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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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