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PCS 101, to uncover its mystery

Updated on April 7, 2015

Yuna Kim in 2011

Since Sochi Olympics, people ask about PCS.

Figure skating is a sport that requires a certain amount of expertise in order to properly appreciate. It involves with various technical terms and rules. Often people can't tell the difference between authenticity and imitation, if they are not trained.

This particular area often becomes a muddy subjectivity that caters all malcontents, but figure skating is not a subjective sport. Rather figure skating is a manually graded sport. And the grading is based on a combination of this expertise and aestheticism.

What is good about the COP, despite the current ISU and its judges' wrong handling thereof, is that you can itemize merits or defaults of each elements so that a collective of points can reflect the performance as a whole as faithfully as possible.

So compared to 6.0 system, the COP is definitely superior a system. But by no means the COP is less vulnerable than 6.0 system to fraud or foul play by judges. On the contrary, as we reviewed the Worlds since the COP had installed, it is more susceptible to mishandling and fraud.

Technical specialists can hide behind a flag of technical accuracy while he or she finds fault with any skater he or she wish to put down. Each judge can use clauses in the rules as he or she see fit ignoring the principle of figure skating judging.

I remember a few years ago one former figure skating judge argued with her critics in one of forums. In her defense on criticism, she argued she could award GOE based on the specifications of the GOE rules even if some other flaws are glaringly present. That's a typical abuse of today's figure skating.

When cornered, judges always find a shelter in the rules. But if you follow that, you can give +3 on falls. Judges are instructed to give GOE if they find merit in speed, height, etc., but the grand principle of figure skating prior to a set of rules is figure skating language. All merits are to be understood in that language.

The rules are not there to provide the judges with excuses of their bias. They are the outline by which each judge is required to establish and reproduce replica of the performance in terms of points.

Therefore, judges who don't understand this principle and don't have a sense of duty to establish and uphold that principle in his or her protocols are not called judge.

Now let us talk about the current PCS(Program Components Score). There are five components: SS(Skating Skill), TR(Transition), PE(Performance or Execution), CH(Choreography, and IN(Interpretation).

But you realize already how meaningless they are here. As a matter of fact all other components are subject to SS. You can't properly do transition, choreography, interpretation and execution without SS.

I am not saying these divisions are phony and thus useless. I am saying these are useless unless they reflect the performance correctly. They should serve to reinforce the holistic representation of skater's performance, not excuses to create fake merits.

Skating skills such as use of edges and turns, speed, flow, ice coverage, controlled curves, multi-directional skating, etc. are components to transition, interpretation, choreography and execution.

Without SS, transition are a sequence of garbage. Without SS, you are unable to create interpretation and choreography that renders you any merit. Again what is assessed for interpretation and choreography is not acting. Many people including judges have wrong idea about this. Especially, judges use this to create nonexistent merits for their favorite skaters. Without SS, obviously you can't execute properly what you intended.

The clip by Yuna Kim in the above is an example of good choreography and interpretation. Again, figure skating's choreography and interpretation lies in moves not acting.

All right. Enough theory. Let us practice, shall we?

Denise Biellemann in 1979

So, by now you will realize that you may be able to assess skaters in any time by PCS.

Is it possible? Yes, of course. That's how you know greatness of skaters in the past. There are a few things, however, you need to bear in mind: many skills that are common today were not to those skaters. This means their technical proficiency appears quite inadequate in today's standards.

So, with that in mind, let us examine the celebrated Denise Biellemann in 1979 Worlds. This is a flawed performance, but that's why I present it as an example, because I want you to be able to assess PCS without bothering TES.

First, you can help thinking that Biellemann was, unlike today's Russian skaters, a skater whose physiological line was perfectly integrated to her moves with stability and balance, though her jump technique was not fully developed in today's perspective.

But is there any doubt if she were skating today, she could have swept the competition with adequate handling of jumps? Can you even name a skater today who can move on ice like Biellemann? Her moves are incomparable in level and difficulty, especially to today's skaters. Look how she use her whole body in each turn and how she handle upper body to produce ideal projection to momentum.

If Biellemann were skating today, her PCS ranges from 9.0 to 8.5 by default. Of course, this is just a speculation, because PCS is inevitably affected by TES. But in this evaluation, you can easily see why Bielleman is among the greatest names ever.

Now, set aside my evaluation. Grade Biellemann's PCS in your own opinion.

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