Thursday, August 28, 2008

Onward to London! (or rather Vancouver)

Yes, despite the fact that during the closing ceremonies of the Beijing games they passed the Olympics onto London, the next Olympic games will be the winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. I'm still not sure how I feel about having the winter Olympics moved to a different year. Yes, it is nice to spread it out, but were the 1994 games truly an Olympics when an Olympiad had not passed since the previous games? It's a puzzle.
For those who don't know, or couldn't guess, I thoroughly enjoy the Olympics. I like to see the sports that aren't televised when there isn't an Olympics going on, or that aren't shown much during the "off" years. Overall I found the Beijing Olympics to be very well done, and with the exception of the horrible murder that kicked them off, one of the least scandal filled Olympics in my life time.
There were many things to applaud about the Olympics this year. Very few doping incidents. Only one or two incidents of suspect scoring. Records set left and right. Great weather and beautiful scenery. But being me, I can't help but notice a few things that could stand some improvement.

The first thing is not so much the Olympics themselves, but rather how NBC shows them. The coverage this year was a mixture of taped and late night live action. But instead of showing us finals of events that had been taped they instead showed us round after round of qualifying of taped events, or the entire men's marathon because it was live. What? Qualifying heats should only be shown if something unusual happens: someone who is a predicted medal contender doesn't qualify, someone gets hurt, or a record is broken. That sort of thing. The first week of coverage was much better than the second. I don't know what needs to be done to get them to move out of their box like thinking. Ah well.

Age Limits. Much ado was made over the suspected age requirement violations of the Chinese women's gymnasts. I think both the FIG and the IOC handled that badly, but if a government is willing to cheat (and I'm not saying that China did, although it looks like) you can't really prove it. Age violations are nothing new. The Soviet block countries did it all the time in the 1980s. I'm not condoning it. I disagree with the age limit rule, but a rule is a rule and everyone should have to abide by it. I'm sure the Russians would have loved to have Alina Mustafina on their team this year. What I really have a problem with is the age limit is only in place for women's gymnastics. If it isn't safe for a 14 year old girl to do acrobatic tricks, it isn't safe for a 14 year old boy to launch himself head first off the equivalent of a three story building. Yet, that is okay. If there is going to be a minimum age for one sport then that should be the rule for all sports. Personally, I think if you are good enough to make it onto an Olympic team at the age of 14 more power to you. Fourteen seems old enough to me.

Tie Breakers. I can understand why the IOC implemented tie-breakers for judged sports. The medals aren't cheap to make and a host country shouldn't have to stock up on them in case the judges are wishy washy. I don't even mind breaking a tie based on execution score in gymnastics. The person who did their routine the cleanest should come out on top. However, if two, or more, people have the same difficulty score and execution score the tie should stand. You don't move on to an additional decimal point, or re-average their scores or any other stupidness. In 2000 during the men's 50 meter freestyle event there was a tie for the gold medal and it stood. They allow ties during round robin play in soccer and other sports. With the new scoring system in gymnastics it is very rare for two people to receive the same score when they have the same difficulty level and execution score. Let the tie stand.

Road racing. This is either a team sport or individual. A country with more depth shouldn't be allowed to have it's lesser athletes go out hard in order to tire out the competition and then drop out themselves so that their countryman can win. That's totally unfair.

Limiting qualifiers. Ages ago, in order the level the playing field in certain sports they restricted the number of athletes each country could send, or have advance to finals, so that the strongest countries couldn't dominate. Well, with the exception on China in diving and men's gymnastics, the field is darn close to level. Or as level as any playing field can be given the differences in population, coaching, and resources between countries. The Olympics should be about the best competing against the best. Shouldn't there be an footnote for someone who medals in a event when the person with the third fastest posted time can't compete because he or she has two teammates faster than him or her on Olympic trial day? Sure, I wanted someone to beat the Soviets or Romanians or East Germans but not because those teams were handicapped. This is a rule that needs to be scrapped ASAP.

Dropping Baseball and Softball. The premiere international competition for these sports was the Olympics. And they are dropped? What the? And tennis, whose entire season is international events, remains? Why? Oh yes, because the Cubans and the Americans were too good. They didn't get rid of men's gymnastics when Japan won five in a row. They didn't get rid of women's gymnastics when the Soviets won 10 of the 11 contested bewteen 1952 and 1992. (The only one they didn't win was 1984 when they boycotted) It's ridiculous.