Do we really need “judged” events in the Olympics?

posted at 6:31 pm on February 9, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

First the good news. The USA got some medal action in the opening rounds of the Olympics in Sochi. And at least one of them was in … snowboarding.

Five medals gold down, 93 more to go. The first full day of competition at the Sochi Olympics featured an unexpected snowboard gold, a medal shutout for the home team, sweet figure skating redemption and seemingly more interest abroad in these Games, than at home.

First, the surprise. When Shaun White dropped out less than 24 hours before qualification for the snowboard slopestyle event, no one thought his 20-year-old teammate would win the first gold medal of these Games. Sage Kotsenburg, who defines being chill, seemed as surprised as everyone else.

At the start of the day, the Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High doppelganger tweeted: “Whoa how random is this I made finals at the Olympics!!!” A few hours later, he became the first American since 1952 to win the first gold medal of a Winter Olympics. So how did he feel? Stoked, of course, after such a sick run, he said.

Slopestyle.

Stoked.

Sick run.

Congratulations to Sage Kotsenburg. It’s an accomplishment to be sure. But it brings up a nagging question about the most modern versions of these games. The opening days saw competition not just in snowboarding slopestyle, but in various figure skating events. These competitions – along with others here and in the summer Olympics – all have one thing in common; they require the scores of judges to determine the winner.

Do we really need this? The idea of a competitive “sport” – and the Olympics is supposed to be all about the idea of peaceful international competition – seems to be flushed down the drain when you start bringing judges into it. When I was a young man, it used to be standard fare on Saturday Night Live to make jokes about “the East German judge” screwing up the outcome of the events. (Some of our younger readers may have to Google that one, but there was an “East Germany” at one time.) It seemed as if people were actually surprised that an outside viewer might allow personal or international bias and interests to corrupt the purity of the Olympic scoring process.

But nothing has changed, except possibly the names and biases of the judges involved. Or maybe they’re just crazy. Who knows? But the point here is that the winner of the competition should be determined by the competitors with a clear outcome demonstrated by somebody winning. That was the basis of all the original events. One wrestler would pin the other. The fastest racer crosses the line first. The boxers knocked each other out. Even in skiing we at least see most of the events decided by who makes it down the hill fastest.

Now we have dancing on ice, dancing on mats with sticks and ribbons, and “sick” spinning jumps on snowboards. If you’re going to have a snowboard competition, either base it on who makes it to the bottom of the hill first or at least give them each a baseball bat. The one who crosses the finish line with the least bruises wins. Just give us a real sporting competition where we don’t have to wait for judges to add up their own observations on the merits of the play. That’s not a sport. It’s performance art.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Let me get this straight. We need to get rid of ski jumping and wrestling and boxing and all of the freestyle skiing and judo and gymnastics and figure skating and dressage and rhythmic gymnastics and all diving and synchronized swimming (I’m probably leaving out a whole bunch).

Now let’s also throw out all the sports where refereeing hugely tips the scales. There goes hockey (remember the US ref in the US vs Canada women’s game?), volleyball, walking events, water polo and even swimming (did you stay submerged too long? is that really a breast stroke?). Short track has so many fouls, the results can be totally whimsical.

Tennis can probably remain given the new technology. But some events like freestyle cross country vs traditional style need policing.

About the only objective sports left are some running events, maybe cycling, cross country skiing, some alpine events, some field events. Pretty boring stuff except for the fascinating chess match that is curling (possibly the most objective sport there is!!)

Personally, I’ll take figure skating. Sure there’s corruption, but at least with the new judging system, you can see how they do it. The fingerprints are there for all to see.

MichiCanuck on February 9, 2014 at 8:49 PM

How else would they burst into tears like Boehner from joy of victory or screwed by the Russian judge?

viking01 on February 9, 2014 at 8:56 PM

MichiCanuck,

Jazz only wants to get rid of the events where judges completely determine the winner, not eliminate all “human error” and subjectivity. Your second and third paragraphs are a bit ridiculous.

prof.young on February 9, 2014 at 8:59 PM

My solution: Don’t watch the Olympics. Sports are something you do, not something you watch. And the Olympics wastes more money and involve more corruption than any other “professional” sport.

