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The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

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The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

Signal

Olympics: Shows or sports?

It seems obvious in sports: a fall means failure, a program without error means a win. But the resulting scores in the Olympic Games have been a different outcome, begging the question: Are these all sports?
A sport should not be a show for which conjecture or judgement can be present. Physical ability, skill and competition is what determines a champion, yet the Olympic judges look for factors such as appearances and costumes which mar the purpose of the Games.
To Olympic viewers, watching the strongest athletes of all nations can be both moving and baffling. Most watch in wonder at the training and athleticism, confused by how a winner is chosen when all competitors seem almost super human.
“I really like figure skating,” Liliana Ramos (sophomore, Biology) said. “The way they can just move  on the ice is amazing; like I’ve gone ice skating and I know how difficult it can be.”
The difficulty is without question, but does that qualify all the Olympic competitions as sports?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sport in its basic form is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill, especially (particularly in modern use) one regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others.”
How these rules or customs are regulated vary between Olympic sports, and some are more clear than others. In downhill skiing or luge, the rules are clear: Whoever crosses the finish line with the fastest time is the winner. Sports such as figure skating and snowboarding, however, have judges who score athletes based on a set of expectations.
Olympic snowboarders this year are scored by five judges, each responsible for one category. Three of those judges are looking for something easily measured: the height of the jumps, the standardized moves themselves and the completion and quality of any spins, rotations or grabs. The last two judges score the “overall impression.”
In the definition of a “sport,” what does the overall impression made by the athlete have to do with their physical exertion and skill?
Now it does not suffice to say judges make a sport null and void, but it does add an element of subjectivity.
“I think [the judges] are biased in a way because sometimes the home country, they have a lot at stake and they want to win,” Ramos said.
“And I think maybe with the judging they’re not as analytical with certain people because they have their reputation maybe and they’re worried, or they want certain people to be on top. I think it’s like that with any sport.”
A sport should not allow room for bias; yet in every Olympic season, there are scandals and accusations surrounding judging biases and deals struck between countries. Even this year at Sochi there is speculation about a Russia/United States alliance and an exchanging of ballots at the figure skating judges’ table.
In figure skating, the judging is even more complex. The judges on the panel are each judging individually, not an assigned portion as in snowboarding. They deduct or add according to how each move in a program is executed, adding or taking away from how much each move is worth. And it is here where the results are most perplexing to viewers.
According to the blog of Jo Ann Schneider Farris, a figure skating coach and former competitor, “Spectators can see what they think is a ‘perfect program,’ but if the competitor doesn’t have the elements in their routine that will get high points, a skater can place behind someone who attempted jumps and spins that are awarded higher scores.”
Recalling the days when sports still made sense, there were divisions based on level and ability. If an athlete wanted to do harder stunts, he or she competed against others doing equally difficult stunts. But according to the logic listed above, a competitor could attempt jumps of high difficulty, such as the triple axle, knowing they are not able to complete it but will place higher for putting it in the program. That is not competing based on skill but rather lack thereof.
It may seem an impossible feat to try to change how the most-watched Olympic sports are scored, but it isn’t. In 2002, one scandal proved too much for the system of Olympic figure skating, forcing officials to reassess and produce a new judging system. It can be done again.
The athletics determined by judges are more parallel to shows than sports, and shows require an audience. Boost the viewership for the sports like the luge or downhill skiing and show the Olympics that the best “overall impression” an athlete can give is their athleticism.

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Olympics: Shows or sports?