Ordinal Numbers and Unordinary Reactions ; the Art and Science of Judging Figure Skating

Article excerpt

The Winter Olympics opened less than a week ago with embraces of harmony and flag-wrapped dedications to the ancient codes of honor among friendly foes.

Just five days later the medal count of the winners is dwarfed by the decibel count generated by howls of rage and betrayal. Figure skating judges stand accused of conspiracy, sellout, and vote- fixing. The International Skating Union ordered an investigation.

It got so bad by Wednesday that the Winter Games were on the verge of moving from NBC's prime time to the docket of the World Court.

People who know the Olympics best wondered what took them so long this year to get around to the usual hysterics. NBC momentarily sidetracked Enron and is wondering out loud on its newscasts whether the vote for the Russians over the Canadians in the figure skating pairs was rigged. Helpfully, it showed old footage of skating judges signaling each other by twitching their shoes.

Think cultural differences, not cold war

The widely respected Olympic historian, David Wallenchinsky, wasn't so sure about a fix or conspiracy. "It's tempting to read old- time cold-war prejudices into [the judges] decision," he says, "but it is just as likely that the division reflects not so much a difference in politics as a difference in taste. Judges from the old Eastern bloc prefer the balletic Russian style, while judges from the West lean toward livelier, more entertaining programs."

All of which depressed a volunteer traffic aid in Olympics- smitten Salt Lake City. She asked a reporter in dismay whether this is how the 2002 Winter Games will be remembered. He said probably not. The Olympics are an extravaganza and a circus of some of the greatest athletic acts on earth, but they are still a mirror of some of the best and the worst in human striving under the pressure of money and acclaim. …

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