Proposed ISU Changes Attempt to Promote Artistry


The International Skating Union (ISU) technical board has proposed a series of recent changes. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Maggie Rothfus, Copy Chief Emerita

On Feb. 13, NBC Sports reported on a proposed change to competitive figure skating. The International Skating Union (ISU) will be considering the proposal, which comes from ISU’s singles and pairs technical committee, at its biennial congress in June. While the full proposal won’t be publicized until April, its focus is to balance artistry and athleticism within the sport.

The current idea is to make the short and free skate programs both three minutes and 30 seconds long and to make the former — now simply called “technical” program — emphasize the technical element scores (TES) and the free skate to emphasize the program component scores (PCS), according to NBC Sports.

This raises questions and skepticism concerning both sides of the figure skating world. Philip Hersh, figure skating reporter for NBC, highlighted some of the issues this proposal could fix: The United States’ Jason Brown could “make global podiums” more easily; Russian teenagers would not monopolize women’s singles podiums with quadruples and triple axels; and young women’s health would not have to be compromised by aiming for such jumps.

A part of me says yes — Jason Brown deserves more recognition for his programs with all their magnetism. However, he did just win silver at the Four Continents Championships (4CC) without any special treatment and without any quad jumps. Arguably, if a skater like Nathan Chen had competed at 4CC, Brown perhaps would not have won second place. Is that what this new change would be about? Handicaps for skaters without quads?

Perhaps not. Brown is known for his infectious performances, and while other skaters like Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu are similarly charismatic, such a new rule would force the latter two to put just as much work into their PCS as they do for their TES. It reminds people that figure skating is an art as well as a sport.

It also isn’t as though those who can perform quads will be held back in any way by potential new rules, but that remains to be seen, since the technical committee’s main motivation behind this is the amount of skaters increasing their revolutions in jumps.

I hesitate to agree with the committee if the basis is on fairness, but equality between TES and PCS seems reasonable at this point. Brown can do just fine without landing a quad, but if getting these changes implemented will stop commentators and reporters from bringing up his quad-less status, then make it happen.

On the basis of health, however, it appears less clear. Hersh mentioned in his article that Russian coaches have worried over young Russian teenaged girls jumping quads and triple axels, but others may disagree. Two years ago, The Philadelphia Inquirer posted an article on Chen, aka “King Quad.” It, too, posed the question of health and revolutions, and David Wang, clinical director of Elite Sports Medicine, responded to the Inquirer saying that no, increasing revolutions should not negatively impact one’s health.

This doesn’t have to pertain to just men. Alysa Liu, 14, who won the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with her triple axel and quad lutz, told The Wall Street Journal last month that her experience as a skater has only improved her physical health.

However, now that more women continue to incorporate more quads and triple axels into their routines, there might be more health repercussions that will come to light later. A report that first seemed rooted in a defense of artistry begs the question: How far are skaters willing to go for a record-breaking TES?