Arts & Entertainment

Weir-Lysacek: Fuzzy Rules Muddle Who Really Won

The almost impossible dead-heat tie for first place in the men’s competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in St. Paul, Minnesota last month caused new headaches for the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Allegations of a calculating error in compiling the final scores of exactly 244.77 for both Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir caught the attention of major media organizations after a raging debate burst forth on the Internet. But the USFSA has so far stood by the rules interpretations and the computer software program used to calculate the scores, as provided by judges on the tiniest minutia of program elements through two competitions for each skater.

There is apparently no mechanism for a more formal appeal or third-party review of the results. Fans of Weir insist that if there was, Weir would be declared the winner instead of Lysacek. Not even top figure skating officials deny that the rules are sufficiently vague that with a different interpretation, that could have happened.

Weir supporters claim that with the proper calculation of the scores, Lycacek should have been credited with a single decimal point less, putting him behind Weir.

But to break the tie, Lysacek was awarded his second straight title by virtue of achieving a slightly better score in the second, longer free skate competition on the final day of the week-long premiere annual skating event on U.S. soil. That’s how a tie is broken under current rules.

A top international skating official conceded last week that “imprecise wording” of scoring rules contributed to the controversy over the tie. “The programming of the way the results are obtained is consistent, but we must make the language more precise,” said Peter Krick, chairman of the International Skating Union, in an interview with Philip Hersh of the Tribune newspapers.

The issue surrounds the formula for calculating the scores, which is not spelled out anywhere in the rules, either for the ISU or the USFSA. The U.S. Rule 3435 is “vague enough,” according to Krick, to allow at least two, if not more, interpretations of what formula should be applied to make the calculations, according to Hersh, the Tribune’s Olympic sports reporter.

One credible interpretation would have given Lysacek a single point less in the free skate and made Weir the winner.

But there is nothing vague about the rule, according to some commentators on the Internet, where controversy over the scoring of last month’s championship continues to rage.

One commentator noted that far from vague, “The rule (that should have cost Lysacek a point—ed.) is 100% clear. This is Rule 353 from the ISU rulebook.”

It reads, she wrote, that “The panel’s points for each program component are obtained by calculating the trimmed mean of the maximum of nine scoring judges’ results for that program component. The trimmed mean is calculated in the manner described above in paragraph 'D.'”

That paragraph reads, she went on, as follows: “The factored results are rounded to two decimal places and added. The sum is the program component score. In single and pair skating, the panel’s points for each program component are then multiplied by a factor as follows (same for junior and senior): Men, Short Program 1.0, Free Skate 2.0…The factored results are rounded by two decimal points and added. The sum is the program component score.”

She concluded, “It explicitly states that the scores are averaged, factored and then rounded, which would give Weir the title. The rules are not vague, and the USFSA refuses to acknowledge this.”

Another commentator wrote, “This is a straightforward mathematical calculation. If you made a rounding error on a mathematics examination, it will become incorrect.”

As the issue continued to flare on the Internet, Philip Hersh weighed in with a commentary published in the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times Sunday that included his own carefully-detailed parsing of the rule in question, concluding, “Even if the wrong formula was applied — and I have yet to see anyone parse Rule 3435 (the USFSA equivalent of the ISU’s Rule 353-ed.) to make it clear that happened — the only thing that would keep me investigating is proof that the formula was not applied the same to every skater.”

Fiercely loyal Weir fans, in particular, are fired up on the Internet about the results because they felt their hero skated better and deserved to win outright. They point to an informal poll conducted on the web site showing that 79.33% of those who voted thought Weir did better, compared to only 20.67% for Lysacek.

The poll, while unscientific, is credible, they’ve contended, because only members of the site’s closed thread could vote and they tend to be very knowledgeable on the intricacies of the sport.

Weir, who won the championship three straight years from 2004 to 2006, lost it to Lysacek last year and was spoiling for a comeback. He and Lysacek are not only in an ongoing slugfest for the U.S. title in recent years, and have markedly distinct styles, but each is also motivated by a mild personal enmity toward the other.

But with apparently no further reconsideration of last month’s results planned, Weir now has three U.S. titles and Lysacek two. They both head to the World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden next month, but their eyes are ultimately fixed on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.