Two teams are widely seen as the top contenders in the Winter Olympics ice dancing competition that starts tonight: from Canada, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and from France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. At the 2017 world championships, the Canadians took the gold by 2.6 points, but at the 2017–2018 Grand Prix final — the last competition in which both teams competed — the French flipped the result and took first by 2.3 points.
Lots of factors influence who takes gold at the Olympics, but one of them could be which countries’ judges are chosen. Over the last season and a half, Canadian judges have tended to up-score the Canadian skaters and down-score the French, while the French judges have tended to do the exact opposite.
Last week, BuzzFeed News published an exclusive statistical analysis showing that a full third of figure skating judges selected for the Olympics showed a pattern of home-country preference so strikingly consistent that the odds of it occurring by random chance are less than 1 in 100,000.
Data alone can’t explain why these patterns emerged. Judges might not even be aware that their scoring shows a consistent pattern, and their judging could simply reflect a preference for a regional style of skating.
In Pyeongchang, ice dancing judges will be drawn at random from a group of officials from 13 countries just 45 minutes prior to the competition.
We analyzed scores at 17 high-level competitions between October 2016 and December 2017. (You can read more about our analysis here.) Here’s what we found:
Each of the 16 times that Canadian judges scored a performance by Virtue and Moir, those judges scored the Canadians higher than the average of how the other judges on the panel scored them. Eleven out of 14 times (79%) that Canadian judges officiated a performance by the French team, they marked the French lower than the average score given by their colleagues.
On the other side, French judges gave Papadakis and Cizeron an above-average score 12 out of 13 times (92%) — but gave the Canadian judges a below-average score 8 out of 9 times (89%).
Certain other countries’ judges also displayed a strong preference between the rivals. US judges gave the French pair an above-average score 12 out of 14 times (86%) — compared to just 25% of the time for the Canadians. Meanwhile, Japan’s judges gave Virtue and Moir above-average scores 10 out of 12 times (83%) — compared to just 50% for Papadakis and Cizeron.
The race for the bronze medal is more complicated. A handful of teams are vying for the final spot on the Olympic podium. The favorites are Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev from Russia, who currently rank second in the ISU World Standings for Ice Dance but are considered by many observers to be a notch below the other top two teams. The contenders also include three teams from the United States, and one from Italy.
Russian and Turkish judges rated Bobrova and Soloviev a total of 21 times in BuzzFeed News’ dataset. All 21 times, they provided above-average scores, whereas Italian (20% of scores above average) and US (17%) judges have been much less generous.
On the other hand, US judges up-scored the three US teams every single time they judged them. Japanese judges also gave one of the US teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, an above-average score in seven of eight performances, and they gave the Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte an above-average score 10 out of 10 times.