So I watched figure skating this year. There was a judging controversy; I gather this has never happened before. (Sarcasm.)
Any South Korean readers out there? It's incomprehensible that Kim Yu-na's masterpiece of a final performance didn't sweep everything before it. Amazing artistry, on a different level than what we had seen before it, including the athletic but workmanlike performance of the hometown-favorite gold medal winner. (No offense, Russian readers.)
Then again, in 1956, when Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai was in worldwide release, Around the World in 80 Days won the Oscar for Best Picture. That's sort of equivalent to the figure skating competition last night.
And speaking of dubious judgment, what's with this "medal count"? Take a look at what I found at a U.S.-centric news outlet:
(As of 2/20 in the U.S.)
How does it make any sense to count a gold, silver, and bronze medals as being equal in the medal counts? The above data shows that Norway is first, not fourth. And Germany is tied for second. The U.S. is only first in one thing: third-place finishes.
I'd be interested to know how the standings are being reported in Norway. I'll bet they're not all bowing and scraping to the U.S.'s obvious superiority in bronzes.
It's all suspicious, if you ask me. You might as well count per-capita medals relative to the number of athletes on any nation's team.
When they put me in charge, golds get five points each, silver three points, bronzes one point. Why hasn't the Olympic Committee worked this out?
...Although I notice to my own amusement that this little system, which I just thought up on the spot right this second, puts the U.S., Germany, and Norway into a dead tie...! Maybe I don't know best, as I kibitz from my armchair. Maybe golds should trump everything in the standings and the next tier down should break ties.
Then again, haven't I just been complaining that not all gold medals are well deserved?
Because I don't know skating. But I know art. Surely it's not always clear who skates best. Last night, though, it certainly was.
UPDATE Sat. 2/22: See Mani Sitaraman's analysis in the Comments section for the best analysis of how to present the medal count. An excerpt: "The logic of counting gold, then silver, and then bronze is unassailable. Just to refresh our memories, competitors don't 'win' medals. They win events. [The medal count] first measure[s] which country's athletes have won the most events."
And the nation-against-nation enterprise is essentially jingoistic anyway, because, as Scotto points out, the Olympic Charter says that it's the athletes who should be emphasized, not the countries they represent.
Obviously U.S. outlets are pandering to U.S. readers with their "totals first" medal count presentation, and as a dutiful U.S. citizen I resent it. I don't need to be pandered to.
I'm happy to root for other countries who are competing in sports their populations care about and have a tradition with. I root for Austria in skiing, for example, absent a U.S. kid competing who has a chance. And although I root for our hockey teams, I'm quite happy when Canadia* wins. I mean, it's their thing, you know? And we like Canadia:
(Source. Thanks to Dennis Fallon for the link.)
Similarly, I'm not quite sure how I could be accused of pro- South Korean prejudice, especially in a sport I don't know anything about and don't follow. I hadn't ever heard of Kim Yu-na before about a week ago. This is the first year I've ever paid attention to figure skating. (Next Winter Olympics, if I live that long, I'm going to follow curling. You have been warned).
*I think that's the name of the place where Canadians come from—it's up by the North Pole somewhere**.
**We like you, but we still like to twist yer tails. :-)
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
David: "The official medal count is from the IOC."
Hans-Olav Andersen: The Norwegian view."
Dennis Fallon: "The graphic ('How Sotnikova Beat Kim, Move by Move') and this comment...
"Yu-na Kim outskated her, but it’s not just a skating competition anymore—it's math,' Browning said, explaining that Sotnikova racked up little points here and there to move ahead of Kim.
...were very enlightening. Corruption aside, people were always uncomfortable with subjective judging. But the points system leads to skating to math. Teaching to the test. Designing lenses to DxOmark. At least Dpreview awards a gold or silver award subjectively based on the experience of shooting with the camera, rather than based on the (useless IMO) numeric rating it gives.
"I enjoyed watching the skaters, but I treat it more as a show than a competition. And I feel bad that they spend all those years training so hard just to put on a show. Overall, the placements weren't bad, I don't think. I think Ashley Wagner's scores were unreasonably low (loved that short program to Pink Floyd), yet there were at least four skaters who were better. Gracie Gold was excellent, yet the medal winners were probably all just a tad better. Mostly, it's the gold medal award to the home country skater that smells a little foul. She skated well, no doubt. And maybe the judges car argue that she racked up points. But she wasn't the best skater out there (and I enjoyed the Italian skater better, too).
"Maybe they should drop all pretense of artistry if they're going to score based on technical points. They have ice dancing. Maybe create a solo ice dancing category. Why waste the choreographers time? Skip the music and just skate around doing jumps. The Russians clearly know how to work the system. The 15-year-old who had top marks in the team competition said all her focus is on the components and not artistry because without the components, you have nothing.
"At least the fans appreciate good skating, and the uproar should bring some consolation to the other skaters."
Marcin: "Mike, I think you are a bit biased here. I watched the skating competition, too, and afterwards I honestly couldn't tell whether Sotnikova beat Kim or vice versa, but it turns out (look at NYT's move-by-move)that the Russian chose more difficult moves and jumps, she took more risks and succeeded so why shouldn't she win the gold? She was a better athlete. Competitive skating isn't just about grace. If you are interested in pure ice entertainment, there are dedicated shows for that, but the Olympic Games is about sport. Also, look at the scores, Kim did get more points in the 'Skating skill and artistry' category, but it wasn't enough to beat her rival."
Mike replies: Maybe I am not sufficiently appreciating Adelina Sotnikova's accomplishment. She certainly has a winning personality, and her joy after winning was a pleasure to watch. She did skate beautifully. Still, if you Google "figure skating gold," you arrive at a number of articles about the scoring—with titles such as, "Did the Right Female Skater Win Gold, or Was the Competition Rigged?" on Slate, "Russia's figure skating gold was surprising, not shady," on USAToday, "Gold for Russia, silver for Yuna Kim, and controversy ensues" from CNN, "Figure skating fans outraged over Adelina Sotnikova's gold medal win over Yuna Kim" on sports.yahoo.com, and so forth. So I'm not the only one.
John Camp: "Trying to figure out 'national' scoring in Olympic games is not rationally possible. You suggest that perhaps Norway should lead...well, why not, there are (I think) 33 medals available in biathlon, but only 30 in alpine skiing. Really? Lots of big temperate countries have snowy mountains, even India and China, but the tradition and terrain for the biathlon? Thirty-three medals? It's sort of like how in the summer Olympics, there are 30 medals available for fencing. Really? Support your local fencer. Did you know that there are 48 medals available in various forms of...canoeing?"
Mike replies: And still not even one for cue sports. I'm with Efren Reyes, who thinks pool should be in the Olympics just so the Philippines can get a gold medal!
Dennis Ng: "Korean are not fair when they host the Olympic. So, it is fair to be unfair!"
Mike replies: You make a good point. A certain "home country advantage" is indeed taken for granted by most. In part because of the crowd, in part because of the judges, and in part because athletes seem to be somewhat more inspired when competing on their home turf—witness Britain's extraordinary achievements in 2012.