The Olympic motto has always intrigued me because across so many disciplines it seems to be honored more in the breach than the observance. Faster, Higher, Stronger is a clean set of aspirations for athletes all over the world—beautiful in its simplicity and crystalline clarity, with no room for doubt (now that electronic photo-finishes are employed).
But across the Olympic spectrum sit ubiquitous panels of judges peering with dour eyes for form breaks and, risibly, artistic interpretation! Artistic? What the hell has that to do with Citius, Altius, Fortius?? How does one set of pointed toes differ from another? Yes, I understand form breaks, but please, why in the world are there judges in the Olympics? Referees and umpires and an assortment of officials to enforce the rules yes, but judges armed with subjective notions? I don’t care that there are mandatory point deductions now, it’s still rife with subjectivity; consider how many protests were ruled on in the gymnastics competition.
I have gone on record decrying the Oscars, Tonys, etc. for attempting to judge true artistic endeavors—I just don’t think you can tell the difference between two good performances (of course, even by saying “good” I’m exercising an artistic judgment). Diving, gymnastics, figure skating (in the Winter Games, of course), rhythmic gymnastics, and equestrian events have no place in the Olympics. As for freaking synchronized swimming? Makes me apoplectic!!
I will say that I absolutely love watching all the above events (I refuse to call them sports)—all except synchronized swimming. If I want to see feminine legs flailing apart up to their thighs I’ll use my credit card on another channel!! The balance, grace, and derring-do of gymnasts, divers, and skaters take my breath away; the fluidity and poetry are superb, BUT they exist outside the Olympic motto.
For years the old Soviet Bloc panels of judges voted en masse to ensure that communist performers received the highest marks. That’s why I pooh-pooh Larissa Latynina’s claim that her 18-medal haul somehow was better than Michael Phelps’ record. Here’s what she said: “Well, I did not only compete in three Olympic Games and won many medals, but the Soviet Union team had very great success when I was the coach.” Yeah, no kidding! Your team had you as the coach AND the judges in their corner!!
I’m not denying the brilliance of Olga or Nadia, but whenever there was a “toss-up” it was clear who was going to win. See, it’s not blatantly obvious; it can’t be, for that way madness lies, and when a Torville-and-Dean comes along even the Blocs tipped their hats. I’m sure one can find other examples to scuttle my theory, but as long as there are judges it’s no longer in the hands (or feet) of the athletes!! And that’s just not fair. Which is what the Olympics, in theory, purport to be: Fair!
Some would argue that these are the modern games–judging and subjectivity are a small price to pay for the beauty of the performance. The ineluctable fact in all of this is, of course, that the Olympic Games are not about competition as much as they are about spectacle and putting on a show. That’s why NBC pays 1.2 billion dollars for the rights, and then ekes out each thread on prime time in the gaps between commercials, heedless of the fact that we already know the results. And they’re right. We still watch. Because half of them are reality shows with their own panels of judges. Do you seriously doubt the fact that twenty years from now some version of American Idol will find its way into the Olympics??