Why Figure Skating Is Not A SportPosted: February 6, 2014
Tonight, the Olympic Games open in Sochi, Russia.
If we can all put aside the silly idea of holding the Winter Olympics in a subtropical city that somehow has neither stray dogs or gay people, I’d like to discuss the real fallacy of the winter games.
The people in the photo on the right were the favorites to win the gold medal in ice dancing in Vancouver. Their costumes were part of their routine which was a tribute to the culture of Australia’s Aborigines.
How on earth did they convince themselves this was a good idea?
Actually though, this strangeness is a symptom of a larger problem – the intrusion of something which is not really a sport into the Olympics.
What Is A Sport?
Sports are contests of skill which are not subjective. While these contests may have officials, those officials are not judges who directly decide the outcome of the contest.
Ice dancing is a contest of skill which is completely subjective. The officials are judges; what they say determines the outcome of the contest.
If That’s How Sports Work…
Let’s extend the discussion. Suppose we apply the style of judging used in ice dancing on other winter sports? We’ll do that with downhill skiing, hockey and luge.
Suppose that the skier at left rockets from the top to the bottom of the mountain in less than two minutes. She is very impressive. Her closest opponent is a full second slower. Under the current system, our example skier is the clear and uncontested winner.
But if we use the ice dancing standard, we find that the second skier wins.
Why? Because while she was quite fast, our rapid skier did not smile and it was difficult to determine her motivation for going fast. The slightly slower skier was radiant as she sped through the course and communicated a bond with the snow that allowed her to slide down the mountain.
The slower skier is the winner.
Is that fair? No, not really.
I wonder if it would be more fair in hockey?
The 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team beat powerhouse teams from Russia and Finland on the way to winning the gold medal. How did they win? They scored more points than the teams they beat by putting the puck in the goal the most.
But what if the US team never made it to the finals because their uniforms did not represent the indigenous culture of their nation as well as the one worn by the Soviets? What if they lost because The Lithuanian judge didn’t like how the players entered the ice?
And what of the silliest looking Olympic sport – the Luge?
In the Luge, competitors put on a helmet and a full body condom, then lie flat on a heavy sled with sharp runners and slide down a long ice chute.
As the rules stand, whoever makes it to the bottom of the chute in the shortest time, without soiling themselves, is the Gold Medalist, followed by the next two fastest people as the Silver and Bronze Medalists.
Should we or could we accept the winner being changed because he failed to point his toe correctly? Or because his pace moving down the track did not properly match the tempo of the music he selected?
All That Requires Skill Is Not Sport
My examples are clearly ridiculous. Do you know what else is ridiculous? Lumping that photo at the top of the page with the category of sport.
Ice dancers are talented. No one should ever take that from them, least of all someone like me, who can’t even stand up on skates. I respect their talent, but their talent is more of an art, not a sport. Ice Dancing, and related events are arts that require endurance and athleticism.
There are competitions in all sorts of artistic endeavors – dance, music, sculpture, writing. Dance and sculpture are not Olympic events. It’s not likely there will be a medal for essayists any time soon either.
The Olympics aren’t the proper venue for arts competition.
When victory turns on an official’s subjective judgement on points of artistic merit, the realm of sport is not where that competition belongs.