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February 15, 2010

Queen of the Ice

Catherine New
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Taffy Holliday ’85 sits in the judges box at far right at the 2010 World Championships.

Olympic figure skating judge Taffy Holliday ’85 says music selection is as important as technical expertise for winning the gold medal at this year’s games, which began Friday. Holliday, a former U.S. champion, always had a passion for skating, even as she built a successful career at IBM and launched several software start-ups. Today, Holliday is the chief marketing officer and vice president of strategy for a new company called Value Spring. That's on pause, however, while she's in Vancouver judging the pairs figure skating competition.

How did you become an Olympic figure skating judge?
You become one in the same way you become an athlete — you train. You attend school and judge local events and gradually move to higher-level competitions. This is my first time as a judge at the Olympic Games.

Skating's new scoring system was implemented after a 2002 scandal where a judge allegedly participated in vote trading. However, does the new system favor technical skating over artistry now?
The intent was to remove any possible national bias. I think it has definitely removed the worst infractions of the past. Any new system takes a while for people — judges, coaches and skaters — to learn. While it may appear that the male skater who successfully executes a quadruple jump becomes the champion, it usually means he was equally strong in other areas and better overall than the other skaters. There have also been skaters who can do the tricks, but are just not good skaters. Hopefully, we as judges are doing a better job at scoring that appropriately. Skating is a combination of artistry and sport. One of the many good aspects of the new system is it gives us five ways to evaluate the artistic aspect of figure skating, including choreography, performance and music interpretation.

What are the similarities between being an Olympian and a successful business leader?
It’s about having a vision of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish, and then preparing and successfully executing a strategy. It’s important to form collaborative teams and bring together people who have the same vision who can help and support you.

Photo courtesy of Taffy Holliday ’85