US figure skater Adam Rippon made his Olympic debut on Sunday with a clean, near flawless free skate performance. He placed third after Patrick Chan of Canada and Olympic Athlete from Russia Mikhail Kolyada, who both fell during their performances.
Fans on twitter were outraged at what they considered unfair scoring:
So why didn't Rippon score higher than his two competitors, despite the fact that they fell on the ice? To understand it, you need to understand the scoring system and do a little bit of math.
Figure skating used to be judged using a 6.0 system, where a 6.0 was the highest mark and a perfect score. Now, a more complicated system is in place to ensure fairer scores.
Each move a skater performs is assigned a base value. More difficult moves have higher base values. For example, a quadruple axel, one of the most difficult jumps to perform, is worth 15.0 points. A double axel in comparison would only earn 3.3 points.
Points can be taken away from or added to the base value depending on how well the move was executed. Even though skaters can be penalized one point for falling, they still might earn more points overall for attempting a difficult jump because of the high base value.
Patrick Chan and Mikhail Kolyada both attempted quadruple jumps in their routines. Although they fell, they still benefited from the high base value scores for those jumps. Although Rippon's performance seemed flawless, it was lacking the difficult jumps needed to boost his score.
Though Rippon may have ended the competition in third place, his strong performance helped the US nab a bronze medal in the team event.