Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook: Can a single HD camera provide accurate replays?

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Vincent Zhou will work as hard as it takes to ensure all of his jumps are consistent and fully rotated – “Every session, every day, every minute” – if necessary, he said on Thursday.

And he made headway here at the 2019 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Anaheim, Calif.: the U.S. silver medalist led after a clean short program, including a quadruple Lutz combination and quad Salchow.

But under-rotations crept back into Zhou’s free skate on Saturday. Three jumps, including the quad Salchow and toe loop, were saddled with a “<” on the scorecard, meaning that the technical panel saw them as at least a quarter-turn short of the required four rotations in the air and sliced some 30 percent of their base value. Another six jumps, including quad Lutz – the most difficult – and two triple Axels, were deemed fully rotated.

Zhou’s program to the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” soundtrack was well-delivered, and he gained good scores on his spins and steps. His season’s best 172.04 points ranked him fifth in the free and he won the bronze medal with 272.22 points.

“The more I show consistency, I guess, the less scrutiny I’ll get,” the 18-year-old said. “But that’ll take a lot of hard work on my side and not blaming others for giving me bad calls.”

Japan’s Shoma Uno won his first Four Continents title with 289.12 points after a spectacular free skate that earned 197.36 points, the highest ISU free skate score ever recorded under the +5/-5 GOE system. Defending champion Jin Boyang of China was second with 273.51 points. U.S. bronze medalist Jason Brown was fourth in the free skate and fifth overall with 258.89 points.

Zhou wasn’t the only competitor to be saddled with under rotation calls on Saturday. South Korea’s Junhwan Cha, second in the short program, had five under rotation calls to place eighth in the free skate and drop to sixth place overall.

Christy Krall, one of Zhou’s coaches in Colorado Springs, Colo., agrees Zhou must continue to work hard for consistency. Still, she thinks many skaters –  not just Zhou – have fallen victim to bad calls from technical panels.

“If you can’t really see the truth, how can you call the truth?” Krall said. “If you are going to measure it, measure it with the best piece of equipment you can.”

Krall, a 1964 Olympian and former coach of three-time world champion Patrick Chan, believes the ISU must invest in better equipment to ensure technical panels have the high-quality replay footage they need to review skaters’ jumps.

“They are not using the proper equipment to measure these drastic calls that can make or break your career,” Krall said. “They need to find the tool that is accurate and not some mystery, because skaters’ lives depends on this.”

The ISU employs Swiss Timing personnel to operate a single HD video camera on the right side of the judging panels’ front-row seats. When technical panel members need replays, they are provided video taken by this camera. Since this replay footage is not available to broadcasters, fans watching via live stream or television are seeing footage filmed by different cameras, from multiple angles.

George Rossano, an aerospace scientist by trade who is also a U.S. judge and technical panel data replay operator, agrees with Krall: the current equipment is too outdated to help technical panels accurately call jumps.

“If a panel isn’t sure, they say, ‘Well, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt,’” Rossano, who operates the figure skating website iceskatingintnl.com, said. “But if you give that skater points they don’t deserve, you punish everybody else, especially if they are going to call quads.”

Why doesn’t the ISU invest in higher resolution cameras? Could be the cost. Purchasing cutting-edge equipment with higher time and spatial resolution for use at ISU Championships, Grand Prix events and ISU Challenger events could run hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are counter arguments. Every skater’s jumps, including those who are rarely called under rotated, are filmed by the same HD cameras. And coaches should be careful what they wish for: higher-speed equipment could, in certain cases, expose additional weaknesses in jumps, including rarely called pre-rotations.

Krall, though, says accuracy is paramount.

“If they’re going to measure the sport, they better get the equipment that they can measure it with,” she reasoned. “From the time you can see the toe touch (the ice) to the time it turns around, if you don’t have the right equipment, you’re not going to make the right call. Higher-speed cameras, period, end of conversation. They’ve got the cameras out there to measure things properly.”

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

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

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