U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon earned a bronze medal in his Olympic debut on Monday, but his free-skating routine left some spectators wondering why he didn’t place even higher than two skaters who fell during their routines.
Still, Canadian skater Patrick Chan and Mikhail Kolyada, an Olympic athlete from Russia — both of whom fell during their performances — placed first and second, respectively. It led some viewers to complain that Rippon had been robbed of a gold or silver medal, but it all comes down to figure skating’s complex scoring system.
Since 2006, the figure-skating scoring system has rewarded difficulty, assigning points to various jumps based on how difficult they are to master. Chan and Kolyada completed some more challenging jumps and spins that added up to higher scores, even after factoring in the one-point deduction for their falls. While Rippon’s skate was smooth and impressive for other reasons, he did not perform a quadruple jump, a challenging move that requires four turns. That is part of what contributed to his technical score being lower than the others.
The quadruple jump has been a point of controversy before. In the 2010 winter Olympics, U.S. skater Evan Lysacek won a gold medal without completing a quadruple jump, drawing criticism from Russian skater Yevgeny Plushenko, who came in second and argued that no competitor should win Olympic gold without doing a quadruple jump.
In addition to a technical score, a figure skater’s final score also takes other components into account, including skating skills, transitions, performance and interpretation of the music. That part of Rippon’s score was higher than Kolyada’s by a fraction of a point, but it wasn’t enough to bring his total score into second place.
Regardless, Rippon, the first openly gay American man to compete in the Winter Games, seemed pleased with his third-place finish.
“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” he told TIME. “Now I am actually an Olympian. They have footage, they can pull it up. Let the record show that Adam Rippon is an Olympian.”
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