Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Biennial Olympic Rant

The Olympics are here. I enjoy watching the Olympics on TV (with some exceptions; see below) and especially enjoy seeing all the athletes march in during the Opening Ceremony. It will probably be the brightest light and the greatest attention that single soul from Ghana will enjoy during the Games—but more power to him! I also enjoy seeing the statistics about how many athletes come from which country, and wonder why Lichtenstein has several more olympians than Mexico, a country with 3,000 times its population. And that one athlete from Mexico looks downright European.

I wonder why some events are in the Olympics. To me, events should meet one (or more) of three significant criteria before the event should be in the Olympics:

1. A winner can be determined by the use of a stopwatch. In: Downhill skiing, speed skating

2. A winner can be determined by the use of a tape measure. In: Ski jumping (sans judging)

3. A winner can be determined by some sort of predetermined, objective scoring system. In: Hockey, curling, biathalon

Events should also represent activities that meet one or more of these criteria:

1. Some sizable number of people, at some time during human history, engaged in the event or something similar. In: Cross-country skiing, biathalon

2. The event is, and has been, widely popular in some portion of the world. In: Hockey, bobsled

3. The winner is not determined by judges using subjective criteria. Referees or similar officials are acceptable if their purpose is to enforce the rules of the event.

Based on these criteria, certain events should be removed from the Olympics as soon as possible. Here are my top candidates:

1. Figure skating (all categories). The winners are decided by judges, using incomprehensible criteria (if any). There has been widespread speculation, as well as evidence, that corrupt deals have been made in the past to help/hurt certain competitors. Not exactly the Olympic spirit, if you ask me.

The only reason this is an Olympic event is because of its huge TV ratings. Some watch for the beauty and athleticism; others for the NASCAR-esque joy of watching a wipeout. Are these athletes talented? Certainly. Are they enjoyable to watch? Often, yes. Olympic medals? No way.

Miscellaneous observation: Virtually all figure skating commentators should be banned from TV, radio, or other public media forever. Corollary: If John Madden returns to a broadcast booth, put him here. A match made in heaven, right?

2. Moguls/Snowboarding/Freestyle skiing: ESPN invented the X Games for such things as this. These are judged events that only a handful of crazy (though talented) souls have ever safely attempted in the course of human history.

Miscellaneous observation: Do any of them dress normally and wear normal-looking hair? Why is this?

3. Short track skating (in its current form): If this could simply be a matter of each competitor being timed and the best time wins, I'd be all for it. Instead, it resembles roller derby and requires officials to determine whether a bump disqualifies the bumper...etc.

Miscellaneous observation: We got two medals in this sport for no other reason than one Korean made a stupid move. This is not the greatest source of national pride we could have...but we'll take the medals.

Events that are of dubious value:

1. Two-man luge: Why? Whose idea was this, anyway? Move this sport to the X Games, but keep single-man luge. Sledding has historic value, right?

2. Ski jumping with judging: Why the need for judges? Shouldn't it just be whoever goes the farthest and lands on their skis gets the prizes? And if they do a backflip in the air, so what?

3. Skeleton: Just how is this different from luge? Could these events be combined somehow? How many people have a "skeleton" in the garage? How many know what it is, or where it is used?

In any case, I'm rooting for the Americans in all the events...even the dubious ones.

Update: My rant really is biennial; here is the previous installment.


LoneWolfArcher said...

Interesting. I don't necessarily agree. I think doing things where judging is more fair (multiple nations, real ability to track why a judge scored something a certain way, etc) can help.

I have a coworker that agrees with you on judged events. However, while there is occasionally an issue (like the Canadian pair that go scammed a couple of Olympics ago), overall judged events have been judged pretty fairly.

Brenda said...

Totally agree with you on the X games-esqe snowboarding ridiculousness. That doesn't even RESEMBLE anything Olympics.....totally subjective!!
But figure skating???? Seriously? Ouch!!! That is by far my very most favorite part of the winter Olympics!! If it weren't for the skating, I probably wouldn't even watch them except for the opening. So I would like to offer a couple reasons to reconsider your stand on this event:

1. Figure skating has been a part of the winter Olympics for decades and decades.

2. The scoring system has had obvious flaws and that is the reason they have tried overhauling it here recently. This has only made things worse in my estimation, but I think it's worth noting that the officials are at least trying to fix the issue. I also think that's what makes it so interesting to watch....

3. I do love the fact that these are amateur athletes, and that they are not in it for the money. There is more of an innocence and genuine athleticism involved here than the professional athletes that are driven purely by money. Almost all have some story behind them of trial by fire to get to the Olympics and it's inspiring to see them all give their best effort to reach a goal instead of satisfying a sponsors paycheck.

4. Figure skating is a wonderful combination of sport and art. Unless you've been on ice skates regularly, it's hard to remember how easy those skaters make those spins and jumps and smiles on their faces look!!

Please, loose the snowboards, keep the figure skaters!!!

P.S. And doesn't Shaun White just LOOK like he stinks??

Ken said...


Your impassioned comments merit a response.

Points of agreement: Snowboards, Shawn White. I even agree with you on point #4.

I have no quibble with anyone who enjoys watching ice skating (although I'd rather watch hockey); in fact, there are several times a year when it appears on television. The ratings clearly indicate there is a market for the sport--especially during the Olympics.

My main argument against it is that the judging is very subjective and the judges' biases often impact the results. I would hate to be the figure skater who had all those "trials by fire" only to come in 4th because some judge from a country that hates America deep-sixed me with his scores.

Ice skating competitions are fine...just don't include them as Olympic events.

And oh by the way...did NBC's commercials the past couple days for ice dancing strike anyone else as having an over-the-line emphasis on sexuality?

Brenda said...

Ooooh....totally agree on the ice dancing!! That one can go as far as I'm concerned!! It differs from regular pairs skating in that there is a limitation to the lifts they can do...I believe the man cannot lift the woman above his head or shoulders. I also believe they have to stay together at all skating apart. So what is left I might ask? I told my husband that to keep people's attention for the full 4 minutes they wear provocative costumes and basically "do the deed" right there on the ice!! Not a staple for the Olympics in my humble opinion.