Monday, January 16, 2006

How To Fix Figure Skating
By Blogger

Every four years, Americans subject themselves to the Winter Olympics, a spectacle originally conceived as a way for richer folks to get medals for athletic accomplishments (PDF). When the upper classes discovered it was really hard to best the common men in feats of running, throwing, and lifting, they realized they could beat them in winter sports, which were generally too expensive for common men to afford pursuing. Thus, we get skiing, biathlon, bobsledding, and other events traditionally associated with winter holidays and wealth.

I say "Americans subject themselves" because I, for one, barely watch and can't understand why we decide that Bode Miller, Bonnie Blair, Apolo Anton Ohno, or whoever is compelling during this month, but not any other month. No matter what NBC says, you don't have to watch if you don't want to. Seriously. The only event I really enjoy watching is hockey, but that's because, at this point, it's essentially an extension of the NHL. Yeah, I like the idea of everyone holding hands and putting differences aside so that we can celebrate humanity through sport, but excuse me for not caring one way or the other who wins the skeleton competition.

This year, in particular, the most high-profile event (in the U.S., at least) has become an utter debacle. Figure skating had enough problems with legitimacy before Michelle Kwan was awarded a "medical bye". With this jaw-dropping action, U.S. Figure Skating has exposed even more of the sport's rotting underbelly. It's bad enough that the whole Sale/Pelletier fiasco led to rules changes that reward technical skill and undercut creativity, but now all semblance of competitive credibility is gone. I used to pshaw at the sport-ness of figure skating, but I could at least appreciate the effort, the artistry, and the pursuit of high scores, even if it didn't make logical sense. Now, though, since the reward for artistic merit has been eviscerated and the pursuit of high scores doesn't really matter, then it doesn't make sense as a sport and I have no reason whatsoever to watch. Worst of all for the sport, if they're just going to send whoever they think has the best chance of winning a medal, then the skaters have been subjected to a charade; the sport is more of a fraud than ever.

Average Jane Sportsfan may watch no matter what, but what needs to change in order to attract Average Joe Sportsfan? I have a simple suggestion. But first, I'll have some fun at the expense of U.S. Figure Skating. What follows is a short list of rulings they would make if given governance over other sports.

1) The Colts lost to the Steelers in their divisional round playoff game. However, Indianapolis kept it close, even on an off day, so, since we think they have the best chance of beating the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, we'll put them in the AFC Championship game.

2) The scoring system in boxing is too subjective. So, to remedy that, we're going to alter it. In every round, to score maximum points, a boxer must land an uppercut, a cross from each hand, and six jabs.

3) Scoring is down in the NBA. To address that issue, a point will be awarded for each properly executed bounce pass or chest pass. Points will not be awarded for shots that are not easily identifiable as a set shot, finger roll, or two handed dunk.

My solution for figure skating is simple, really. The problem is that figure skating has gone in the completely wrong direction. Instead of trying to quantify and award points for properly executed skating techniques, figure skating should simply do away with the technical mumbo jumbo and embrace holistic scoring, perhaps with different judges paying attention to different aspects, a la half pipe snowboarding. If technical skating is your bag, go watch ice dancing, an event with no lifts and no jumps. But the biggest change they should make would be to do away with all the required elements, illegal maneuvers, and musical restrictions, and simply let skaters be as creative as they like. Obviously, they can outlaw props, and safety could be an issue, but can you imagine what the truly athletic skaters would do if freed from outdated notions of "proper skating technique"? Instead of ballet and jazz dancers all wearing sheer black shirts with sequins, the sport could suddenly find itself with an influx of capoeira and breakdancers. It'll never be a mainstream sport, but opening it up to innovation and emphasizing its creativity could widen its appeal and restore some credibility.


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