Recently, I was able to see the wonderful movie “Hidden Figures.” I learned that the African American women who “did the math” for NASA were called “computers.” When IBM computers replaced these women, the job that had been done by hand was replaced by a machine.
The “Hidden Figures” movie made me remember when the scores given by the judges in figure skating were also computed by hand and that the accounting done at figure skating competitions took hours and hours. I also remember when computers were a new thing at figure skating competitions.
When I was a child, my father taught me how to keep score at figure skating competitions and how to tabulate the results. I liked math and found it challenging and fun to do my own accounting as we anxiously waited for the results after my brother Billy competed. Also, after I competed, my dad would begin working hard on adding up scores and would sometimes tell me how I placed even before the official results were posted!
Then, when I was about eleven years old, while my dad was judging events, I was allowed to go in the accounting room to join the competition accountants to help with adding up the results. I was so happy and excited to do that, but I also remember a “grown up” in the accounting room telling me that competitors and parents were waiting and that I was adding up numbers too slowly. I was so sad when the scores were taken away from me so that an adult who was faster at adding could get the results done.
You see, all results were added up by hand and the math was checked over and over again, so figure skating competitors, coaches, and parents waited hours and hours for official results. Sometimes results from certain events were posted five to seven hours after an event! It could take an entire day. We’d either stay in the rink waiting anxiously, or we would go back to the hotel or go out to eat and anxiously waited and wondered. That waiting was “a killer.”
Here’s how figure skating competition scoring once worked:
An odd number of judges (usually five, seven, or nine judges) gave each competitor two scores, one for technical merit and one for competition and style. The marks were announced over a loudspeaker after each skater competed at the senior level, but after an entire event was over at the lower levels. Judges sometimes held up the scores, but at most competitions, volunteer skaters called Caddies, held up each judge’s scores after a blow of a whistle.
If a parent or coach wrote down every score as they heard the scores announced, it was possible to do one’s own accounting while the official competition accountants worked behind closed doors in a competition accounting room.
There were no calculators or computers in those days, so every technical merit and composition and style score from every judge and for every competitor had to be added up by hand.
Once the total scores were tabulated on a large poster size chart that looked like a huge puzzle or worksheet, the competition accountants would determine how each judge placed each skater. For example, if a skater’s scores were 4.3 and 4.4, the total would be 8.7. Another skater may have been scored 4.1 and 4.0, so his or her score would be 8.1 and another skater had been scored 3.9 and 4.0 with a total of 7.9. So…the first skater placed first with that judge, the next second, and the next third.
The placements of each judge were put on that huge poster size chart and then the “majority rules” system was used to determine the actual placements. If no one skater was scored a majority of first places, the skater that received a majority of second place scores would win the event. Broken ties were determined by totaling the TOM, the total ordinals of a majority, and then if skaters were still tied, the totally ordinals.
Finally, all placements were determined and the poster size chart and official results, that were written out by hand, were posted on a wall in the rink for all to see. Yes…it was like solving a puzzle! There were no cell phones to take photos of the scores, so smaller blank charts of the scores could be copied by hand into a competition program so that competitors, coaches, and families could review their results.
This system is still done when the 6.0 Figure Skating Scoring System is used, but now computers do the work. I remember that computers weren’t completely trusted to determine placements at first, so when the print outs were posted they were always called “Unofficial Results” until the competition accountants could check and double check the math by hand.
Wow…skaters of today don’t have to wait for hours and hours and hours to find out how they placed! Skating has changed, but so has scoring!
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