ISU Judging System - Subjectivity


Judging in figure skating is inherently subjective. Although there may be general consensus that one skater "looks better" than another, it is difficult to get agreement on what it is that causes one skater to be marked as 5.5 and another to be 5.75 for a particular program component. As judges, coaches, and skaters get more experience with the new system, more consensus may emerge. However, for the 2006 Olympics there were cases of 1 to 1.5 points differences in component marks from different judges. This range of difference implies that "observer bias" determines about 20% of the mark given by a judge. Averaging over many judges reduces the effect of this bias in the final score, but there will remain about a 2% spread in the average artistic marks from the randomly selected subsets of judges.

Aside from intra-expert subjectivity, skating is very open to misjudgement from everyday spectators who only see skating casually, i.e. every four years at the Olympics. A skater's jump may look perfect, but the general public will not be aware that the competitor landed on an incorrect edge, therefore receiving no points for an element. This may result in judging appearing haphazard, or worse, biased. It must be recapitulated that such subjectivities exist in all judged sports, such as gymnastics and diving, therefore skating is not unique in this respect.

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