Interview with a figure skating judge Flora Krasnoshtein

Flora Krasnoshtein Interview by Vladislav Luchianov

Flora Krasnoshtein is a figure skating judge with Skate Canada, Central Ontario Section, qualified to judge competitive Singles and Ice Dance. Flora also judges/evaluates skating tests in all disciplines which include Ice Dance, Free Skating, Interpretive Skating and Skating Skills from Preliminary to Gold levels.

VLAD: Flora, you are Canadian, so first of all I’d like to say thank you for the Vancouver Olympics! It was really great. And what is your opinion, thoughts about it?

FLORA: Thank you Vladislav. I was very proud that Canadian athletes did well at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. In my opinion, and also based on the medal standings, this was the best Olympics for Canadians. I also enjoyed and celebrated the accomplishments of athletes from other nations. I hope that the Vancouver Olympics will be remembered fondly by participants and fans everywhere for many years to come.

- Is it difficult to be a figure skating judge?

- There is a lot of training that goes into becoming a figure skating judge at each level from Juvenile to Senior. At each level, a judge in training must demonstrate technical and artistic knowledge, be competent to judge at competitions at their current level, attend seminars, trial judge at competitions at the level at which they are seeking promotion, and write exams. All this must take place within 2-year period for each level. When all the required criteria are met, the judge is then granted a promotion and a designation to a higher level by Skate Canada.

As a judge, I spend many hours in cold ice rinks judging competitions and skating tests. My philosophy is to be fair and impartial; to know the judging rules and standards, and apply them to all tests/competitions and skaters equally, so that all skaters have an equal and fair chance of being judged without bias; to keep up-to-date with new skating standards; to be compassionate, respectful and sensitive, and try to make it a positive experience for skaters regardless of the outcome of their test or competition result; and to be approachable and invite a dialogue if a skater or coach wishes to discuss the outcome of the test or competition.

I like to quote the U.S. Supreme Judge Sonia Sotomayor “The process of judging is a process of keeping an open mind, of not coming to a decision with a prejudgment ever of an outcome”. I apply these principles and stand by them, and judging of figure skating becomes a relatively easy, fair and equitable process.

- There are a lot of opinions about new judging system. Some people think that the old system was better, others think that the new is more objective. What do you think about it?

- I have been fortunate to be trained to judge figure skating using both systems: the old 6.0 and the new Code of Points (CPC). In my opinion, and based on my experience, I prefer to judge using the CPC. The CPC is more precise and objective as it assigns a base value for each element performed by a skater which is based on a level of difficulty and quality of execution.

The new system also assigns 5 program component scores for skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography and interpretation.
With the new judging system a skater gets a “report card” at the end of their program which lists every element that they have performed, the score for each element, the program component scores and an overall score for the program. I feel that it is beneficial for skaters to have this feedback because it helps them to know their areas of improvement, as well as it allows them to track their scores and strive for their personal best.

- The most debatable event of this year was the men’s skating at the Olympics. It was like in Shakespeare dramas:”To jump or not to jump”-). In my opinion the best way is to find a harmony between technique and artistry. And what’s yours?

- I agree with you completely. It is about finding harmony between technique and artistry. The sport of figure skating is unique in that it combines the artistry, musical interpretation, and choreography with athleticism. 

As for your question “To jump or not to jump”…I would say “yes” to both. Jumps are an integral part of a skating program, but not the only part, and should not predominate and overshadow transitions, field movements, footwork and other elements that contribute to a well-balanced program.

The sport is called “figure skating”, and not “ice jumping” for a reason. Perhaps for those skaters who only want to jump, a new category of “ice jumping” could be created to satisfy that need.

- What you can say about skaters technique this season?

- I felt that this year many skaters in every discipline (Men, Women, Pair and Dance) demonstrated superior technique, achieved their personal best scores and broke world records. For many skaters it may have been a result of consistent training and reaching maturity in the sport as well as the emphasis on skating skills and quality of elements which are rewarded according to the new judging system. Also, it was an Olympic year which usually pushes athletes to excel.

- And what about the artistry?

