While the sweeping overhaul of figure skating’s international judging system in 2004 has gone a long way toward bringing integrity to a largely subjective process, it is not perfect.
Four months after the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, two Chinese judges have been suspended by the International Skating Union for giving “preferential marking” to skaters from their country.
The sanctions and rationale behind the them were explicated in detail in an ISU report issued earlier this week, and they represent an embarrassment to China in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Games, which will be hosted by Beijing.
One of the Chinese judges, Chen Weiguang, has been banned for two years and will not be allowed to serve as a judge for the 2022 Beijing Games. The other judge, Huang Feng, has been banned for one year.
In the case of Chen, she gave her highest marks for execution and second-highest marks for component scores in the men’s competition to Chinese skater Jin Boyang, who finished fourth. Her scores were so markedly different from those of the other eight judges on the panel that it triggered scrutiny after the fact.
After an inquiry, the ISU concluded that Chen’s marks were “completely unrealistic,” according to the report, which stated: “There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors.
As detailed in the report, Chen awarded Jin 20 points for execution of his short program, scoring six elements with a “plus-three,” while none of her fellow judges did so. Her marks were similarly out of line with those of other judges for component scores; in three separate components, she gave Jim 9.5 out of 10, while her fellow judges gave 8.5 on average.
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno won gold and silver, respectively, while Spain’s Javier Fernandez claimed bronze. Jin placed fourth, edging American Nathan Chen by a fraction of a point (297.77 to 297.35). Chen finished fifth.
The U.S. Figure Skating Association has not commented on the suspension.
In the case of Huang, who judged the pairs competition, the ISU review concluded that he “obviously favored” the Chinese pair of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who took the silver medal, over other competitors.
The ISU review noted inflated scores for the Chinese pair and deflated scores for the eventual gold medalists, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany, and the Canadian bronze medalists, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
Finishing fourth was Evegenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, representing Olympic Athletes from Russia. The lone American pair, husband-and-wife Alexa and Chris Knierem, were a distant 15th.
Figure skating radically overhauled its scoring system in response to a judging scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where French and Russian judges were found to have conspired to help a Russian duo win the pairs competition. Ultimately two gold medals were awarded — to the original victors from Russia, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and the Canadian duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who initially took silver. Under the new system, skaters receive two sets of marks — execution and component scores, which reflect skating skill, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation.
It wasn’t the first time Huang had drawn scrutiny for his marks. Two months before the 2018 Olympics, the ISU warned Huang about biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs event.
Both judges may appeal their suspensions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.