Who are the judges that drive young figure skaters bonkers?
They are individuals schooled to quickly and impartially evaluate a performance to remain calm under any degree of stress, and to be paragons of international understanding.One such is Geoffrey Yates of Great Britain.
"Have you any eggs?" he hollered to the German waitress at his hotel one breakfast time.
"Bitte?" She meekly inquired.
"Eggs, damn it, eggs," he yelled, his voice crisp and unsullied. "Those little round white things." This was met with only another quiet, "Bitte?" Yates slammed his teaspoon onto the table, muttered, Bloody foreigners," and began buttering his toast as if wielding a scimitar.
For three days of men's competition, 110 separate judgments in all, Yates was almost invariably the lowest scorer. At the secret postmortem meeting the judges held the day afterward, he reportedly was furious and sarcastic with those who had graded higher than he had.
One judge at that meeting was Marie-Louise V. Friedrichs of Sweden, here for her first international competition. A soft-spoken, middle-aged woman who teaches at a sports school in Sweden, she talked about the factors that influence judges.
"It is really very embarrassing if you grade differently than the others, uh, if you grade wrongly," she said. "If the other judges think I'm too far from them, I probably won't get invited to any international competition next year. A shame, because traveling is nice, don't you think?"
Assured that even Aristotle held traveling to be one of the foundations of a virtuous life, she seemed relieved, and continued:
"Oh, and those forms we have to fill out. Well, the spaces to write in are tiny. You have to keep on looking down during the competition to see you're in the right place. You can miss things that way, yes?"
Yes, most definitely.
"Also, the time pressure we have, it is terrible. It's only a minute to get your scores ready, and you have to look through your notes and get everything from the right category. This and that, and it's so easy to slip. I would like more time to prepare the scores. That's not much to ask, is it?"
No, come to think of it, it isn't.
"Yes, and because of the pressure we make mistakes. All of the judges get tired by the end, having to concentrate so hard. We sit leaning forward for skater after skater, always rushing, rushing. For the last skaters, we're very tired."
Skaters have little sympathy with such tales of woe. They feel strait-jacketed by the judges, and they hate it. It's like being caught between dark, invisible forces, constantly changing and constantly menacing.
Even the music the skaters choose becomes part of the constraints. Much contemporary music is inadmissible because skaters, who have seen judges, consider them stodgy and dull and believe they will downgrade anyone who chooses anything but safe and tried accompaniments.
Linda Fratianne, who grew up in the California of the mid-1970s, does not have any love for Bizet's "Carmen," her chosen long-program theme. The result is lessons in expression, lessons in movement and outbursts of tears.
A few skaters, a very few, have it easier. Robin Cousins scored tremendously in the men's free program here, despite using Mick Jagger's "Paint It Black," given out with 4,000 watts of amplification. Does Cousins know something Fratianne doesn't?
"Let me tell you about disco," Cousins said one afternoon last week, "because I really like it, and I go to discos a lot at home.
"I wanted disco in my program this year, but before introducing it, I spoke with a few judges to see what they would think about it. They were very appreciative of the idea. They accepted my innovation, and I think that's excellent.
Fratianne would find it harder to chat up the judges this easily, not out of shyness, but because her coach, Frank Carroll, does not know very many judges. He's just a coach. Cousins' coach, however, Carlo Fassi, is more than a coach.
He does know the judges -- oh, how he knows them. They know and like him, the friendships go back for years, and they appreciate how Fassi helps his students. Fassi modestly recounts with tomorrow's champions at his numerous dinner engagements, in whatever language is being spoken.
Fassi's students, who train with him at his club in Denver, never find it hard to establish a rapport with the judges.
Curiously enough, all these pupils are competing for countries other than the U.S. Cousins has lived and trained with Fassi in Denver for more than two years, he is losing his British accent, yet he is competing for Great Britain.
What is most curious of all, Fassi is on the executive committee of the USFSA, the very group that is supposed to chart grand strategy for all skaters competing for the U.S.
"Our people are fed up with Fassi being there," said Carroll. "At the very first meeting of the executive committee after the team returns home, a motion will be brought up and seconded to kick Fassi off the committee. Linda, Charles (Tickner) and the other skaters who are on the committee will start the motion, and we'll have the votes to carry it."
Asked to comment on this eventuality, Fassi conferred with his wife and then said, "I have never heard of such a thing." Charles A. Demore, on the other hand, president of the USFSA, declined comment.