Socratease on February 9, 2014 at 9:23 PM

Figure skating has changed it’s judging system since Salt Lake. There are now assigned points for various skills- jumps, spins, footwork passes etc. The rules have provisions for bonus points or deductions based on the execution of an element. If in doubt, they do use taped replay to make sure jump revolutions are complete, to count the number of turns in a spin, etc if there is any question. It’s still subjective to some degree. There are points given for things besides technical elements, kind of a general impression category, which are more subjective and subject to mischief, but there has been a concerted effort to codify the performance of a skater to make the sport less susceptible to “East German judges.”

limmo on February 9, 2014 at 9:24 PM

Prof.young,

While he may have used hyperbole or try making a point, I think it is clear that many sports rely on a subjective evaluation by a “judge” on some factors that affect the result. And judges are constrained by both external factor, such as degree of difficulty, and institutional ones like peer review.

Do I like it when they make a bad call? NO! But that will happen. You would drop a lot of sports if you dropped all judged events and even more if you really want to eliminate the possibility of human bias from affecting the results.

Just more Jazz ranting about stuff he doesn’t bother studying.

OBQuiet on February 9, 2014 at 9:25 PM

If some of you old fogeys don’t want to watch snowboarding or gymnastics and want to say things like “stoked” “sick” to make fun, then fine. blah … blah … blah

bluegill on February 9, 2014 at 6:46 PM

.
Your twitter account has been suspended, bird fishbrain.
.
This is exactly the attitude and approach that many of us were lambasting you for using while then turning around and whining about how badly you have been treated here at Hot Gas. You really know how to make friends, don’t you, finny? Anybody with a different opinion or attitude deserves scorn, from you, the most ardent of Mitt-bots? You should go sit in the corner and think about it, scaly one.

ExpressoBold on February 9, 2014 at 9:32 PM

Oh, heck. Let’s just give them all a Participation Trophy and finish with a group hug.

joecollins on February 9, 2014 at 9:37 PM

I say cancel all the olympics. huge waste of money.

dmacleo on February 9, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Kind of reminds me of the Eurovision Song Contest. It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the music and everything to do with petty European rivalry. Le Royaume-Uni: Nil points!

Sharke on February 9, 2014 at 10:02 PM

If some of you old fogeys don’t want to watch snowboarding or gymnastics and want to say things like “stoked” “sick” to make fun, then fine. blah … blah … blah

bluegill on February 9, 2014 at 6:46 PM

For the 3rd Olympics in a row, Bob Ross gets the gold in water painting.

BobMbx on February 9, 2014 at 10:04 PM

Oh, heck. Let’s just give them all a Participation Trophy and finish with a group hug.
joecollins on February 9, 2014 at 9:37 PM

What do participation trophies have to do with anything? Anyone with two eyes and an understanding of the event can tell that snowboarders like White and Japan’s Hirano are the best. Their half-pipe showdown is going to be one of the biggest audience draws this week. The snowboarding half-pipe event is thrilling to watch and its competitors display tremendous athletic talent and need years of training.

Personally, I’ll take figure skating. Sure there’s corruption, but at least with the new judging system, you can see how they do it. The fingerprints are there for all to see.
MichiCanuck on February 9, 2014 at 8:49 PM

Exactly. You can see how the scoring was done.

