February 13, 2010

Sliding it right by you again

From my 2002 Winter Olympics blogging:
Judging Skating: An irony of the figure skating pairs controversy is that one of the flagrantly biased NBC announcers, Scott Hamilton, was the beneficiary of one of the most rigged decisions in skating history. Coming into the 1984 Games, Scott had been World Champion three years in a row. Everyone knew that if he won the gold, the personable (and heterosexual!) American would be a great ambassador for the sport. So, even though at Sarajevo Hamilton was sick and skated a weak final program, blowing off two triple jumps, he still was handed the gold.

Similarly, Sale and Pelletier, the supposedly martyred Canadian pairs skaters, were only in gold medal contention because the judges decided to not penalize justly their catastrophic double fall at the climax of their short program.

I sort of sympathize with this "cumulative" approach to judging, which tries to lessen the general problem with the Winter Games, which is that it's damn slippery out there. Thus, too many events turn on almost-random mistakes rather than on talent. The skating judges try to smooth out the results by voting for the competitors who have shown themselves the best over the years. Of course, on the other hand, that lends skating its aura of bogusness.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I sort of sympathize with this "cumulative" approach to judging, which tries to lessen the general problem with the Winter Games, which is that it's damn slippery out there. Thus, too many events turn on almost-random mistakes rather than on talent."

What???? Stevie! Using this logic, we'd have to award the Super Bowl, the World Series to the team deemed by the "experts" the most "talented."

The MVP of each season would be awarded to Manning, Bonds, every year...before they even began competing.

Heck, why even have the competition at all if the upset can't occur? That's what makes it fun.

Unfortunately, the political blocs that exist for the Games are indeed a reminder of why the United Nations rarely gets anything right.

Henry Canaday said...

There is something about The Winter Olympics that reminds me of being 16 years old and so bored to death on a Saturday afternoon that I would watch Jim McKay on a fuzzy little black-and-white television set, trying to whip up excitement for a weird sport, that I could barely see and still less comprehend, in which our fondest hope was that some American, of whom I had never heard, would move up from 73rd to 58th in the world rankings. McKay plugged on over the years, under Roone everything-is-exciting-if-we-hype-it-enough Arledge, I grew up, learned to ski, enjoyed it for a few years, and then grew bored with the whole thing again. Canada is the perfect place for the Winter Olympics.

Anonymous said...

slightly off topic. My prediction for the winter olympics:
People with Germanic surnames will be vastly overrepresented among the winners of medals.

Coubertin's bastard child said...

I'm also kinda over the Winter Olympics. The whole Olympics concept is one of those things that looks worse and worse the more you find out about it. Too bad.

One suggestion I have for the IOC is that they should award the winners different things depending on the type of competition. In actual individual contests, like races, the winners would still get the traditional gold medal. With team sports like hockey and basketball, the winning team would get a cool trophy, and the members of the team would get something commemorative, not necessarily a medal (maybe a ring). For anything that involves judging, the winners would get a medal or medallion made of a different material than gold. You can still keep silver and bronze medals for the runners up.

This is based on the observation that team sports are greatly undervalued in the Olympics, and too many of the contests involve judging with all the attendant problems. This also makes it easy for medal-hungry countries, like most Communist countries, to game the system by pushing their athletes into judging sports and lots of obscure sports with large numbers of medals. If you differentiate between the winners, people might take the cue and start valuing victories in team sports over victories in individual sports, and victory in actual sports over victories in competition where judges evaluate some performance that requires athleticism.

Anonymous said...

steve, didn't they move away from the boring technical things (like doing perfect figure eights) to make it more TV friendly? As i recall it used to be a series of tech excercises, that now count for next to nothing and the performance used weigh a lot less.

problem of sport in general crossing into entertainment - that's why the NFL sucks too.

Gub said...

I noticed they added a bunch of 'dude sports' to make winter olympics more popular. And, some non-whites have been complaining that most of the events are too white.

So, how about we add SNOWBALL FIGHTING. Even ghetto kids can play.

Or how about snow man making?

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with short-track speedskating?

Why don't they just do fewer laps on the bigger track?

Anybody know?

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Oh goodness, here we go again: "manly men" all complaining that the most popular sport (Winter - figure skating; Summer - gymnastics) turns on judges' decisions. Yes, it does. But gymansts are hot, and they do it in leotards. And the hottest women in Vancouver are almost invariably figure skaters doing something appropriately feminine. What in the hell is manlier than appreciating that?


