SportsProf

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Enough Already

As if the absurdity of the Olympic gymnastics competition hadn't already reached an all-time low (or high, depending on how you look at it), the Russians have also lodged a protest, claiming that their gymnasts were cheated out of higher marks.

Which makes you wonder what's a good performance and what isn't. Again. Now, no one will argue that gymnasts aren't athletes, but many will ask why the Olympics cannot just shoot this sport and put it out of its misery. They won't, of course, because somehow the world likes watching this stuff, and that means TV ratings, and that means advertising dollars.

But gymnastics fails on so many fronts. First, it isn't a team sport. Giving a team a medal for competition simply means that the Romanians are better at finding their best 6 gymnasts than the Americans and Russians and Japanese are. Nothing more. It's not like there are batons or balls to be passed, or oars to be rowed in synchronization with each other. It's not even like syncrhonized diving, another judged sport, where at least the divers have to coordinate their efforts. So, they could dispense with the team competition and save us that bit of agony.

Second, and more importantly, spare us the overall competition. Call it a demonstration sport (which would be apt given that all of the Olympic delegations seem to be demonstrating against the judges' scores), call it entertainment, but don't put it on the same level as basketball or swimming or weightlifting. To do so dishonors those sports, where the best competitors either score more points, swim faster or heft more heavy metal than the other competitors.

I have blogged about judged sports over the past two weeks or so, so click here (and scroll down to point 6), here, here and here for my prior posts on all judged sports. Also, click here to read Josh Elliott of SI.com, who wrote a nice piece as to why judged sports should be eliminated from the Olympics. So while gymnastics gets most of the attention, the same arguments hold true for synchronized swimming, diving, boxing and figure skating. Too much room for politics, too much room for mistakes, too much opportunity for corruption when the stakes are so high.

The headlines should be about the nice effort of the Iraqi soccer team, the domination of the U.S. women's softball team, the retiring Greek weightlifter, El Guerroj's finally getting it done in the 1500 meters, of Thorpe and Phelps swimming head to head, of Marlene Ottey, a five- or six-time Olympic sprinter (mostly for Jamaica) somehow running for Slovakia. Of the school teachers and part-time Home Depot workers, of the shooters (including the one who lost the gold because he shot at the wrong target), of the sailors, the bikers and the ballers.

And not the whiners and complainers.

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