The Finnish System

At the 1955 ISU Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, the powers that be in figure skating approved a trial of a new judging system, informally called The Finnish System after its creator Walter Jakobsson, at the 1956 European Championships in Paris. It had been first tested at an international junior competition in Switzerland in 1955.

An oversight led to the omission of the trial of The Finnish System in the announcement for the 1956 European Championships in Paris, so it was decided to postpone its trial to the 1957 European Championships in Vienna. Jakob Biedermann, a Swiss attorney who was serving as the ISU's Chairman of the Figure Skating Committee, was furious about the decision. He believed that if it was voted to try it in Paris, it should have been tried. He ended up resigning over it.

At the time, gymnastics and diving used a judging system where the highest and lowest marks were thrown out. The Finnish System also tried to address judges who deviated from the pack for various reasons (national bias, difference of opinion, incompetence, etc.) but it varied somewhat. The marks of the first skater were averaged to determine a standard - let's say 3.8 as an example - and then the marks of the judges whose marks deviated the most from that standard, both high and low, were thrown out.

The amount of marks that were 'thrown out' depended on the number of judges and it was argued that if a judge wanted their marks to 'stay in', all the had to do was stick as close to the standard as possible each time for them to be counted. So, if Susie Salchow got a bunch of 5.0's, an unscrupulous judge merely had to look over their shoulder at what their neighbour was doing and give them a 5.0 too. 

If three judges gave marks of 5.9 to an outstanding skater and one gave them a 4.1, it wouldn't just be the judge who gave the 4.1 who would be eliminated - the three judges who gave 5.9's could be sent packing too. As a high-profile case involving corrupt Austrian judges was major news in the skating world at the time, the skating community had legitimate concerns that The Finnish System, like the existing one, could be abused by less than ethical judges.

Marika Kilius and Franz Ningel at the 1957 European Championships. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

At the 1957 European Championships in Vienna, The Finnish System was tried in the singles and pairs events, with the 6.0 system used in the ice dance event. Czechoslovakians Věra Suchánková and Zdeněk Doležal pulled off a surprise win in pairs. France's Alain Giletti won the men's title for the third straight year, despite placing only fourth in the free skate. In her home city, Hanna Eigel reclaimed the title she'd first won in Budapest in 1955. However, she wasn't even in the top four in the free skate. Many spectators, not understanding the weight of the school figure and blamed the new Finnish System for the best free skaters not winning. However misplaced this particular ire was, there were far more measured criticisms of The Finnish System that followed.

H. Leslie White published his "Opinion of the 'Finnish' System" in the May 1957 issue of "Skating World" magazine. It provoked a healthy discussion about the pro's and con's of the ISU's new baby, a letter of objection from Walter Jakobsson and a show of support for White from Cyril Beastall, the editor of "Skating World". I'm sharing both pieces for you below in their entirety.

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

Ultimately, the ISU decided at its 1957 Congress in Salzburg to reject both The Finnish System and a British proposal for an alternative to it. Both systems, ISU officials believed, simply did not have enough of an impact on the overall results of competitions to be viable. Rather than come up with an alternative, the 6.0 system remained and a renewed focus was placed on weeding out 'bad judges'. We all know how well that went.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":