Anyway, my favorite events to watch are beach volleyball and swimming. Diving and snowboarding are also fun.

bluegill on February 9, 2014 at 10:17 PM

ExpressoBold on February 9, 2014 at 9:32 PM

Oh, please. I was just teasing. But I do think people are kind of like fuddy-duddies if they want to remove from the Olympics all these great events. What does it hurt them if people enjoy them and appreciate the athletic talent of the competitors involved?

bluegill on February 9, 2014 at 10:21 PM

I think figure skating could benefit from having someone else out there on the ice playing defense.

jdpaz on February 9, 2014 at 10:34 PM

I can’t imagine the Olympics without figure skating or gymnastics. Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hammill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan, so many more. I don’t know why they have to keep changing the scoring, but I don’t know why the NFL keeps mucking around with its rules and scoring either.

talkingpoints on February 9, 2014 at 11:07 PM

As a former competitive skater, I despised the judging. Don’t think politics is only international, when it comes to judging….it’s at the local, regional, and national level, too.

However, if you aren’t going to judge figure skating, how else would you determine a winner?

herm2416 on February 9, 2014 at 11:20 PM

Wow, and I thought *I* was the cynical old frump.

SomeCallMeJohn on February 9, 2014 at 11:34 PM

Oh, please. I was just teasing. …

bluegill on February 9, 2014 at 10:21 PM

.
Hilarious !!!!! Your teasing reads just like your crabbing and grousing

ExpressoBold on February 9, 2014 at 11:44 PM

My solution: Don’t watch the Olympics. Sports are something you do, not something you watch. And the Olympics wastes more money and involve more corruption than any other “professional” sport.

Socratease on February 9, 2014 at 9:23 PM

I like the Olympics. And I’ll be watching, not doing. I’m old. There would be way less cost and corruption if we (Olympic committee) didn’t award it to a different city every 4 years at the cost of billions. Just build a “village” in Greece permanent…And somewhere really cold for the winter Olympics (barring global warm…climate change). A good part of the problem is the awarded locations by the committee, Sochi?? Next door to a terrorist islamist state.

chewydog on February 10, 2014 at 12:57 AM

There are a few snowboard events that are based on time, like slalom and giant slalom, and the winner of Snowboard Cross is the first across the finish line.

Still, watching snowboarders do slalom or GS is like watching skiers at 3/4 speed.

Reno_Dave on February 10, 2014 at 1:00 AM

I’d have to agree with Jazz. The proof is that in judged events it’s de rigueur the highest and lowest score gets tossed because they are assumed to be biased. After that you have the bias towards big names. Often times those going out early receive low scores no matter how well they did because they don’t want to set the bar so high the favorites can’t top it or give the judges enough room to make that happen.

Rocks on February 10, 2014 at 1:02 AM

That’s not a sport. It’s performance art.

Amen, Amen and Amen.

Theophile on February 10, 2014 at 1:44 AM

The Olympic Games have always been about money, even during the days of the ancient Greeks. Today, we’ve got nation states involved as well as so-called NGOs, and the athletes come in last. The “amateur” myth is just a means of letting others keep money the athletes earn.

flataffect on February 10, 2014 at 1:45 AM

My solution: Don’t watch the Olympics. Sports are something you do, not something you watch. And the Olympics wastes more money and involve more corruption than any other “professional” sport.

Socratease on February 9, 2014 at 9:23 PM

Thanks for writing that, you saved me the time.

Splashman on February 10, 2014 at 2:42 AM

I don’t mind ‘judged’ events, except in the past the judges were not honest, there was a lot of boosting your countrymen in judging, and even some dealmaking. I thought we were done with that, until last night I saw one of a Russian pair stumble – and still come in first!

Johnny 100 Pesos on February 10, 2014 at 4:51 AM

I wrote my name in the snow with my wee wee. I got an 8.5 from a squirrel.

WhatSlushfund on February 10, 2014 at 5:07 AM

You mean like gymnastics and figure skating ? “Judged” events are not new. Just an FYI there.

deadrody on February 10, 2014 at 7:49 AM

However, if you aren’t going to judge figure skating, how else would you determine a winner?

herm2416 on February 9, 2014 at 11:20 PM

Um, well, how about going back to just the “figure skating” where everyone can see how well you did because it is carved in the ice? But TV would not like that…

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on February 10, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Are any of my tax dollars going to pay for the Olympics?

If not, then it’s not my business what it includes or does not include. That is up to the people who pay for it.

