For many years, figure skating perfection had a number: 6.0.
After Kim Yuna's world-record score Thursday night, it does once again: 150.
What does 150 points mean? Admittedly, the new scoring system – instituted by the sport's dons to reduce judging bias after the 2002 Salt Lake pairs figure skating scandal – can be hard to fathom.
But here's what 150 points meant to silver medalist Mao Asada Tuesday night.
According to the judges, Asada – the 2008 world champion – skated one of the best free skates of her career, only 1.31 points off her personal best.
Kim beat her by 18.34 points.
The scores for the entire competition are even more astounding. All told, it was the best performance of Asada’s life, scoring 205.50 points in the short program and free skate combined.
Kim beat her by more than 23 points, with a (need we say) world-record 228.56.
How good is Kim Yuna?
So, essentially, the second-best figure skater in the world – who is so good that many believe she could have won the Turin Olympics at age 15 had she been eligible – has the best competition of her career … and gets beaten by three touchdowns and a field goal.
What about Asada’s triple Axels – that toughest of women’s jumps, which was supposed to keep Asada from becoming a pixel in Kim’s rearview mirror? Asada nailed them. They were whirling things of beauty – pinwheels of black and red, perfectly balanced.
And she still got smoked.
This is the measure of Kim’s performance: Almost all her competitors skated as well as could have reasonably been imagined. Bronze medalist Joannie Rochette, too, set a personal best in the competition.
And none of them had the remotest chance of winning.
When American Mirai Nagasu, a promising young skater with high hopes for Sochi 2014, stepped onto the ice to skate, the scoreboard was almost an insult.
Points needed to lead: 164.8.
It might as well have been asking her to build a spaceship out of yak pelts and Elmer’s glue. Nagasu, too, skated a personal best – and lost by 38.41 points.
Message to world: It's not just about the jumps
Strangely enough, the lesson from the women’s program was precisely the same as it was from the men’s: the era of winning with big jumps alone is gone.
The two biggest jumpers in the competition were indisputably Plushenko and Asada, and each won silver despite landing their signature jump (Plushenko’s quad and Asada’s triple Axel).
Don’t misunderstand, the big jump still helps, but the overall performance matters far more. Asada, for instance, got full marks for her two triple Axels and still finished 13.62 points behind Kim on the technical score.
To be sure, Asada’s two mistakes were part of the reason. First, there was a freakish stumble that prevented her from doing a triple toe loop, then she under-rotated the first triple of a combination jump.
But even if she’d hit those jumps, she’d still have been three points behind Kim, despite her two scintillating triple Axels.
How did Kim do that?
She skated perfectly. Judges can add or subtract two points from any element depending on how well they think it was done. This is the Grade of Execution, and no one in the world gets higher Grade of Execution scores than Kim.
Thursday night, she beat Asada by 8.92 points in Grade of Execution alone – an enormous margin.
The same was true in the men’s program, where the gold went – not to the man with the most impressive trick, as it would have in the 6.0 system – but to the man who had the strongest overall program, top to bottom.
For the Russian men and Japanese women, who are traditionally the world’s strongest jumpers, this indicates they'll need a fundamental change of philosophy – or more nights like Thursday.
The perfect number?
Of course, 150 is not a perfect number in the free skate. Under the new scoring system, skaters can increase their scores if they add more difficult elements to their program.
Moreover, the judges did not give Kim perfect 10s on artistry – though they came close, with three of her five so-called “program components” in the 9s.
But a new bar has been set.
Is it as close to perfect as we’ve seen in the new scoring system?
Kim’s coach, Brian Orser, paused for a moment during a post-event interview, then smiled.
“Yeah, I think it is.”