What's the deal with short-track speedskating? Why don't they just do fewer laps on the bigger track?

Tighter turns, different skill set. And the South Koreans would be pissed.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

BTW, I am very, very excited about the Winter Olympics. They tend to occur in white towns and have overwhelmingly white medalists, winning in sports that no one but a white dude would ever have dreamt up. Curling, skiing, skating, luge, bobsled, hockey - all invented by white Europeans, thank you very much. Of course most of the summer sports were, too...

michael farris said...

There are certainly examples enough of dodgy judging without Steve digging up bad examples:

"Scott Hamilton, was the beneficiary of one of the most rigged decisions in skating history ... he still was handed the gold"

Uh .... no. Hamilton wasn't 'held up' (fan jargon for judges giving a bad performance better marks than it deserves). He won the school figures and was second for the other two parts. I haven't worked out the placements in detail, but I think he could have finished a place or two lower in the free skate and still won, he was the only skater at the competition with good figures and good free skating. Figures were later jettisoned because they weren't television friendly and occasionally meant the most spectacular performance didnt win overall.

"Sale and Pelletier, the supposedly martyred Canadian pairs skaters, were only in gold medal contention because the judges decided to not penalize justly their catastrophic double fall at the climax of their short program."

Not all falls, count, they fell in their ending pose, which is not a scoring element. Imagine a sprinter who trips just at the finish line, whether running or falling he's crossed the line. There really was no basis for a deduction on the technical side, maybe on the presentationo side, but .... they did a comic performance and it fit in with that....

none of the above said...

Captain Jack:

Most track and field events are more or less universal, right? I mean running, jumping, and throwing stuff are all the kind of stuff a bunch of kids would invent on their own, left to play.

Anonymous said...

Europeans do well on snow. Asians do well on ice. Why is that?

Victoria said...

Using this logic, we'd have to award the Super Bowl, the World Series to the team deemed by the "experts" the most "talented." ...

How true. Steve, how can you say that "the judges decided to not penalize justly their catastrophic double fall?" Justly? Say, what?

Heck, why even have the competition at all if the upset can't occur? That's what makes it fun.

Absolutely. That's why Tiger Woods, in my view, demoralized the game of golf, because one could so seldom count on the "upset."

Victoria said...

So, how about we add SNOWBALL FIGHTING. Even ghetto kids can play. Or how about snow man making?

That's funny. Stick around, we just might live to see it. I've been hearing some amusing commentaries about whatever that sport is called where people are skiing and shooting at something or other. Good grief! This is the Olympics?

ricpic said...

My pet peeve is the awarding of the gold, especially in womens' figure skating, to a female skater who may perform perfectly from a technical standpoint but is without grace. Given that this is first and foremost an aesthetic event it always floors me when the judges hand the top prize to an unappealing - in figure or movement - skater.

Chris Anderson said...

There is a lot of truth to "cumulative" judging of performances in any judged sport that I can think of. The communities of participants in these sports are quite small, and the kids, parents, coaches and judges all get to know one another over the years. This leads not only to judges who know your level of ability, but also the insertion of non-performance factors such as likeability, lobbying, and "politics."

I competed in a judged sport (diving) and saw it from both ends--when I was unknown and struggled to get good scores and when I was known and the judges scored me consistently higher.

I would never, ever push my kid into a similar sport.

Dutch Boy said...

Figure skating has suffered since high risk maneuvers counted more than skating artistry. More injuries, more pratfalls and more conundrums for judges.

Anonymous said...

Biathlon is the funny word you're looking for and it is the most difficult of the shooting events. The exertion from skiing combined with the cold makes steadying your aim very challenging. But it is not viewer friendly unless you enjoy skiing and shooting.

Anonymous said...

A lot of these comments about the development of a sport obviously come from people who don't have a clue about the skills useful in snow and ice country.

Anonymous said...

Victoria,

Shooting sports and sports where people ski and shoot or ride horses and shoot are some of the original events.

I question the whiteness of anyone who doesn't respect sliding on snow and ice and/or shooting.

albertosaurus said...

