An initial deficit in the school figures used to be very hard to overcome. In the 1976 World Championship Toiler Cranston of Canada was fifth at the end of this section. He won the short programme, and was second in the free skating, vet he finished only fourth overall. Vladimir Kovalev, USSR, who won the figures, was fifth in the short programme, fourth in the free, and finished second. That result was obviously unfair. Cranston, a flamboyant character, amid much publicity charged to a pool of unfrozen water in Goteborg and threw in his figure skates, at the same time announcing that figures were useless; he would do better to employ his talents elsewhere. In July 1980 a new method of working out the results, without bringing marks forward from each section, was introduced. This system, had it been in effect for the 1976 World Championship, would have given Cranston the silver medal behind John Curry and dispatched Kovalev to fourth place.
Cranston was not alone in disliking figures. John Curry said he found a couple of hours of figure practice a very civilised way to start the day, providing that was not, as when he trained in England, at the crack of dawn. Robin Cousins was one who merely tolerated figures. In Dortmund in 1980 he could hardly wait till the third figure was over to discard his figure skates and declare he would never do figures again.
The personality of a good figure skater differs a great deal from that of the good free skater. To do good figures you need to be an introvert. You must be able to shut out completely all distractions and concentrate on what you are doing, focusing your attention on that small piece of ice. A good free skater likes to interact with the audience. Norbert Schramm, the 1982 and 1983 European champion, and runner-up for the World title, finds he cannot perform his best without a good-sized audience. Their response as he pulls faces at them eggs him on to skate much better.
It was often believed that Robin Cousins was pushed in the figures that is, given better marks than he deserved so that such a superlative free skater should be kept within reach of the medals. On one occasion, in the 1979 European Championship, he did a very poor second figure, the left back paragraph brackets. However, one judge still gave him second place in this figure and another placed him third. The British judge, Sally Stapleford, refusing to compromise, gave him the lowest mark he received, a 2.9. Cousins later said it was what he deserved.
Since the spectator cannot go onto the ice to examine the tracings, it is impossible for him to get an accurate impression of the execution of a figure. This means that judges are less subject to overt criticism. Nevertheless Frank Carroll, coach of Linda Fratianne who won the silver medal in the 1980 Olympic Games, said that his pupil was denied the gold because the German-speaking judges acted in collusion, marking up the East and West German competitors in the school figures. (Anett Poetzsch of East Germany won the gold medal and Dagmar Lurz of West Germany the bronze.) There is no way this can be proved or disproved. However, what it does indicate is that there is a very good argument for abolishing school figures in competition.