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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympic Games, 2008 tardy posting!

Yes, I agree: this posting is not timely...something happened, and it did not post when I first tried to publish it...so, my apologies for the unseemly delay.

A forum for the world to set the best athletes of each country against each other in a fair and unbiased competition. Or so states the ideal. As we know, ideals are one thing, facts are quite another, and often fall miserably short of the stated ideals.

The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008 are no exception. There have been no shortages of egregious errors in judging, particularly noticeable in the gymnastics competition. In fact, it is one of the few, if not the only Olypmic arena in which the foilbles of human judgement come into play throughout the contest. Most of the other contests rely on super-accurate electronic timers.

There have been so many fiascos in these games as to render the entire concept laughable. This was not a contest of athletes; it was a contest of nationalities, ridiculously complicated rules, and faulty scoring systems. In an attempt to prevent national bias (an admirable ideal) the judging was faulty because the none of the judges were not allowed to be from any country entering a team in the competition. Sounds good, on the surface.

The end result, however, was that the judging was as badly skewed due to incompetence of the judges: if your country does not have a gymnastics team, then what in blazes to the "judges" think they know about the sport? Only so much can be gained from a rule book, or watching the sport a few times on TV. Significant nuances are missed, and massive flaws and mistakes get ignored.

The women's final on the vault is a prime example. Alicia Sacramone was, in the words of Bella Karolyi "ripped off" of her chance at a medal. How could the judges possibly have awarded a higher score to Chung Fei, who not only did not 'stick' her landing, but failed to complete the final rotation of her vault, and actually landed on her knees? This was not a matter of falling after landing: she never landed on her feet at all--she landed down on her knees. This was a huge mistake! Were the judges completely blind? Why did they not deduct the appropriate points for this 'fault on the vault'? Were they also blind to the fact that Alicia performed a very solid vault, and redeemed herself from the previous day's disasters in her routines? Did they still carry a bias of 'punishment' for her into the next event? It was just plain wrong.

Team USA should have filed a protest against this score.

Next, comes the finals on the uneven bars. Nastia Lukin and He Xing tied. The tiebreaker confusion controversy aside for the moment, there never should have been a tie in the first place. He made 2 very noticeable errors, including a side-step on her landing. There were other, more subtle errors within the routine. Nastia, meanwhile, did one of her very best routines, with much more minor 'faults' to be found within, and, she stuck her landing!

The outcome of the tiebreaker on the uneven bars was most unfortunate; it resulted in an undeserved gold for He, and a disappointing silver for Lukin. If the judging had been accurate to start with, there would have been no tie, and the ridiculously complex 'tiebreaker rules' would not have to have been applied. These rules were apparently taken out of 'human' hands, written into a computer program, and done automatically.

I'm not impressed! A human (or worse, a committee) had to think up the series of rules, and they then had to be entered into a computer program by another human. Mistakes can be made. Even if no mistakes were made in the programming, the first mistake was in making such a complex set of rules. The I.O.C. has apparently never heard of the "K.I.S.S." principle: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." The garbage that resulted reminds me of another aphorism relative to computers: "GIGO," meaning, "Garbage In, Garbage Out." It was certainly garbage that went into the concept of these new scoring and tiebreaker rules, and garbage that came out at the end.

Now, it strikes me, that complex rules or not, there is already well and fully in place the perfect mechanism for squaring up the judging, and making things absolutely fair, no matter who the judges are, even if they were from a country whose athletes were participating in the given contest. It has existed and been used for years in professional football, and even earlier in horse racing. It is the camera. The olympic venue is plastered with cameras viewing all the events from every conceivable angle, and there is not a network there without the capability to instantly retrieve and reply any shot, and do so in slow motion if necessary.

When there is a disputed call in football, the team managers and referees will go to the instant replay to settle the issue. The camera knows. If team USA had filed a protest over Cheng Fei's artificially inflated vault score, and if the judges had been forced to review a tape and really acknowledge the errors, (several besides the unfortunate landing), there would have been no excuse for such an incorrect score. She fell. She did not complete her rotation sufficiently to land properly. A 6-year-old with no gymnastics training could have seen that. Were the judges watching the audience instead, and taking cues from the cheers and shouts? Or were they wearing horse blinders? Perhaps using a mental dartboard, and tossing darts at random numbers?

The technology is here, and has been for many years. Let's rule in favor of fairness for all the athletes, not just those in timed events, and bring in instant replay review, and the ability for any team to challenge what is obviously an unfair and undeserved score.