The early commenters seem to think you were making a point about the Olypics. I assumed that you were trying to explain why Jeff Bridges will win an Oscar for a movie role no one has heard of much less seen.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just too subtle.

Camlost said...

Two ways to liven up these Winter Olympics:

1. Fire Bryant Gumbel, but then liquor him up for one last Winter Olympics telecast where he can discuss diversity and the quality of athleticism in Vancouver.

2. More photos of Tanith Belbin... lots more.

Great Scott! said...

Scott had been World Champion three years in a row. Everyone knew that if he won the gold, the personable (and heterosexual!) American would be a great ambassador for the sport.

You coulda fooled me.

Nanonymous said...

whatever that sport is called where people are skiing and shooting at something or other. Good grief! This is the Olympics?

That's biathlon, a quintessential winter sport. The stuff of northern soldiers and fur hunters. Makes a lot more sense than curling and skeleton.

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, Sale and Pelletier, the supposedly martyred Canadian pairs skaters"

LOL, I love it when Steve mentions Canada, aboot once every 6 months, usually with a trace of scorn; I'm like, please sir, may I have another?

If playing victim were an Olympic sport the rest of the world wouldn't even bother sending a team to compete against the Canadians. It's our national pastime.

This is you by the time Obama is done with you, America; no more hollering "USA! USA!" at international sporting events, which may be seen as triumphalist and, like Sinatra's My Way, incite violence.

The dead Georgian luger might become a scandal. Seems Canada, new at this "competetive" thing, has been squeezing every bit of home field advantage as a matter of team policy, including restricting training runs on a course faster than the rest of the world is used to.

Anonymous said...

Ice skating is like ballet, an exhibition which doesn't lend itself to objective criteria and competition. It should be presented as a people's choice category where the audience picks the winners like on American Idol.

Anonymous said...

"I've been hearing some amusing commentaries about whatever that sport is called where people are skiing and shooting at something or other. Good grief! This is the Olympics?"

It's called biathlon and it's a longstanding event that evolved out of a very old event called military patrol. It's certainly not some sort of new weirdness.

Anonymous said...

"If playing victim were an Olympic sport the rest of the world wouldn't even bother sending a team to compete against the Canadians. It's our national pastime."

And I thought it was just me, an American, who perceived Canadians as the Rodney Dangerfields of Western democracies.

I have noticed over the years that many a Canadian- born entertainer, responding to an interviewer's, "Sooo, you were born in Candada..." is met with a proud, pleasant, "Yes!" followed by either, "I do have my US citizenship now" or worse, by an uncomfortable silence, often meaning said entertainer has recently become a US citizen or has been one for so long that he considers himself an American yet doesn't wish to say it aloud for fear of hurting his birth countrymen's feelings.

So true, eh?

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Ice skating is like ballet, an exhibition which doesn't lend itself to objective criteria and competition.

If scores were unobjective then they would be more or less random. Is there any evidence to suggest that they are, or do different judges (excepting the French) scores for the same performance tend to be similar?

More photos of Tanith Belbin... lots more. See photo of Finnish skater Kiira Korpi above. She bloweth Belbin away.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onyHnECA5k8

How come no eskimo ear pull contest in the Winter Olympics?
Racist!

Victoria said...

I question the whiteness of anyone who doesn't respect sliding on snow and ice and/or shooting.

Now, don't go getting all weird on us. Since I'm not white, there's no need to entertain your questioning. I must say that the funniest wisecracks about this "sport" that I'm hearing is coming from whites, but perhaps you would not consider them white enough.

OhioStater said...

I read a vdare article about the sports ice people like (luge) vs the sports sun people like (basketball).

Why does it seem a lot (most) of the "ice people" sports involve subjective human judging, but the "sun people" sports involve a clock, measurements, or a scoreboard?

The only summer games sports with a judge, that I can think of, are gymnastics, diving, and synchronized swimming, which (to be honest) could be moved to the winter games and scheduled before figure skating.

reticentman said...

Did you watch the biathalon today? It's an unjudged event but the race today was about as unfair as it gets.

It's a timed race with different people starting at different times. The conditions began fine, and then as the first competitors were finishing, a heavy wet snow started, drastically slowing the skiing. As a result the final top 10 consisted of only skiers from the first 20 out of 90 starters. Several of the pre-race favorites who started in the middle never had a chance.

Anonymous said...

