Comments on the 2000 USFSA International Committee Report

by Sandra Loosemore
Revised April 29, 2000

The International Committee is the part of the USFSA responsible for selecting athletes for the various team envelopes (which determine eligibility for training funding) and for selecting athletes to compete at numerous international competitions throughout the year. The committee has about 35 members, including judges, coaches, and athlete representatives.

You can see the USFSA's current team envelopes here, the team envelope selection criteria here, and the 1999-2000 international assignment list here. And, for more information about athlete funding, see my other article on the USFSA's budget here.

The information in this article is based on the report of the International Committee prepared for the 2000 USFSA Governing Council meeting and some additional information provided by Bob Horen, the committee chair.

New Team Envelope Criteria for 2000-2001

The international team envelope criteria have been completely revised (again) for the 2000-2001 season. It's now based much less on subjective evaluation of future "potential" to win medals, and almost exclusively on concrete results from the past season. Under the new system, most skaters can already predict what envelope and funding level they will receive for the coming year.

USFSA Ranking System

One of the criteria the International Committee uses to determine assignments to team envelopes is the "USFSA Ranking System". This has been in place for a few years now, but the handout included with the Governing Council documents is the first detailed description I've seen of how the rankings are compiled.

How points are assigned

The USFSA has assigned weights to various competitions, and athletes accumulate points from the events they participate in over the past two years. A couple of general rules apply: junior competitions are worth only half as much as the corresponding senior events, and novice competitions are only worth half as much as the junior events. Weights of competitions in the previous year are given half the weight of competitions in the current year.

Here's a table that summarizes which competitions are worth how much:

Category Event Weight Placements
IWorld Championships20top 10
Olympic Winter Games20top 10??
Junior World Championships10top 10
IIFour Continents Championships16top 10
Senior Grand Prix competitions16top 8
Junior Grand Prix competitions8top 8??
Senior Nationals16top 10
Junior Nationals8top 10
Novice Nationals4top 10
IIIOther senior international competitions12top 6
Other junior international competitions6top 6
Novice international competitions3top 6
IVSenior sectional championships8top 4
Junior sectional championships4top 4
Novice sectional championships2top 4
VSenior regional championships4top 4
Junior regional championships2top 4
Novice regional championships1top 4

Made-for-TV competitions, such as pro-ams or the Goodwill Games, are not included in the ranking system.

There are also a bunch of special-case rules. Skaters who are given byes through regionals or sectionals may still accumulate first-place points from those events. They don't count points from men, pairs, or dance at regionals since those events are usually not held in most regions, or dance at sectionals for the same reason. Skaters who compete in more than two "regular" international events (excluding Worlds, Junior Worlds, Four Continents, and the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Finals) only get to count their two best events.

To give you an idea of how points are assigned based on placement, at Senior Nationals (weight 16), the breakdown was 192 points for first place, 160 for second, 128 for third, down to 8 points for tenth place.

Not-so-current rankings

The skater rankings included with the Governing Council handouts were those from February 15, which incorporate results from Nationals but not Four Continents, Junior Worlds, or Worlds. Here are the numbers for the senior skaters.

Senior Ladies
Michelle Kwan1468
Sarah Hughes914
Angela Nikodinov696
Amber Corwin668
Sasha Cohen566
Jennifer Kirk491
Deanna Stellato426
Brittney McConn424
Naomi Nari Nam424
Stacy Pensgen400
Sara Wheat392
Elizabeth Kwon275
Andrea Aggeler272
Erin Pearl266
Susan Ng204
Andrea Gardiner184
Senior Men
Michael Weiss1040
Timothy Goebel816
Trifun Zivanovic676
Ryan Bradley564
Matt Savoie562
Damon Allen336
Derrick Delmore264
Justin Dillon256
Todd Eldredge256
Shepherd Clark200
Ryan Jahnke196
Don Baldwin112
Kurt Fromknecht100
Johnnie Bevan88
Senior Pairs
Ina & Zimmerman928
Hartsell & Hartsell652
Scott & Dulebohn528
Spielberg & Joeright500
Magarian & Guzman408
Handy & Binnebose334
Stiegler & Stiegler294
Vlandis & Peterson216
Miller & Weiss144
Gaynor & Delago136
Hayes & Gillam96
Quigley & Cording32
Senior Dance
Lang & Tchernyshev812
Silverstein & Pekarek644
Koegel & Fediukov388
Beckerdite & Healy144
Handra & Sinek144
Newman & Boundoukin80
Katz & Serkov48
Woodman & Peal40
Fraser & Nichols32
Moxley & Gaasbeck32
Yang & Lang16
Skaters who competed as juniors or novices at Nationals were listed separately. The top junior skaters were Ann Patrice McDonough (220 points), Johnnie Weir (313), Evan Lysacek (302), Parker Pennington (290), Sierk & Sierk (316), Nussear & Forsyth (440), and Belbin & Agosto (320).

