When 3rd Place is really 4th – Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner

Nagusa WagnerThe 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi are fast approaching and many of the US athletes vying to get into the games are entering their final stages of preparation.

The US Olympic Figure Skating Championships, in which no figures are skated, just finished up in Boston and the third place finisher in the Senior ladies side was a young woman named Mirai Nagasu. The Championships are the last big event before the Olympics and generally, but not always, the top three finishers are chosen to represent the team.

I’m not going to go too deeply into a rant here because the reality is that events such as Non-Figure, Figure Skating are judged. Where there is judgment it is difficult to define a quantitative winner. Non-Figure, Figure Skating, Gymnastics, Diving, Ice Dancing, jumping up and down with ribbons and balls, and any number of other Olympic sports are scored in this way. They’ve tried to quantify it by assigning values to particular moves to remove bias and favoritism but there is no way to eliminate such inequity completely in a judged sport.

Even though the media darling Wagner finished in fourth place she was chosen ahead of Nagusa for the Olympic team. The committee in charge of the selections came up with the usual excuses for such a change but it likely comes down to marketability and television ratings. I spoke about the potential demise of wrestling in the Olympics not long ago and before that about the spirit of the Olympics; which ain’t what it used to be.

This particular contretemps which is roiling the Non-Figure, Figure Skating community is so familiar to me that I can’t even get up enough energy to roll my eyes although apparently I can manage to write a blog post.

Is there a point to all this anywhere on the horizon? I suppose.

The thing I love about sport is that the best player or team usually wins. Now, sometimes an official makes a huge error in judgement and changes the outcome but far more often than not there is a battle on the field of a play, and someone wins and someone loses. It is a test of ability and if all sides give it their best effort they can all leave the field with pride. Sure, one team or player lost but if they gave it everything they had, they are a winner.

In sport it doesn’t matter if you’re the huge favorite, if you opponent is an unknown qualifier, you must take the field and beat them. It’s anybody’s game, as they say.

Not so in these heavily judged events. It’s about money, it’s about influence, it’s about popularity on television (money), it’s about how much your friends and family donate to the committee (money).

So, the committee chose not the best skater, but the young woman they thought could generate the most interest. Ho hum. Nothing to see here.

To those who are fans of Non-Figure, Figure Skating I ask one simple question. Why does this incident surprise you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Goodbye Wrestling

Olympic WrestlingThere was an interesting decision by the International Olympic Committee this past week although I doubt many of my readers will be as fascinated with it as am I.

The IOC decides what sports will be in the Olympics each year and decided for the 2020 Olympics that wrestling will not be included. As I suggested, it’s probably not that big an injustice from most people’s perspective but I think it further evidence of the utter dismantling of the very spirit of the Olympics. I wrote a blog post on the subject here but let me recap quickly both this decision and my problems with the IOC.

The modern Olympics were originally created as a place to showcase sportsmanship and bring nations together. This is a different although somewhat related agenda to the ancient Olympics held in Greece. If you want a full explanation of my thoughts on this please see linked post.

Wrestling has been part of the modern Olympics since their institution in 1896 and was also part of the ancient Greek Olympics. It is, in my opinion, one of the most pure sports of all. Simply one person in the ring battling against another judged by a set of stringent rules. The best wrestler that day wins. If you get a chance to watch NCAA wrestling, which they show on ESPN3, I would encourage you to watch. It is true sport in its most pure form.

The criteria the Olympic committee considers when choosing what sport to include in the Olympics are as follows: The IOC program commission report analyzed more than three dozen criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.

My read between the lines analysis is that they thought another sport would generate more revenue than wrestling. That’s certainly their decision to make but it further confirms my opinion that the Olympics are no longer about sport but about making money. That’s exactly the idea they were founded to combat. The idea was that there would be a place for sportsmanship, where the attempt to win was far more important than the winning itself. That spirit is gone, dead. I think we are all the worse for it. I think an athlete that strives to be the best but loses is just as much a winner as the athlete or team that wins.

Is the U.S. Postal team and Lance Armstrong the real winner or the real loser? Is Barry Bonds a winner or a loser? This win at all costs mentality is destroying the United States of America. The ends do not justify the means. When we elevate winning above trying our honest best we create a culture of criminality where people will do anything to win. The people who will do anything to win generally defeat the honorable. This attitude carries over into politics, into business, into the very fabric of our society, we the people.

I realize I’m drifting rather far afield from the loss of wrestling as an Olympic sport but, by golly, this one makes me sad. Wrestling not an Olympic sport? Next you’ll tell me that warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream isn’t a dessert.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Olympic Spirit 21st Century Style – Crass, Win at all Costs, Hypocritical

Olympic spirit


Ahh, the Olympics, a time to rejoice in the joy of competition, the thrill of victory, the spirit of sportsmanship, or not. Is anyone else completely turned-off by the nature of the modern Olympic spirit? I think I first noted it in 1980 and 1984 when cold war enemies traded boycotts but it was probably coming before that.

To start my little journey I’m going to don my time-travel hat and head back-back-back in time. Where did I leave that thing? Closet? Nope. Counter? Nope. There it is, how on earth did it get in the freezer? Anyway, pop it on the old noggin, brrr, spin three times, special effects and KAPOW!

Ancient Times

The ancient Olympics were held in Olympia, Greece from about 760 BCE to 394 CE when it was suppressed as a way to promote Christianity. The reason it was suppressed is that the ancient games were largely a religious festival as well as a sporting event. The religion being to honor the pagan god Zeus. The ancient Greeks stopped their wars and even death penalty sentences during the truce imposed during the games.

