Injustices are not unheard of in figure skating. Illusions of impropriety are even more common in an arena fraught with politics and paranoia. It's always been the cost of doing business in a sport reliant on subjective judging. Yet that doesn't make the outcome of Thursday’s competition any easier to make peace with.
"People need to be held accountable," Wagner said, "They need to get rid of the anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base because you can't depend on this sport to always be there when you need it. ... This sport needs to be held more accountable with its system if they want people to believe in it."
Do Sotnikova’s totals stand to reason? Sure. Skating has become a numbers game since the changes in judging after the 2002 score-fixing scandal were implemented to make the system more objective and less susceptible to corruption. Now each jump or spin has a fixed base value. Judges then assign grades of executions for each element, while marking for components like choreography and footwork. Technically, Sotnikova had a superior program. She did seven triples, four in combination; Kim did six triples, only three in combination. Yes, Sotnikova clumsily two-footed a double loop during the free skate, a sharp contrast with Kim’s immaculate routine. No matter. Under the revamped system, you record more points if you perform a more difficult element and fall than if you performed an easier element and stayed on your feet.
It seems likely that the rift between those who believe Kim was robbed and those who believe Sotnikova’s gold medal was justified falls along generational lines. Those who came up watching figure skating under the old 6.0 system are probably accustomed to more leeway in the judging. To them, Kim's superior skill and performance quality would seem self-evident, the gold medal a no-brainer.
Those who have been watching for less than eight years, though, might simply point to the official scorecard. Them’s the rules, even if there’s something artistically hollow about loading up a program with scoring content for a point grab.
The truth is, Kim’s level was a tick below the transcendent, record-shattering heights of Vancouver, where she’d said she would “die for gold.” She confessed, before and in the aftermath, that motivation was an issue. Where can an athlete possibly go from perfection? Yet the elegance and virtuosity of Kim’s performance were good enough to carry the day in Sochi. She delivered two flawless performances on the world’s biggest stage—again—and she made it look easy. She walks away a legend of the sport.There’s an argument to be made that figure skating, with this result, finally became a full-fledged sport at these Olympics. But at what cost?
“The judges give points and I can’t do anything about that,” Kim lamented. “I did all I wanted to do, like I wanted to do it. … I’m just glad it’s over.”
South Korea’s biggest celebrity made her farewell official at a press conference shortly after the medal ceremony.
She retires having never finished off the podium in her entire career, a testament to her skill, professionalism, and otherworldly consistency. But more importantly, she goes out in style. The outcome will do nothing to diminish the bulletproof legacy of Kim Yuna, quite possibly the greatest to ever do it. Pity the same can’t be said for the sport she leaves behind.