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Zayak's Code: a secret society of figure skating?

Updated on November 2, 2014
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Ladies figure skating: a quest for authenticity

Figure skating is an amorphous sport.

Since the sport had left the original form, compulsories, for the better, the ISU and people were on an ongoing quest of the ever evasive form of figure skating in Janet Lynn's legacy.

If you look back, the history of figure skating was on a pendulum swing between jump and artistry, and even today the quest is still far from being over for some.

In the list of 10 best female figure skaters I proposed, there are five skaters, except five legends. They are skaters with remarkable talent as well as key witnesses to the pivotal events in their time; their career became milestones for the sport.

Some of them may not be as strong as others in terms of career, fame and talent. In fact, there are a few names that I had never before considered good enough to make the cut.

Midori Ito and Elaine Zayak are the ones.

It is easy to say Ito's skating or Zayak's skating were heavily or lopsidedly invested in jump alone, and Zayak, as a jumper, was never as dominant as Ito.

But in modern figure skating history, especially of ladies figure skating, Zayak occupied a special niche and was a testament of the sport's persistent quest for authenticity.

Elaine Zayak in 1994: Please accept our apology, Elaine.

Homage to Zayak

I find Dick Button's complement on Zayak somewhat apologetic in the clip above.

Today, there is no denying that jump has become the most important element in the sport, almost the most definitive component of figure skating.

So it is inevitable to look at how skaters' jumping ability was seen in the historic context.

Unlike classic era when the sport kept balance between compulsories and free skating, modern figure skating demands balance between technicality and artistry.

Say, figure skating began seeking its identity not in compulsories but in free skating, that is, through various elements, but before anyone noticed, jump quickly have replaced compulsories and become a primary discipline.

Figure skating had been categorized into technicality and artistry, but as jump grew more important and more appealing, artistry diminished further, forgotten in a subjective attic.Soon it became a balancing game between jump and expressiveness as jump took supremacy brushing off artistic development.Consequently, there was psychological resistance to this movement.

The first test came with Elaine Zayak.

Before Zayak, the ISU or anyone for that matter didn't think of what kind of jump skaters should try in a game or how many they could try.


Elaine Zayak in 1983

The beginning of targeted rules

In today's standpoint, it's a natural way of modification, but if truth be told, Zayak rule wasn't devised because the ISU thought it necessary to require skaters to develop a variety of triples.

Various jumps were never an essential part of figure skating although technical development was bound to facilitate a variety of element. We can say it's because those officials or judges lacked of imagination or visions.

Despite its pretentious agenda put forward in public, it was done only to check jumper's reign but at the same time it appeared seemingly prudent as well as even sensible as more skaters tried more difficult jumps in competition.

By so doing, the ISU inadvertently opened a path to further exploration of jump. It's not like anyone at the time thought that a variety of triples in competition meet the ideal of figure skating.

Even today we can't say with confidence that overly exploited jumping technique meets the ideal of the sport while abandoning or neglecting other elements. In all appearances, figure skating looked to become a jumping festival after all.

In short, Zayak found a way of benefiting her competition by landing triples repeatedly to her credit, and the ISU felt threatened by her success and initiated a rule called Zayak rule.

The critical flaw in Zayak rule is that it was motivated by and targeted at a person, not a profound design in consideration of the ideal of the sport. and that was unprecedented.

Very interestingly, that tradition has survived all the way to Yuna Kim's tenure during which time the ISU modified GOE policies. Like Zayak, Kim was also targeted under the COP and thus institutionally checked.


Elaine Zayak in 1981

The rule changes for what?

The ISU modified the GOE policies to curve Kim's almost exclusive exploitation under the COP.

I too didn't think it's entirely wrong on one hand; after all, closing the gap between a leading champion and other competitors can make competition more exciting. But on the other, it was definitely shortsighted, because all points in COP are PCS points; it was problematic unless judges run strict GOE rules based on quality .

Of course, it hardly matters now if you look at the current fraudulent figure skating characterized by Russian deformity and the ISU's insane politics.

But one thing clear in both cases of Zayak and Kim, they prompted institutional opposition.

Zayak was never a sophisticated skater but her sheer talent unsettled her contemporaries. In a way Zayak was Midori Ito in American version.

Just as Ito's tremendous jumping talent shook the core of the sport, Zayak became a threat for the ISU. The truth is that jumpers like Zayak weren't welcomed, not because the ISU was particularly visionary at that time by demanding a variety of triples.

It was just culling a talented skater whom the ISU didn't want on the top podium; Zayak triggered a defense mechanism.

People marveled at Ito, but at the same time some wondered too if that represents the ideal of the sport. So it's natural for the ISU to promote someone who can counter those extremists, rightfully so.

But it wasn't done for the ideal of the sport. It became more obvious in Kim's case.

Elaine Zayak in 1982

What do you think about Zayak rule?

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What do you think about the GOE modification during Yuna Kim's reign?

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