Modern Olympic Spirit

Moving on to more modern times a fellow named Pierre de Coubertin, building on a foundation laid by others, reconstituted the games. He saw them as a beacon of amateur sport as opposed to professional athletics. He also saw them as a way to spread cultural ideas and tolerance among nations as athletes competed with one another. In fairness, he wasn’t all that enlightened as he excluded women from the games. His vision for the Olympics are summed up in this statement:

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Sound familiar? No, not a surprise. It is not familiar because it has no place in high-level professional sport. In amateur sport, yes, but when money is involved, winning is everything.

The original modern Olympics in Athens had forty-three events. Now there are 400 money-making opportunities, er … events. (total includes the Winter Olympics).

The new Creed

In the modern Olympics we pressure athletes to leave because they once dated racists but allow terrorist states to participate. One or the other please. In the modern Olympics professional, not amateur, athletes are the rule. Bribery to get the Olympics and Bribery win a match? We’ve got that. Cheating, rampant (the excuse that everyone else is doing it being completely legitimate). A trail of broken child athletes in the wake of commercialism and dollar hunting, plenty of that. Terrorists? Yep, them too. Brazen political exploitation, sign me up.

The Olympic Creed: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.


I don’t like the Olympic Spirit Anymore

Were did it all go wrong? Berlin 1936, Munich 1972, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, frankly, I don’t even know where to start and where to stop.

I can say this, I don’t much enjoy it anymore, be it NBA players or girls dancing with balls. I suppose I’m alone or at least in the minority judging by television ratings. Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been on the outside not wanting to look in.

Tom Liberman

Olympic Badminton – Playing to Lose

badmintonThere is a fascinating case unfolding in the Olympic Badminton tournament in London. Because of the seeding situation it became favorable for teams to lose a match thus ensuring a more favorable seed later. The basics are as follows: They have a system wherein the top two teams from a group advance to the quarterfinals, much like the World Cup in soccer (or football for my non-US friends).

Here’s what happened. The tournament favorite was upset and ended up as second seed in the next round. Thus, the team that won a particular match (both had already assured advancement) would have to play that heavily favored team. So, the teams in that match both tried to lose. There was a similar situation in another group and both of those teams likewise tried to lose.

In response the Olympic committee disqualified all four teams. Interesting!

The teams were playing to win by losing, right? By losing the current match they had a better chance to advance in the tournament. The goal is to win the tournament. So, if they actually played to win they were diminishing their chances of overall victory!

It’s easy to sit back and say, gosh, they didn’t give their best effort for those paying spectators and I do see the Olympic Committee’s point on this issue. But, I really do see the player’s point as well. It’s like an NFL football team losing their last, largely meaningless, game of the season to secure a better draft position. It makes sense.

Certainly situations are going to occur when losing is to the benefit of the team playing. How are such things to be handled? I suppose the team trying to lose will just have to pretend harder to try to win although they really are trying to lose. Isn’t that as much of a mockery as simply trying to lose outright? We’re saying, go ahead and try to lose but pretend harder.

It’s a really interesting question. I’m not sure there are any good solutions but perhaps there could be some Losing Benefit rule wherein a team could say, hey listen, it’s to our benefit to lose, so go ahead and count it as a loss but we’ll play our best for the paying customers. If we win, it still counts as a loss. I don’t know. I can see objections to that as well. At least it’s intellectually honest and the crowd gets to see a genuine effort.

Tell me what you think in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Cyborg Olympian

Oscar PistoriousThe 2012 London Olympics are fast approaching and there is a fascinating situation unfolding. A South African by the name of Oscar Pistorious is being allowed to compete in the sprint competitions. Being allowed? Yep, he’s a cyborg! His legs were amputated at a young age and he uses artificial devices called blades in their place.

This is interesting because it won’t be long before athletes such as Pistorious are defeating their human counterparts with regularity. It wasn’t that long ago that a chess computer first beat a master but now they present a huge problem with the potential to cheat in chess competitions. Chess computers are better than human players.

It doesn’t take much extrapolation to realize that engineering technology will soon make legs capable of more efficient movement than human legs, arms stronger than human arms, and hands steadier than human hands. What does this mean for competition? It means that men and women with artificial attachments will defeat those who are completely human. Eventually but not immediately on the horizon are artificial implants wherein someone might have enhanced engineering but pass themselves off as completely “natural”.

Whether to allow such artificially enhanced humans into competitions is but one question we must face. Imagine a world where your child cannot compete for a job without artificial enhancements. Imagine a world where genetic engineering manufactures smarter, faster, better, people. There is an interesting movie called Gattica worth a watch but I’m going to dial this one away from science fiction and into science reality.

Oscar Pistorious. Should he be allowed to compete in the Olympics against people without engineering enhancements? The Olympic committees says yes now, but the problem is only going to become more severe in years to come. I’m going to agree with the Olympic committee which argues that the technology, as it exists today, is no better than human legs and therefore he has no advantage. However, it’s clear to me that this issue will soon be resolved in the other direction and engineering will provide an advantage. At that point I’m not sure what can be done. Amputee athletes will want to compete not just in the Olympics but in leagues for children all the way up to and including professional sports. Is it right to deny them the joy of competition? I don’t think so, but each one of them will replace another competitor, one who is not enhanced. Will we see young athletes opting to amputate their legs for the sheer purpose of getting better ones? It’s not so far-fetched as you might imagine.

I’m afraid I offer little in the way of resolution to this issue. People will always want to better themselves and trying to legislate against human nature is an exercise in futility. Brace yourselves for what is not too far in the future.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire