Saturday, February 22, 2014

Figure Skating Judging Controversy Just Part of the Olympics

Image from NBCOlympics

If you’ve been following the 2014 Sochi Olympics, you have probably seen or heard the controversy surrounding the women’s figure skating competition.  American skater Ashley Wagner sums it up nicely feeling “gypped” by the judges placing behind skaters who fell during their programs.

The controversy is only gaining traction, because of the relationship of one of the Russian judges to the head of a Russian ice skating organization.  One of things that I think is adding fuel to the fire is that figure skating is something of sport that Americans care about every four years.

How many people can tell you who won the Super Bowl?  Now as that same person the identity of the US Figure Skating Champion.  Smart money says you get blank stare or an answer along the lines of Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan, or Kristi Yamaguchi.  The point is most Americans are not experts on the fine art of figure skating.

Double Inks

The basics of a triple lutz, triple sowcow, or other feats of incredible effort that many of those women, men, and pairs executes escapes us (I’m not sure how the spell them).  That means our confidence is placed squarely in the hands of the judges.  We know if they fall, that’s probably not good.

Are sports with judges really sports?  Granted it’s not the NFL, but I think gymnasts, divers, skiers, and other athletes would take an issue with a negative answer.  These people put their bodies through extreme situations, try and jump and spin around twice.  Now do it three times, let alone the crazy athleticism of a snow boarder on a half pipe—judges again.

The situation in Sochi is bent on a lack of understanding.  I like Ashley Wagner, I think she is a fabulous skater, and she put on a great program and performance.  As did every skater I saw on the ice, even that 15-year old Russian girl who pulls her leg to her head while spins around at Mach 2.  I can’t say what nuance separates a Gold Medal from a Bronze Medal or no medal at all.  There is no scoreboard, no touchdowns, no goals, no homeruns, and no finish line.  That means no clear measure of victory, which is a problem.

All the skaters are graceful and elegant and possess raw talent and power that most of us can only appreciate from our couches.  I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that folks are weighing in on the Olympic judging controversy without really knowing what they are talking about.  Ashley Wagner’s comments matter because she knows what she is talking about.  She’s a figure skater.

This thing will blow over and go away eventually, because it’s the Olympics.  Was it fair?  Who knows?  However, until there is some way to communicate exactly what separates first place from last (besides the falling thing) situations like this are bound to creep up from time to time.  Especially when the judges could be compromised or at least have questionable allegiances to different organizations.  

Maybe they should go American Idol style and let viewers vote via the Internet?  Yeah, that will fix everything.

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