"Did you watch the biathalon today? It's an unjudged event but the race today was about as unfair as it gets."

So it's like poker, right? Part luck, part skill.

No different than golf. Some golfers get in a round of 18 in great weather that gives their drives plenty of roll and they putt on smooth freshly rolled greens while others have to play through inclement weather and on bumpy greens.

691 said...

The biathlon is actually great television. Today was a little different because it was an individual event, which means it was a time trial and didn't have the same race feel. But the rest of the events are perfect. The athletes are racing each other skiing, then come into the shooting and have to make five shots. Each miss means a penalty lap and a loss of about 20 seconds so the shooting stage is very tense. Once most of the competitors have finished shooting, they go to commercial and when they return, it is just about time to shoot again. The cross country skiing is boring but the event is set up perfectly for TV to avoid it. It's like watching NASCAR without most of the 500 laps but keeping the pitstops, drawn out to fill a half-hour television slot.

Also, the point of "cumulative judging" is to lower the statistical variance of performances because an average Olympic athlete has about 30 to 60 seconds once every four years to perform and win a gold medal. You cannot have any mistakes and slipping eliminates you. Manning gets 16 games of 60 minutes each every season and can screw up a drive every once in a while; Bonds got 162 games with four at-bats a pop so he can strike out often. Over such a long time and with so many opportunities, the variance is much lower.

DreadlockHoliday said...

"Why does it seem a lot (most) of the "ice people" sports involve subjective human judging, but the "sun people" sports involve a clock, measurements, or a scoreboard?"

Most? I am pretty sure that most Winter Olympic events tend to be timed events rather than subjective scoring. Weren't most of the sports you talk about 'invented' (as in properly codified rules) by so called 'ice people'?

"It's a timed race with different people starting at different times. The conditions began fine, and then as the first competitors were finishing, a heavy wet snow started, drastically slowing the skiing. As a result the final top 10 consisted of only skiers from the first 20 out of 90 starters. Several of the pre-race favorites who started in the middle never had a chance."

Perhaps it would be wise to develop some sort of Duckworth-Lewis method to account for the weather?

The Duckworth-Lewis method, for those who don't know, is the mathematical/statistical model used in cricket to determine the target score for the team batting second if they are batting in different conditions that the team that batted first.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duckworth%E2%80%93Lewis_method


"So it's like poker, right? Part luck, part skill."

Like any sport or game.

pass the puck said...

late night curling (tape delayed results or live from the other side of the world) on television is the ultimate stoner spectator sport. the fact that it only comes around every four years only serves to keep it fresh and new.

pass the puck said...

agreed about the hot women doing the skating in the olympics.

but apparently there is an sport-wide known issue for female skaters: the skating exercise makes the female buttocks "too big" at least for madison ave brain washed american chicks with eating disorders and diet compulsions.

also the gay men who control the sport don't like big curvy asses on the females. so it's an issue.

for the record i have been to a lot of rinks in my life and i never heard a heterosexual male complain about any female figure skaters' asses being too big.

thanks for reading this far.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...A lot of these comments about the development of a sport obviously come from people who don't have a clue about the skills useful in snow and ice country.

I bet you typed out that comment while sitting in your ice fishing shack, didn't you?

Anonymous said...

It seems very few olympic sports are eternal like running and javelin. A few more were common many places like wrestling and boxing although I don't know of any sport forms from Africa or aboriginal Australia.

Instead, virtually all olympic sports, summer and winter, were invented by so-called "ice people" or Europeans.

Does anyone know of any non-European sports that could be added to the Olympics that could be considered? It seems we're in the perfect age to consider such alternatives. Perhaps there are sports that would allow more Indians, Indonesians or Philipinos to medal in events?

OhioStater said...

MrDreadlockHoliday, I'm always willing to admit fault.

You are right, most of the summer games sports were organized or codified by white people.

The athletics portion of summer games is Greek (ancient training for combat), whereas most of the other sports were organized by the English (marquess of queensberry rules) or Anglo descendants (basket ball). Judo and fencing are exceptions but there are always exceptions, and there is judging in boxing.

Now, can we call the Greeks and the English ice people? Based on the weather, the Greeks no, and the English maybe.

One school of thought is the ruling class in England, and much of Europe (even on the balmy Mediterranean) is descended from the Vikings (Norman Conquest et al) hence the general association between blond hair and high status.