Based on the description of the ranking system, I can make a few projections of how these rankings will change once the results of Four Continents, Worlds, and Junior Worlds are factored in.

In the ladies rankings, for example, Kwan, Hughes, and Nikodinov will solidify their 1-2-3 placements. Corwin is going to remain in 4th place. I believe Kirk will pull ahead of Cohen based on their finishes at Junior Worlds, and Pensgen will move ahead of Stellato since Pensgen's silver medal at Four Continents (a senior competition) is worth almost twice as much as Stellato's at Junior Worlds.

On the men's side, Savoie will pull ahead of Bradley based on their World Juniors placements, and Eldredge's 4th place at Four Continents will move him up between Bradley and Allen. Note that Goebel, in placing out of the top 10 at Worlds, received no additional points for that event.

Comments on the ranking system

For the most part, the results of the ranking system are not unreasonable, but there are some very obvious anomalies.

The main problem is that the ranking system is too heavily weighted on past results rather than on recent performances, and penalizes skaters who have improved rapidly over the course of a season, who have just moved up from the novice or junior level, or who have formed new pair or dance teams. Skaters who don't receive any international assignments in the fall, based on their rankings in previous seasons, are at a huge disadvantage that continues to carry over into subsequent years: for example, look at the rankings of Gardiner and Jahnke, who both placed 5th in their respective divisions at Nationals this year. Another extreme "bug" appeared in the Junior Pairs rankings, where Kalesavich & Parchem, who won Nationals convincingly in their first season together, were placed 8th out of 8 by the ranking system. All of these skaters were ranked far behind other competitors who they beat by big margins in head-to-head competition at Nationals.

One obvious source of trouble is that the Grand Prix events are being substantially over-rated by the USFSA's system, while Nationals are being substantially under-rated. This has a lot to do with why Corwin is still listed as the 4th-ranked senior lady in spite of picking up no points at all for her 13th-place finish at Nationals: her two Grand Prix assignments together carried twice the weight of Nationals, plus she also carried over a lot of points from her Grand Prix events the previous year.

The problem with the Grand Prix events isn't just that they are being given too much weight compared to Nationals and Worlds, but that awarding points to the top 8 finishers is essentially giving points to skaters for mere participation in these events, rather than for excellence. The Grand Prix events have small fields with a maximum of 12 competitors in each division and more often only 8 to 10. If the ranking system is only going to award points to skaters who finish in the top 10 in events such as the World Championships where the fields are much larger and deeper, they certainly also ought to restrict points in the Grand Prix events to those skaters who can finish in the top half of the field -- say, the top 4 skaters instead of the top 8.

As far as Nationals is concerned, instead of simply increasing its weight, perhaps it should be taken out of the ranking system entirely and make it be a completely separate criteria which is given equal weight with the rankings from all international events combined in determining team envelopes. Nationals is the one event of the year which is open to all competitors and where they can compete against each other on an equal basis, so in a sense it is the most objective and least controversial ranking of all.

International Competition Assignment Policy

In February, the USFSA's Executive Committee directed the International Committee's Management Subcommittee (the subgroup which makes the actual decisions about who goes to what competitions) to restructure the selections process "so that the USFSA will have the best possible chance to qualify U.S. skaters for the Grand Prix Series Finals". Apparently, we have the answer to this problem announced in the International Committee's report to the Governing Council:

It is necessary to assign skaters to more than one competition in the Senior and Junior Grand Prix; otherwise, they cannot earn enough points to make the final. However, this year the second competition assignment WILL NOT BE AUTOMATIC. It will be contingent on performance in the first competition at a level that makes it possible to compete in the final. If it is not possible to make the final, the committee can replace the skater by another who can make the final.

This seems like good news, for a number of reasons.

First, it does address the problem of getting more skaters into the Grand Prix finals. People with long memories may recall that Michael Weiss placed a surprising second at 1995 Skate America, but he had no chance to make it to the final because it was his only Grand Prix assignment of the season and all the other US Grand Prix slots had already been promised to other skaters.

This will also give the International Committee a way to give elite competition opportunities to more skaters, and to reward skaters based on their performances in the current season instead of their past record. There has been a lot of discussion recently about how the US currently has more senior ladies who deserve Grand Prix assignments, than would be possible to accomodate if everyone were to be given two assignments each. With the new policy, it seems likely that most of these skaters will be given one definite assignment in the early part of the season and the slots at the later events will be up for grabs between them.

Finally, having a little extra pressure to deliver results at their fall competitions may be a good thing for the skaters. People with long memories may also recall several previous instances where US skaters have shown up at their fall competitions looking obviously unfit and untrained, or with programs that looked slapped-together and unfinished. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to drive home the point that skaters need to take their international assignments seriously and not just treat them as a "perq".

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