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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