Why Figure Skating Is Not A Sport

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.

I’m offended, and I’ve never even been to Australia (image via nytimes.com)

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.

You are the fastest, unfortunately…

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?

Goal!!! Unfortunately, you are not fabulous.

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?

Silly times two.

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

Can’t skate. Doesn’t want to.

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.

46 Comments on “Why Figure Skating Is Not A Sport”

  1. Nicole says:

    So…what do you make of the snowboarding half pipe?

    • omawarisan says:

      Good question. Equally a skill, very athletic. Competition worthy, but if I look at it and say it was a 5 and you look and say 6…not a sport.

      • Nicole says:

        Fair enough. There have been plenty of scandal in ice skating regarding judges pressuring other judges to give certain performers better scores. Don’t think I’ve ever heard of any snowboarding scandals, but I’m sure there have been.

  2. Debbie says:

    So that’s why I never thought of Ice Dancing as a real sport! I’d been wondering. Thank you for solving the mystery. You make excellent points (not that the Olympic gurus will listen, though). “Art” isn’t a sport. Beautiful, talented people doing amazing things on ice skates aren’t athletes, and subjective judging must be maddening for them. I won’t even think about people who slide downhill on their backs, head first. They must have a death wish.

  3. Todd says:

    I found a factual error in today’s post: “The silliest looking Olympic sport” is, in fact, the one where the teenage girls prance around and wave a long streamer on a stick. Just thought you should know, should you ever revisit this topic.

    • omawarisan says:

      Good point. It is the silliest in the winter games.

      As a side note, I saw a between inning promotion at a minor league baseball game where they gave those ribbons to men. Very silly.

  4. This reminds me of a set or interview i heard with Patrice O’Neal about sport vs. talent/skill. Downhill skiing is athleticism and skill, but unless you have people on the course that you need to dodge to keep them from tackling you, then it’s not a “sport”. He had other examples too, but that is the only one I can remember right off.

    • omawarisan says:

      But it is measurable. If you get downhill in the shortest time you win. But the stunt ski things fall into the same category as figure skating. Was that flip an 8 or 9?

  5. Karen says:

    I’d forgotten about the Australian Aborigine costume. When I saw the featured image, I thought it was a gingerbread man. So much for my ability to interpret ‘artistic impression.’

  6. robincoyle says:

    “Full body condom.” Brilliant.

    And I completely agree with you!

  7. paragon42 says:

    Some of the competitions, while maybe not being sports, are not subjective either. Like most of the gymnastics routines. Each gymnast starts with a ’10,’ and, having pre-notified the judges what their routine will consist of, they go out and do it. For each technical error, a certain, previously agreed upon amount is removed from the final score. It is up to the judges to notice these technical errors, but they don’t catch all of them, which is why the scores don’t always agree.

    Still, not a sport.

  8. No way! What about “curling?” That is some kind of silly.

    To be fair, ice dancing is a FORM of figure skating but figure skating also includes individual, pairs, and team. Everyone gets excited about the individual and pairs more than anything. I am more of an individual and pairs fan, myself. I would be cool with ice dancing being taken off the Olympics BUT you can’t take figure skating away! Using that rationale, you’d have to take gymnastics away, too, which has costuming, music, choreography, and artistic elements. But figure skating is a total body, demanding, athletic endeavor with lots of requirements for jumps, etc. Art does not have requirements for triple lutzes; sports does. Art is creativity, pure and simple, unhampered by rules. Figure skating is ALL about the rules. Covered by sports writers :) It deserves its place in the Olympics.

  9. Dan Hennessy says:

    Made your point . Brilliant .

  10. dentaleggs says:

    Olympic figure skater, Scott Brown, attended the elementary school our daughter goes to now. Her school is having a pep rally in his honor tomorrow. Syd said, “We have to wear white, blue, and red even though he’s not going to be there.”

    Skating is awesome. Sport? Not sure.

    Anyway, I’m gonna do up Syd’s hair with a mini American flag she has in her room. Is that blasphemy?

  11. pegoleg says:

    Boy are you clueless. I’m training night and day to make the U.S. Downhill Limerick team.

  12. Granite Jet says:

    This is exactly the kind of thing I tell my friends when they claim marching band is a sport. I often use war as an analogy: it requires endurance and athleticism, but its main purpose is fighting. This post, however, is far better (and funnier) than my explanation, and I’ll definitely use it next time such an issue comes up.

    • omawarisan says:

      My son marches. I think he’d agree.

      That’s not to take anything from marching band members. It is an athletic endeavor, one that takes endurance and precision. And someone else decides when you breathe.

      But a sport? No. The competitions are subjectively judged.

  13. Honestly, I would rather watch that guy in the last picture than any of the Olympics. Maybe he could teach me how to play our didgeridoo.

  14. a-wonderer says:

    I never thought about it this way… I completely agree though – same goes for cheerleading and ballet I suppose?

  15. 1jaded1 says:

    Agree, neither should be classified as sports…Go Skeleton…that is a sport!

  16. Rumor has it the Seahawks would’ve won the Super Bowl even if they had scored fewer points than the Broncos, because their uniforms were snappier.

  17. Figure skating kind of reminds me of Dancing With the Stars. I never watch either one of them, because I’m too busy chopping wood out back or putting new brake pads on my pick-up truck.

  18. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m with you. It’s not a sport. It’s a skill and it involves dancing well on ice, which is a skill. Frankly, most people who are into sports can only relate to the most obvious of scoring methods. That’s what determines it’s a sport. Simple, obvious ways to determine that someone won. Like getting to the finish line first or slapping the puck into the goal the most times or running across the line with a ball into the end zone. Straightforward visual stuff that uses very simple math.

  19. FiddlinErin says:

    I’m reminded of Monty Python’s ridiculous sporting events.

    And I completely agree with you.

    I would be interested to see the difference between Winter Essay Writing and Summer Essay Writing events, if purely out of a Monty-Python-esque enjoyment mindset. ;-)

  20. Melissa Hollingsworth says:

    So, talking about ridiculous looking sports, what is your view on curling?

  21. Anonymous says:

    That picture looks like a clip from SNL.

  22. I tend to agree with almost everything you said except one thing: I do not care if the Luge “drivers” soil themselves as long as the are the quickest to the line!
    I find it appropriate that you say they “put on… and full body condom” because it takes a big set to do this!

  23. liamiman says:

    This was so funny. I LOVE figure skating but I completely agree with you.

  24. […] just like the blogger Blurt posited in one of his posts, when he spoke about figure skating at the Olympics, some events […]

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