If some of my tax dollars are going to pay for it, then WTF?? I still don’t care what it does or does not include. Just stop robbing me to pay for it.

fadetogray on February 10, 2014 at 8:45 AM

You want to do away with moments like Kerri Strug’s vault in 1996? Why do you hate America so much?

tlynch001 on February 10, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I watch less and less. Figure skating has always been badly judged – and names win, not skill. If they assume you are good, and you perform later than earlier, your chances are better. Essentially, going later in your program determines the winners. If you draw first might as well skip it – you aren’t going to win. SOmeone falls in skating the other day and since they were a name and went later they still finished higher.

A joke. They are creating more things to fill in more TV time because it sells ad time.

Its turning into a network sitcom or drama. And I don’t watch nay of that anymore either.

Zomcon JEM on February 10, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Question should be “Do we really need the Winter Olympics?”

The Olympic movement was supposed to be about sport, not about the commercial value of the broadcast, and the political pants dropping it takes to get it.

oldroy on February 10, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Five medals gold down, 93 more to go.

What language is that?

justltl on February 10, 2014 at 9:06 AM

And WTF is with Costas’ eye?

justltl on February 10, 2014 at 9:12 AM

My solution: Don’t watch the Olympics. Sports are something you do, not something you watch. And the Olympics wastes more money and involve more corruption than any other “professional” sport.

Socratease on February 9, 2014 at 9:23 PM

And don’t watch football either. It’s always the same outcome. One team wins. One loses. In the end, who really cares?

thuja on February 10, 2014 at 9:14 AM

BTW, here’s how I scored the Olympics thus far:

Elena Ilinyykh 8.9

Jamie Anderson 7.0

Ashley Wagner 7.6

Meryl Davis 4.1

justltl on February 10, 2014 at 10:07 AM

The ice-fishing competition is my favorite. Ole Arnessen going for his fourth straight gold medal.

Anti-Statist on February 10, 2014 at 10:48 AM

That Norwegian female snowboarder is HOT.

Anti-Statist on February 10, 2014 at 10:49 AM

I wrote my name in the snow with my wee wee. I got an 8.5 from a squirrel.

WhatSlushfund on February 10, 2014 at 5:07 AM

Sophomoric, but pretty darned funny!

The only problem with that event is that it puts women at a disadvantage. War on Women, Sexism!!!

Oh, the MISOGYNY!!!!!!

That’s why I prefer the equally exciting couples curling and transgender snow angel events.

ZeusGoose on February 10, 2014 at 11:02 AM

What was worse than the East German judges was the East German women athletes that had 5 o’clock shadows, a jock strap, and a body like an NFL linebacker.

Cliff by the Ford on February 10, 2014 at 11:25 AM

You want to do away with moments like Kerri Strug’s vault in 1996? Why do you hate America so much?

tlynch001 on February 10, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I had a Russian friend in grad school that said that the judging for that vault was rigged and sympathy got her the gold medal, not the vault.

cptacek on February 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM

You want to do away with moments like Kerri Strug’s vault in 1996? Why do you hate America so much?

tlynch001 on February 10, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I had a Russian friend in grad school that said that the judging for that vault was rigged and sympathy got her the gold medal, not the vault.

I bet your friend did. Haters going to hate.

tlynch001 on February 10, 2014 at 11:37 AM

Stick a vault with a broken ankle, you deserve a gold.

Cliff by the Ford on February 10, 2014 at 11:38 AM

I think we need some Olympics every year. We can fill in the two missing years with the Spring Olympics and the Fall Olympics.

AverageJoe on February 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Unknown at the time Kerri Strug didn’t need to do that second vault. Despite the American team’s struggle in that event, other teams were having problems on the other events also. Kerri Strug’s first vault was good enough for the gold already.

hadsil on February 10, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I have always had problems with judged sports, as they are not really “head to head” competition but rely on subjective opinion and bias. And I don’t really see most “judged” events as “sports” in the traditional sense. I’m hard pressed to think of figure skating as a sport. Obviously, I understand that it takes incredible talent and discipline to do it – I’m not denying that. I just don’t see it as a sport (likewise, I don’t see race-car driving as a sport).

