Dec 5, 2010
A Tribute to Number Threes: Alexander Abt
Like sequins and illusion mesh fabric, reputation-based judging is a basic fact of life when it comes to figure skating.
In figure skating, it is generally agreed that it is usually more advantageous if one is from a larger, more powerful federation--e.g. the USFSA, Skate Canada, RSF or the JSF. With a larger federation usually comes the benefits of a more influential politicking machine, a higher likelihood of a friendly judge on the panel and of course, more cash to buy that $10,000 Lori Nichol choreography.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for some skaters.
Being the political sport that judged sports often are, one's ranking is often a very important factor in how judges perceive and score a figure skater. This is not just the case for world rankings, but also ranking within one's country as well. Ideally, the higher one is up in the proverbial food chain, the better the results tend to be--not only because the top-ranking skater is the best in the country, but also because politicking is ultimately a finite resource.
Usually, there is a clear number one in a country, the only real contender for any major ISU championship titles anyways--e.g. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in Germany, or Yu-Na Kim of South Korea. However, in countries with a number of high quality skaters (usually the countries with a larger, more powerful federation), many of which can challenge for substantive results, the skaters who are not within the top 2 are often over-looked and are left to fend for themselves without the helping hands of their federation's politicking machine.
So, consider this a tribute to my favourite number threes, the unsung third (or fourth)-ranked skaters who probably would have tasted much more success if they represented another country, or skated at another time. Today we will begin with...
Mr. Abt had the great misfortune of representing Russia at the same time as the legendary Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko. Mr. Abt's ability to land the quad, as well as his long lean lines and ear for music, would have probably propelled him to at least the world podium and a European title if he skated for Russia at any other time (including today), but Mr. Abt was sadly overshadowed by Mr. Yagudin and Mr. Plushenko, both of whom were firmly esconced in not only the #1 and #2 positions in Russia, but (compounding Mr. Abt's misfortune) the #1 and #2 positions in the world as well.
Additionally, Mr. Abt was also known for simply plain bad luck--not only because he was skating with Mr. Yagudin and Mr. Plushenko, but also because of the injuries he kept procuring that ran the gamut from a serious sinus infection to major knee surgery. But despite all these factors conspiring against him, Mr. Abt continued skating, picking up a few medals here and there on the Grand Prix and coming close to the world podium, as well as refining his style and producing some truly memorable programs.
Like the lot of number threes everywhere, Mr. Abt also endured his fair share of neglect and shafting from the judges. The most flagrant incidence of this was at the 2002 European Championships, just before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Mr. Plushenko was not competing at this event, but Mr. Yagudin was. During the long program, Mr. Yagudin gave a flawed renedition of his Man in the Iron Mask LP:
At this moment, it seemed like Mr. Abt was finally presented by the fickle skategods with a sliver of an opening--Mr. Yagudin had erred quite substantially, Mr. Plushenko was not competing--which Mr. Abt burst through (for the lack of a better metaphor) like a running back hitting the gap and sprinting for the end zone.
Indeed, Mr. Abt skated the skate of his life to his magnificent Rachmaninoff LP, which not only used the criminally-underappreciated third movements of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3, but was truly a beautiful program that showcased Mr. Abt's best qualities. Unfortunately, embedding the video is disabled, but watch the program HERE on Youtube, it's well worth it--it is truly a performance for the ages, and one that should score well under 6.0 or CoP.
After Mr. Abt gave a superb performance of his LP (including a quad!), earning the superlative praise of Dick Button and a standing ovation....the judges responded by placing him second behind Mr. Yagudin.
Adding to the injustice of the situation, Mr. Abt was placed behind Mr. Yagudin on presentation--despite the fact that Mr. Abt's Rachmaninoff was arguably a better-choreographed program than Man in the Iron Mask. Not to mention that Mr. Yagudin was quite lackluster in his performance while Mr. Abt performed magnificently.
Alas, it turns out that the skategods are not so mercurial after all. Politics reigned the day as usual, and so the #3 Russian man placed behind the #1 Russian man, as is his lot in life and the natural order of figure skating politics.
Of course, like after other dubious judging decisions, life went on. Mr. Abt graciously accepted his silver medal, placed a respective fifth place at the 2002 Olympics and a fourth place at the following worlds (that arguably should have been a bronze medal). Unfortunately, Mr. Abt's many injuries and illnesses had begun to take their toll, and Mr. Abt retired in 2004.
If only Alexander Abt was skating for Russia today--he might have been World Champion by now, and a deserving one at that.