Maybe the swarthy Greeks are ice people after all.

Mr. Anon said...

Figure skating: the "sport" wherein bitchy gay men talk trash about teenaged girls.

My wife always watches these events, and one certainly could enjoy watching ice dancing, except the broadcasters always ruin it. It's supposed to be "dancing", i.e. done to the accompaniment of music, but the announcers won't ever shut the f**k up and let the viewer appreciate the performance as an aural/visual whole. Imagine if John Madden gave a play-by-play at the Ballet.

Davide Davenport said...

Sports to add to Winter Olympics:

(1) Team paintball matches on snowshoes;

(2) Snowmobile motocross racing;

(3) Outdoor hockey on thin ice.

Anonymous said...

"It's supposed to be 'dancing',i.e. done to the accompaniment of music, but the announcers won't ever shut the f**k up and let the viewer appreciate the performance as an aural/visual whole. Imagine if John Madden gave a play-by-play at the Ballet."

Agreed.

The announcers DID shut up for one pair--Torvill and Dean. To have interrupted their performances would have been irreverent.

Artistry--their Bolero in Sarejevo in '84, their rhomba performance for their post-pro return in 92 at Lillehammer- where where they were sickningly robbed by a former Soviet Union bloc judge (Beloruss, IIRC), who, in ensuring they wouldn't get the gold, gave them a 5.2! A FIVE-TWO for God's sake!*!??! Torvill and Dean? A 5.2? I was ready to behead the damn judge. That performance was the equal of their Bolero.

After T&D, we had to suffer years worth of imitators.

Whether you call ice skating a sport or an art or both matters not. In both sport and art, only once in a blue moon comes along an innovator, whether it's a pitcher or a QB or basketball player or an ice dancer. T&D were innovators.

Steve Sailer said...

Badminton, a Summer Games sport, comes from Southeast Asia, but it was codified at the Badminton estate in England in the 19th Century. It's not so much that 19th Century English-speakers invented all the sports, as that they invented almost all the organizations for sports.

Having lots of railroads helped a lot: for example, the early history of American football in the 1870s and 1880s is largely a history of national conventions at hotels near railroad stations, where coaches from across the country would get together after each season and reform the rules.

Victoria said...

... the announcers won't ever shut the f**k up and let the viewer appreciate the performance as an aural/visual whole. Imagine if John Madden gave a play-by-play at the Ballet.

Yes, indeed. You find yourself quietly shouting, Oh, shut up!

The announcers DID shut up for one pair--Torvill and Dean

I've always regretted not having seen Torvill and Dean; they are truly legendary. I'm hoping I can find them on DVDs, if there was serious filming of their work.
... the announcers won't ever shut the f**k up and let the viewer appreciate the performance as an aural/visual whole. Imagine if John Madden gave a play-by-play at the Ballet.

Yes, indeed. You find yourself quietly shouting, Oh, shut up!

The announcers DID shut up for one pair--Torvill and Dean

I've always regretted not having seen Torvill and Dean; they are truly legendary. I'm hoping I can find them on DVDs, if there was serious filming of their work.

Mr. Anon said...

"Davide Davenport said...

Sports to add to Winter Olympics:

(1) Team paintball matches on snowshoes;

(2) Snowmobile motocross racing;

(3) Outdoor hockey on thin ice."

Some others:

Uphill slalom

Ice pole-vaulting

Drunken ski-football
(Kennedys only)

Anonymous said...

Figure skating is the sport that made me realize that women are really into looking at pretty girls wearing next-to-nothing.

It was a disturbing insight into the female mind.

Muffy said...

Stop hating on judged sports, for goodness sake! Outdoors sports, e.g. skiing and snowboarding, are tremendously influenced by weather. While I was watching the men's downhill, the commentator was saying that the sunshine or lack thereof can easily determine the winner, especially when the difference between gold and silver is a fraction of a second. Ditto with the x-country --- if the weather starts out good and starts snowing, that screws over the competitors who start out later. Wind can affect ski jumping. You get the picture. At least the results of figure skating aren't nearly so based on the weather conditions.

Mr. Anon said...

"Muffy said...

Stop hating on judged sports, for goodness sake!"

For goodness sake, stop using the expression "hating on".

It makes you sound stupid.