However, I’m always pulled up short at completely objecting to the concept because of Boxing. I like boxing and believe it is clearly a sport. But, if a knockout is not achieved, it must be decided by judging.

I would reduce the Olympics to events that are considered sports and that are not judged – but I would make an exception for boxing. I guess I would call it the “potential for an objective outcome without judging” exception. If the sport has that potential (i.e., the potential for a knockout), then it can be a sport.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t fly as some of the most popular events of both summer and winter Olympics are judged events – figure skating and gymnastics.

As an aside, I watched the women’s speed skating yesterday, and there is absolutely no drama in it, because it is against the clock only – they aren’t “racing” in the traditional sense of the best 2 or 3 getting through all their heats and facing off, where you can see who is ahead and who behind. Instead, you have the announcer telling you “she’s having a really good race here”. It was completely boring. No excitement at all. Even the athletes participating looked bored. And this is an event that could be head-to-head racing but is done by clock instead.

Main reasons the Olympics have lost any excitement:

1. allowing professionals to compete;
2. break-up of USSR (no more U.S. versus USSR storyline);
3. the explosion of events.

So, you have a diluted product with little drama that nobody really wants to see.

Monkeytoe on February 10, 2014 at 12:54 PM

I like the Olympics. And I’ll be watching, not doing. I’m old. There would be way less cost and corruption if we (Olympic committee) didn’t award it to a different city every 4 years at the cost of billions. Just build a “village” in Greece permanent…And somewhere really cold for the winter Olympics (barring global warm…climate change). A good part of the problem is the awarded locations by the committee, Sochi?? Next door to a terrorist islamist state.

chewydog on February 10, 2014 at 12:57 AM

That’s a good idea. Stop moving it around. Stop allowing professionals to participate. and cut the events to traditional sports – not all the new stuff.

Monkeytoe on February 10, 2014 at 12:58 PM

There would be way less cost and corruption if we (Olympic committee) didn’t award it to a different city every 4 years at the cost of billions. Just build a “village” in Greece permanent…

chewydog on February 10, 2014 at 12:57 AM

Wow, I didn’t even read this post until Monkeytoe reposted it. Yes! That would also do a great deal to reinforce Western Civilization, and to further establish a new front back into that region, and then into the Middle East, which was at one time widely Christian, not Islamic.

I won’t lie. I want new Crusades. I’m serious. I want this now.

WhatSlushfund on February 10, 2014 at 2:04 PM

I watch less and less. Figure skating has always been badly judged – and names win, not skill. If they assume you are good, and you perform later than earlier, your chances are better. Essentially, going later in your program determines the winners. If you draw first might as well skip it – you aren’t going to win. SOmeone falls in skating the other day and since they were a name and went later they still finished higher.

A joke. They are creating more things to fill in more TV time because it sells ad time.

Its turning into a network sitcom or drama. And I don’t watch nay of that anymore either.

Zomcon JEM on February 10, 2014 at 8:50 AM

I’m not sure if your are aware of this (and your attitude suggests you aren’t), but most competitions are seeded and the higher ranked skaters will skate later in the competition. Similar things are done in some so-called objective sports. In many cases, short program start orders are randomized. This was a huge problem with the old 6.0 system, but is a much smaller problem with the current IJS system. Mark inflation is still a problem, but it is much less serious now.

There are obvious cases of favoritism. Often you will hear color commentators talking about a lack of movement in placements in Ice Dancing with the simple comment “It’s dance”. Having said that the skill level of the top US and Canadian teams is absolutely spectacular. However, I must say that Plushy should have been awarded a gold watch and an Irving Thalberg lifetime achievement award rather than a gold medal. Shudder.

MichiCanuck on February 10, 2014 at 2:33 PM

The commercials are much better than those during the Superbowl.

justltl on February 10, 2014 at 9:22 PM

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