9:10 p.m.-12 a.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Short Program 10 p.m.-12 a.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Friday Men’s Short Program 4:10-7 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Short Program 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Women’s Free Skate 7:45-11 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Free Skate 8-11 p.m. NBC
Saturday Free Dance 1:45-4:30 p.m. Peacock
Free Dance 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Pairs’ Free Skate 7:30-10 p.m. Peacock
Pairs’ Free Skate 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Sunday Men’s Free Skate 2:30-6 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Free Skate 3-6 p.m. NBC

*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.