- In my opinion, many skaters demonstrated improved artistry which I also attribute to experience and consistent training as well as the new judging system which puts great emphasis on transitions, choreography, performance/execution and interpretation of music forcing skaters to develop these areas.

- What do you think when some federations give preference to just one skater or pair? It looks like they want to say to judges: “This is our best pair and that is not so”. For example I still think that the Russians Maria Mukhortova/Maxim Trankov were better at the Worlds than other Russian pair Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov. And it’s not only my opinion. You may have heard the negative reactions of stands and comments of media.

- I am unable to comment on the reasons behind the decisions of skating federations because I am not directly involved on that level, and therefore do not have the authority to express opinions. It is reasonable that federations would promote skaters based on their standings and performance levels in competitions in a given season both Nationally and Internationally. 

As for the Maria Mukhortova/Maxim Trankov and whether they performed better at the Worlds than Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov…I would have to watch their programs again back-to-back and analyze the execution and level of every element, as well as their program component scores, in order to determine why one pair was deemed “better” than the other. Unfortunately, the detailed results protocol is not available online, so without re-watching the performances and comparing elements back-to-back, I can only comment on what is available on the ISU site. Maria Mukhortova/Maxim Trankov earned a total of 197.39 points, and were 4th in both short program and free skate, while Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov earned a total of 203.79 points, and were 2nd in the short and 3rd in free skate.

In my opinion, general public and the media may not always understand why a skater or a team who skate without any falls or major errors might be behind a skater or a team who had falls or errors in their program. A team/skater may fall or have an error but the base value and the level of difficulty of their elements may be higher, or their skating quality and technique may be better. They may have stronger edges, more flow and transitions, better choreography, performance quality and musicality. More difficult elements and superior technique are awarded higher scores, so that even with a reduction in scores due to a fall or an error, their cumulative scores may still be higher.

- In your opinion what changes need to do in the modern judging system?

- I think the introduction of the new judging system several years ago helped revolutionize not only the way skating is being judged today but also how skating programs are constructed and how skaters skate. The assessments are more quantitative and rely less on subjective qualities or individual preferences. The new judging system no longer relies on judges “voting” for skaters or ranking skaters as it did with the 6.0 system. Every element that a skater performs can now be quantified and evaluated separately.

The scores for each element and program components are added and the skater with the highest score wins. Also, the highest and the lowest judges’ scores are thrown out by a computer, and the rest of the scores are averaged. So if there is a judge on the panel who tends to mark higher or lower than the rest of the panel, their marks will not count. I always keep that in mind when judging.

As one of my mentors and a fellow skating judge once commented while assessing my judging records that had scores much higher or lower compared to the panel, “You don’t have any friends on the panel”. I believe that the new judging system is a good start, and can only get better with practice and refinement.

- Let’s talk about the music. What is your vision of perfect music presentation?

- Thank you for asking this question, Vladislav. This is my favorite category! My vision of perfect interpretation of music is when a skater becomes one with the music and skates according to the music. Interpretation is a skater’s personal and creative translation of music to movement on the ice.

Every movement, step and element is related to the music, done because of the music and expresses the style, character, rhythm and nuances of the music. A skater must demonstrate musicality throughout the program and it is reflected in all 5 program component scores. As a judge, when watching a skater’s performance I ask “Can I see the music through the skater’s body”.

This concept is very well depicted in one of my favorite drawing from Eric Franklin’s, “Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance” (1997) where musical notes emanate from a dancer’s body and become part of the body through the dancer’s movements. Taken together with the above description, my vision of perfect musical interpretation is “simplicity, total involvement and clarity” (Patricia Beatty, “Form Without Formula. A Concise Guide to the Choreographic Process”. 1985).

- What do you think about the future of figure skating?

- I predict a bright future for figure skating as the sport continues to evolve and athletes continue to push boundaries that defy physical limitations. I believe that the quadruple jumps will become commonplace and skaters will begin attempting quintuple jumps. Triple axels will become more common in women’s programs. Edgework, transitions, performance, innovative choreography and interpretation of music will continue to develop in order for skaters to maximize the points awarded with the new judging system.

- Thank you ,Flora, very much for taking out the time to answer questions!

- Thank you, Vladislav, for this interview opportunity!

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