Interview

All about the first virtual synchro skating competition


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Skyliners Senior - Short Program. (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2019)

With over 150 teams participating each year, Porter Classic is the largest invitational competition in the United States. With the uncertainties this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organizing Committee decided to host a virtual event. How will the competition go? We asked Karen Wolanchuk, the Chief Referee.

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You recently have announced that you will host a virtual event this year. What does that mean?

Karen Wolanchuk: In April 2020, we discussed the possibilities of hosting an onsite event this year. As discussions continued throughout the summer, virtual singles events were beginning and we thought, "Why not try this for synchro?" With so many uncertainties this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to offer something for the teams to work towards in their development of their new programs. We felt we could accomplish this virtually.

So synchro teams will have to send a video?

Yes. In simple terms, the teams will videotape their programs along guidelines that we develop. They will upload one program that they wish evaluated to an online platform. A technical panel and judging panel will be assigned to each event and they will evaluate the elements assigning levels and GOE / component marks.  A technical accountant will prepare the team protocol. Following the events, we will have coach feedback sessions set-up in Zoom, with a member of both the technical and judging panel assigned to the feedback session.

What are the benefits for teams to participate in this type of event?

One benefit is that it can help the team prepare for onsite competitions next year. Second, feedback sessions will be scheduled with the coaches, providing them valuable information about their elements, levels and program composition. Third, we believe this virtual concept will be a great motivator for the athletes. 


Who will film them, and what will be the rules?

The coach or someone that is familiar with the pattern of the program and camera equipment should video the program, of course the uploaded program must not be edited or manipulated.  We will have IT controls in place to review the video files.

By "competing" with a video, we can imagine that the teams will send the best performance they can do (without a fall or major error). Do you think that we'll be able to create virtually this "competitive atmosphere" that we all love?

Of course, the atmosphere of an onsite competition can never be replicated virtually. I would expect that a team will videotape their program a number of times, and will select the best performance to send in by the deadline, which looks to be around November 30. 


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What about the judging?

A schedule will be prepared with panels selected for each event.  International and ISU level officials will be utilized, especially for the Senior and Junior segments. The Senior and Junior SP and FS will be separate segments, not a combined event, so teams may enter just one (or both) depending on their "readiness" to compete.

Will the public be able to watch the event?

Details are still being worked out on this, but we hope to ‘live’ stream the videos with the results on Sunday, December 6.

Your competition will be one of the first to announce a virtual competition, do you feel any kind of pressure?

Of course, being the first to try anything new comes with added pressure, but we have a good team of officials and experts in IT that are helping and guiding us. We are meeting weekly via Zoom conferencing.  The coaches have been very supportive and are excited to participate.

Do you think virtual events will become the new normality for synchronized skating in a pandemic year?

I think it is possible, but maybe just for evaluation and feedback, not to replace onsite events. The more virtual events we do, the better the process will be each time. I think all of us involved with Synchronized Skating look forward to traveling and competing in competitions.

Will the competition be open to all teams in the world? 

Since this is an open "event" yes. We have had several inquiries about our virtual event; we hope to make it as inclusive as possible.

With this new organization, how many participants are you expecting?
I think we hope to have 60 teams participate over two days of events. Of course, some teams at this point are not even on the ice yet, and some teams have all the elements placed, just not connected with Holds. I would assume some teams will not be ready to link a full program by November 30, and will chose not to participate. 

In addition to program events, we will also offer "Best of Element" events, such as "Best Synchronized Spin Element," "Best Twizzle Element,"  "Best Traveling Wheel," etc.  These will be grouped by division as well and judged using only GOE criteria of shape/spacing, unison, flow, and edge quality. For teams that are not ready to compete their programs in early December, they are certainly welcome to enter the element events. 


Read more about Dr. Porter Classic: "Competing this year will be much different"