SOCHI, Russia -- Former U.S. Olympic figure skating coach Audrey Weisiger watched Russian veteran Evgeni Plushenko skate Sunday on the live stream on her iPad in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Then she took a good look at his program component scores, the points that skaters are given for their skating skills, transitions, choreography and the like.
Although she has been in her sport for 50 years, and has seen it all over and over again, she still couldn't believe her eyes. Plushenko, who spent a fair amount of time standing still (to catch his breath), preening and playing to the crowd — rather than doing the intricate transitions and footwork that are expected and required in a top-notch program — had received the highest scores of all five skaters in the men's team long program.
She noticed his scores for choreography in particular: an average of 8.79 out of 10, which is quite high, bordering on the judging system's definition of "outstanding."
And then she went to Facebook.
"I need to rethink my choreography if that was the best score in choreography," she wrote.
She's not alone. At least two other people at a high level inside figure skating, who spoke with USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, were surprised by the high component scores given to Plushenko, a terrific jumper who, at 31, with a history of back issues, won his second Olympic gold medal Sunday night and fourth Olympic medal overall.
Whether he was surprised by his component scores is unknown, but it's likely those scores encouraged him to make the decision Monday to not withdraw from the men's event this week. He had complained about back pain Sunday night and said he planned to consult his doctor.
If he were to get those high marks again for artistry in a men's field packed with talented competitors — as opposed to the B-list skaters he mostly went up against in the team final — and perhaps be in the mix for the medals in the men's competition, it would be a stunning turn of events, and a highly controversial one.
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"I have the utmost respect for him," Weisiger, who has coached skaters from 20 different countries, said in a phone interview Monday. "How the heck did he go out there at his age and do that? And he didn't judge himself.
USP Olympics_ Figure Skating-Team Men Free Skating
Evgeni Plushenko blows kisses at the end of his free skate in team competition at the Sochi Olympics.(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
"But for him to get the highest score in interpretation and choreography, it's insulting to me for those who have choreographed according to the component criteria."
Nine figure skating judges give skaters program component scores in five different categories: skating skills, transitions/linking footwork/movement, performance/execution, choreography/composition and interpretation. These scores are not fluid; they are based on a set of criteria that is, ostensibly, quite rigid.
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All four skating disciplines have these five component categories. As hard as this might be to believe, Plushenko actually received a few component scores from individual judges that were equal to or higher than the component scores received by Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the gold medal-favorite ice dancers whose incomparable artistry is far superior to anything Plushenko does on the ice.
"That's ridiculous," said Weisiger, founder and president of Grassroots to Champions, a consulting company that develops young skaters.
For her, the message the Olympic judges sent when rewarding Plushenko is troublesome not just for the integrity of the competition, but for the future of the sport.
"I tell my kids all the time, 'You can't stop in your program.' And then stopping and blowing kisses and firing guns with your fingers at the audience is rewarded by the judges? How do you explain that to young skaters and their parents?"