Opining on 57th ISU Congress: How should you watch figure skating now?

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It's September! The new season has actually officially started already. The first Challenger Series event, the Asian Open Trophy, took place last month; the Junior Grand Prix is well underway. But many figure skating fans are still just reappearing from hibernation after the intense Olympic season.

But we are about to kickstart this new post-Olympic season - US Classic AND Lombardia Trophy are happening next week, Japan Open is less than a month away - and you'll see some changes this season as a result of the ISU Congress in June. But not to worry, figure skating still has programs and music. Here's a primer on the major things that you'll see changed this season.

Rhythm is a dancer
RIP, short dance. Barely eight years old, the short dance was renamed the rhythm dance. The idea of the program didn't change much - it was just the name, presumably to emphasize the fact that this program is based on a rhythm. Easy change.

Implication? Not much. Just the name.

What is this? Math?
For some figure skating fans out there, this isn't much of a change at all. But for those who have only known the half-loop as the half-loop all of their lives, they will have to adjust to the name change (at least for the purposes of protocols) to the Euler. It's worth exactly the same as a single loop, as it was before. 

Implication? Again, not much. Just seeing who pronounces Euler correctly.

More and wider GOEs, and revalued jumps
These two changes kind of go hand in hand. First, we now have a GOE range from +5 to -5. The numerical part of the GOEs will still be purely decoration (e.g., a -3 GOE does not mean -3.00 off an element), but instead of being tied to tiers of difficulty, they are tied directly to the base value of each element based on percentage. +5 on an element gives it an extra 50% of its base value (e.g., a +5 triple axel is scored at 8.00 base value + 4.00 (50% of 8.00) GOE = 12.00), +4 is +40%, +3 is +30%, and so forth, all the way down to -5 being -50%.

Implication? There will necessarily be greater deductions for errors. And while the harder jumps got devalued, the reward for taking that risk is still there. For example, although the 3A got devalued from 8.50 to 8.00, the max GOE you can get for it has gone from +3.00 to +4.00, which means you can score more for a perfect 3A now than you could last year. Likewise, a 4Lz went from 13.60 to 11.50 in base value, but the max GOE went from 16.60 to 17.25.

Another implication? Because the GOE for combos is based on the hardest jump in the combo, there is greater incentive to combo the most difficult elements, so double axel-triple toes may not be as common as they have been in the past.

Even more implications? Well, this opens the door for judges to give high GOEs for otherwise mediocre elements, which tends to happen more for better-known skaters. Hopefully, we won't see that happen but I'm not holding my breath there.

Maxing out PCS
Another big change this season that is going to affect the way you see scores - there is now guidance on how falls and “serious errors” affects PCS. That’s to say that if skaters have falls or serious errors, there they will generally have lower PCS than they previously may have had. Note that “serious error” is not defined, and that it affects ice dance more than singles and pairs

  • For all disciplines, if there is one fall or serious error, the skater(s) cannot get a 10 on any component

  • For ice dance, if there is more than one fall or serious error, the team cannot get 9.00 or higher for any component

  • For singles and pairs, if there is more than one fall or serious error, the skater(s) should not get 9.50 or higher for skating skills, transitions, and composition; and should not get 9.00 or higher for performance and interpretation

Rethinking repeats
One change that got a lot of attention was the definition of repetition of jumps in the free skate. Skaters can still only repeat two jumps in the free skate, but they can only repeat one quad (whereas before, they could have both repeats be quads).

Implication? Those who can do more types of quads has the advantage here.

All programs are created equal (time-wise) (almost)
Finally. Almost all short programs and all free programs will be the same length. Somehow, rhythm dances get an extra 10 seconds.

  • Junior and senior short programs (men, ladies, pairs): 2min 40sec (+/- 10 sec)

  • Junior and senior rhythm dance: 2min 50sec (+/- 10 sec)

  • Senior free programs (men, ladies, pairs, dance): 4min (+/- 10 sec)

  • Junior free programs (men, ladies, pairs, dance): 3min 30sec (+/- 10 sec)

In addition, after cutting 30 seconds, men's free skates will now have a maximum of seven jumping passes, one fewer than before; pairs free skates will no longer have side-by-side spins.

Implication? Shorter competitions. Potentially more cramped free skates? I mean, one jumping pass or one side-by-side spin will not make up for the 30 seconds that were cut from the men's and pairs' free skates. So any suggestion that cutting an element will free up program time for in-betweens is probably ill-conceived.

Redefining jump sequences
Jump sequences have been redefined altogether. Whereas before, jump sequences were defined as two jumps that were linked by connecting non-listed jumps, jump sequences are now defined as a listed jump followed immediately by an axel jump with no connecting jumps in between. It will still valued as 80% of the sum of the base values of the two jumps.

Implication? Pair skaters will likely be doing more jump combos in the free skate than jump sequences. It's a lot easier to tack on a double toe to a shaky jump than it is to tack on a double axel to a shaky jump. The risk of jump sequences in pairs probably isn't worth the (lack of) reward.

Reducing the bonus for second-half jumps
Prior to this season in singles programs, all jumps done after the second half of programs got a 10% bonus. The rule has now changed such that only the last jumping pass in the second half of a short program gets the 10% bonus, and only the last three jumping passes in the second half of a free skate get the 10% bonus. That's not to say that you can't still do all your jumps in the second half, you just get bonus for a certain number of them (i.e., last 1 in the short and last 3 in the free).

Implication? You'll see programs with generally more spread-out jumps throughout than you have in the recent few seasons. General program vase values will decrease as a result.

Other stuff - lightning fast!

  • In ice dance, twizzles and one-foot step sequences are now called separately for the two partners, but still judged as one element. For example, one partner gets a level 3 twizzle (BV: 2.92) and the other gets a level 2 twizzle (BV: 2.67); that twizzle gets a 5.59 (2.92+2.67) on the protocol as the base value and then gets a GOE on top of that as all elements do.

  • The solo jump in the short program for juniors and seniors no longer needs to have connecting steps going into it.

  • At Worlds, 20 pairs now go through the short program into the free skate.

  • For all you statistics geeks out there, the highest scores (i.e., "world record scores") prior to this season have been archived, and a new progression of highest scores have started this season because of the -5 to +5 change.

Gosh ... I think that's it?