Turin 2006 Winter Olympics - Yahoo! Sports
Now, before you whip off your Risport and spike the blade through my aorta, please note that I think figure skaters are not just athletes, but remarkable athletes.
Figure skating requires strength, speed, stamina, dexterity, balance, timing, guts and just about everything other imaginable athletic skill. Certainly, more athletic skill than I could muster.
But figure skating is a competition, not a sport, and it has nothing to do with how difficult or entertaining it is. It is simply a matter of how the winner is determined. It is the same for gymnastics, diving, beauty pageants or anything that chooses a champion solely by human judging.
A sport needs to have a quantifiable way to determine a winner and a loser. There can be no debate about the scoring system. A ball must go into a goal or through a hoop; a runner must reach home or finish before the others. The winners run faster, jump higher, score more.
In some sports a clock is used to determine a winner, but the clock is not subjective. Besides, you can't have 53 guys racing down a ski hill at the same time. The clock is a judge, but it is an objective one.
Figure skating has none of this. Everything is about interpretation of success. It is about what the judge thinks, believes, feels. There is nothing absolutely quantifiable. Yes, the number of revolutions in a jump counts, but in the end if two people do the same jump, a human has to decide which one he or she likes better.
That is not a sport.
Figure skaters wear elaborate costumes in an attempt to appear more appealing, more flowing, more beautiful. The women (and even some men) wear makeup, they get their hair done, they wear jewelry, they play stirring music.
An ugly person would stand at a considerable, if not insurmountable, disadvantage in skating. Sasha Cohen would whip them every time.
As absurd as the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan drama that propelled skating into stratosphere was, it was based partially on the fact that it is a competition, not a sport. Harding was a powerful skater, possibly better at all aspects of skating than Kerrigan. But she was shorter, stockier and less feminine. Although Harding had defeated Kerrigan on occasion, she knew she was at a disadvantage against the taller, prettier, more graceful Kerrigan.
So she conspired with her boyfriend to have Kerrigan whacked in one of her skinny little knees.
In a real sport, this wouldn't have been necessary. Ugly people can win in track, in skiing, in the NFL, in soccer.
Beauty doesn't matter. Style doesn't count. There are no judges.
Some will argue that referees are essentially judges, determining who scores and who doesn't. But a referee is merely there to assure order and make the competitors follow the rules.
Yes, in most sports, the referee has the freedom to determine right and wrong by what he sees – a false start, an illegal advantage – but he is not determining the final victor. His assignment is to simply ensure fair play. The refs can't just say that while one team scored more points, they thought the other one was better anyway.
This creates a bizarre paradox where something like curling is a sport and figure skating isn't, even though to compare the level of necessary athletic ability is comical. But it is what it is. You have to be a stunning athlete to compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest but that doesn't make it a sport.
There is one exception to this no-judges rule: boxing (or kickboxing, or other fighting sports). This is fine because a clear victor can be achieved with a knockout (no judge needed). The judges are only used when the fight has gone on so long that it has to be stopped for the safety of the competitors. If they keep beating on each other, someone could die.
Of course, the presence of judges is why boxing is considered the most corrupt sport.
Other than that, no judge should ever determine a winner in a true sport. When you have that, whether it is ice skating, gymnastics or diving, you have a competition.
It isn't any different than American Idol. It can be fun to watch, the athletes can be talented and tenacious, it can be a great competition, but it isn't a sport.
It just isn't.