Some of the biggest technical mistakes in synchro and how to avoid them


(Credits: Janne Koistinen - Archives 2018)

This is a new feature on Jura Synchro in 2022! Our new series "On a technicality..." looks at the technical panel and what's behind the points' protocols. Find out the first episode with a column by Tony Kraehenbuehl, Technical Controller.

How did that happen? Why didn’t they count that? I don’t understand why we got level BASE for that!

Are these questions that you have asked yourself either as a coach, as a skater or as a lay spectator?

Well, you’re not the only one! As a technical controller, I get to answer those questions literally 5 seconds after every competition. People want to know why they didn’t get the Step Sequence level or the Free Skating Move level they planned for, to only name a few.

To put that a little bit back into context, elements are evaluated by the technical panel (TP) according to our Holy Bible – the ISU regulations and technical handbook – to assess the level of difficulty of what the skaters are presenting. The judges, on the other hand, will care more about giving out GOE's (Grade of Execution) and scoring components, but we will get back to what judges do later in this series. For now, let's focus on those precious "levels" that we're all craving for.

Knowing that the TP is evaluating what they see unfolding in front of their eyes, total scores are very event-dependent. Every performance has the potential to go from the best to worst case scenario in a matter of seconds and skaters know that well… However, the technical panel's job remains unchanged: evaluating what they see happening on the ice.

Independently of whether you're familiar with an ISU scoring protocol, they're not easy to understand even for the acquainted eye. Coaches and skaters are often left with this burning question: why didn't we get that level 4 Step Sequence?

Festa Aboensia - FIN, free program. (Credits: Ville Vairinen - 2021)

Well, apart from the fact that there is a rulebook and literally a hundred different answers to that - depending on the panel, the height at which they’re seated, the skaters' strength of the day, what they had for lunch - we do see a couple of recurring errors.

Far from aiming at describing them in an exhaustive manner or providing miraculous solutions, every panel will tell you that there are things you should be EXTRA careful about. So if you want to have a slightly better idea of what you may have to pay a bit more attention to in the future, keep reading the mistakes I have compiled so far this season (PS: they’re not listed in any particular order).

#1 - Quality of steps and turns
Yes, at the risk of surprising many, we do go back to basic skating skills.

In Pivoting Blocks and No Hold Elements, skaters are required to present series of steps and turns – and the more difficult the better. But please be reminded that it is not enough to simply “check the boxes” and sprinkle brackets and counters all over. They actually must be executed properly.

As a reminder, turns have an entry and an exit edge and must include curves at some point. Also, pro tip, those elements are God-given opportunities for the judges to get a sense of what a team can achieve in terms of skating abilities. So yes, we do see you, you in the middle of the block cheating that twizzle!

Team Caprice from Sweden. (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2021)

All jokes apart, the TP is always on the lookout for unclean steps or turns. Basic skating skills are the backbone of any program.

So, if you ever wonder why you didn’t get that step sequence, watch a replay and look at the feet. And please, enjoy that free list of errors I’m giving you:

- two-footed
- free foot touches down
- executed on the spot
- jumped
- flat
- wrong edge
- skidded
- and… not attempted at all.

#2 – Stopping and stationary
I know it sounds silly, but you would be amazed at how many teams actually get that wrong, especially among the lower-level teams. Stopping is defined as "Skaters are standing in one place without movement of the blade(s)". Still in one place but with movement of the blade(s)? That's stationary. Knowing that, bear in mind that this can even happen unintentionally (whaaaaaat?!).

For example...

Skaters on the back line of a Pivoting Block standing there stacked against the barrier waiting for the front line to catch up on their pivoting? Stopping.

Skaters losing speed at the end of a lift and winding up not moving at all to get that lifted skater down? Stationary.

A box Intersection with skaters exiting backwards with a swizzle to keep the box shape until the end but not breaking directly into another element? Stopping or stationary, I've seen both.

A Creative Element with a little choreography on the spot to make it cute? Cute indeed, but guess what… Stationary.

Team Phoenix - BEL. (Credits: Mario Huth - 2021)

#3 – Choreographic sequences
They’re one of your options to get to that Artistic Element level 2. Yes, it is an artistic sport, and the ISU has been kind enough as to give you your free body-language space. But don’t forget that the rulebook specifies that it must consist of movementS. Plural.

So, if you really want to give back to the sport, make it so that we don’t have to hunt for movements because we can’t decide whether that was an intentional choreographed chassé or just you trying to avoid landing flat on your face, will be greatly appreciated.

I know it sounds basic, but don’t forget that we are sometimes far away from you; your movements should be as radiant as ever for us to be recognizable. And on a more personal level, I always thought that the element should be called "time-of-your-life choreographic sequence", so I would highly recommend you get that booty shakin’ and those feet kickin’ - don’t settle for the bare minimum.

#4 – Whip Intersection
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that every single TP ever didn’t talk hundreds of hours about what in God’s name is a whip, to the point of having nightmares about it. So, years later, and after many sleepless nights and endless drawings, it has been decided to narrow it down to two half circles slowly unfolding into a straight line ready to intersect with its counterpart coming the other way.

As miracles sometimes happen, we are now discharged of the burden of timing the intersection (which is now a judge’s duty), but we are however still in charge of making sure that your half circle doesn’t unfold before it has pivoted 90°. And bam… just like that, you have the main reason for why you only got Intersection Level 2. No need to thank me, I’m here for that ;-)

Haydenettes - USA. (Credits: Mihail Lefler - 2019)

If this first article has sparked an interest in you and has put you on a quest to discover more about why you sometimes feel disappointed when you look at the protocol, stick around on Jura Synchro because another one is coming shortly with fresh errors to avoid. Yum.

Texts: Tony Kraehenbuehl - Technical Controller for Synchronized Skating