Tag Archives: olympics

Bring back Olympic tug of war

The IOC has voted to remove wrestling from the Olympics, to be replaced with a new sport in the 2020 games. I can’t say I’ve ever watched Olympic wrestling, but I approve of it.  The point of the Olympics is elemental trials of athleticism;  running, jumping, lifting, gymnastics.  And wrestling.

Here is how you tell whether a sport belongs in the Olympics.  Does it have a strategy?  Then it doesn’t belong in the Olympics.  The strategy for an Olympic sport should be “be stronger or faster than your opponent.”

OK, yes, I know wrestling has strategies.  It’s a border case.

The point is that an Olympics which has golf and rugby but doesn’t have wrestling is moving away from being the Olympics.  Which is why it’s of paramount importance which sport the IOC chooses to replace wrestling in 2020. Fortunately, there’s one sport which typifies the Olympic ideal, which already has a rich history in the Games, and which is currently unfairly excluded.  And that is tug of war.

Tug of war is doing great in India.  It’s doing great in Ireland.  And the 2014 outdoor world championships are being held here in Madison, a suitable consolation prize for the cycling events we didn’t get when Chicago lost its Olympic bid.

Tug of war!  You pull as hard as you can.  If you pull harder than the other country, you win.  If the other country pulls harder than you, you fall down.  That’s Olympics.

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The much-deserved death of the perfect 10

Slate just re-posted my 2008 article in praise of the new gymnastics scoring system.  I stand by it.

“The new ‘open-ended’ scoring system was designed in part to prevent us from outgrowing the rules,” international gymnastics judge Judy Schalk told me via e-mail. Before the new system, just about all elite competitors performed routines difficult enough to bring the start value up to a 10.0; sailing over that threshold earned you no more points than barely clearing it. With the new system, gymnasts have the incentive to keep making their routines tougher and more complex. In every other sport, the competitors in Beijing are superior to their predecessors and get better scores to prove it. Why should gymnastics be the only sport without world records?
With the new system, gymnastics comes into compliance with the Olympic motto. That’s “faster, higher, stronger,” not “more graceful, more beautiful, closer to perfect.” It’s no coincidence that the Olympic sports that have historically chased the latter ideal are the same ones in which the women’s game overshadows the men’s: gymnastics and figure skating.
Figure skating ditched the perfect 6.0 after crooked judging in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics embarrassed the sport. The old scoring system already had many discontents, most famously great French champion Surya Bonaly, who showed her disdain for the judges at the 1998 Olympics by landing a backflip on one skate. It was illegal, it carried a mandatory deduction, and she was the only woman in the world who could do it.

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Down with the Perfect 10

In today’s Slate, I praise the new scoring system for gymnastics.

I was happy I managed to include a few words about one of my favorite Olympic athletes, the great French figure skater Surya Bonaly. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work in a quote from this March 2005 Gazeta interview with Bonaly. “NS” is Nikolay Sadovsky of Gazeta. Note that I took this transcript from a blog and don’t vouch for its authenticity, or the correctness of the translation.

NS- In general, if I am not mistaken, judges somewhat disliked your skating. And you decided to say “farewell” to them in an original way: you did not land many triples at the Olympics in Nagano and, having lost all chances for a medal, you directly in front of the judges suddenly made a somersault in your free program…
SB – You answered your own question. First, figure skating is a conservative kind of sports which hardly changes. I was the innovator. I do not understand why the back-flip till now is forbidden: probably, because of fear that the sportsman can be traumatized. But I consider that this question is necessary to resolve – let the sportsmen choose if it is necessary for them or not. In general, judges did not love me for innovation. And that story at Nagano, here you in fact remember this moment, which means that I was right, having decided to include it in the program. So, spontaneously, I included and did it. Yes, I was punished for it. I took tenth or eleventh place. But it is unimportant, what is important is the memory of the spectators, rather than of the judges. Who now will remember those judges? But I am still remembered and loved.

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