Olympics, Ice Skating, and Perfection

I've been watching Figure Skating these past couple of days and I am perplexed by the number of falls. Now, I have all the athletic ability of a one-legged, 22 year old, blind dog, so perhaps I'm not one to talk.  And I fully realize there is now way I could even think about accomplishing what these Olympians do.

But the falls and mistakes surprise me.  Here's why.

The routines they do in competition are the same ones they have done for weeks or months.  The exact same moves are supposed to happen every time.  They are supposed to happen at the exact point in the music at the same time.  There are no outside elements to interfere with that.

As such, these moves are things that can be practiced over and over for days or weeks on end.  All they need to do is duplicate that exact performance for the judges.

Easier said, than done, I know.  But should that be the case?  When this is your full-time job, or for many athletes, their full time life, is that expecting too much of them?

Part of being an Olympian is being prepared both physically and mentally for the realities of competition on the world stage.  Maybe we should cut the teenagers in their first appearance some slack. But for everyone else, why isn't near perfection in their routines something we should expect?

And yet there are still the slips and falls on routines that should be as reflexive as breathing.

Are competitors trying too hard?  Is the Olympics the time to try out new things they haven't mastered yet?  Or are these routines unmasterable?  In other words, are the Olympian cutting corners with practice, or have we finally reached the maximum the human body is capable of performing?

Unlike the events where players compete directly with someone, like Speed Skating, hockey, or Curling, there really should be nothing unexpected in a Figure Skating performance.  The Olympians know their equipment, they know their partners, they know about ice, they know how much space they have, they know the moves they are going to do, the know the scoring system. They don't have to watch for tackle or interceptions.

 So why do so many performers fall?

More specifically why do so many medalists medal in performances in which they fell?  These people are the best in the world.  It seems like executing their routines better is something we should expect.

I don't intend this as a slam of the Olympians.  The skill, talent, and dedication they demonstrate is utterly amazing. But the whole thing kind of hurts my head.


laane said...

The human body is not a constant factor. It's dependent on all sorts of circumstances. Air humidity. air pressure, temperature, all make a differnce. As do internal factors like hormones, the way metabolic waste is removes out of the muscles, etc etc.

Added to this. I think you underestimate the amount of pressure these people are under. They don't need to do what they normally do, they need to do better than others. Far better.

Shawna said...

WOW - you are HARSH. You've never watched figure skating before? Half-pipe snowboarding? Gymnastics? All of these disciplines can have the same criteria for perfection attached to them. But no one is perfect 100% of the time, no matter how well trained and how many times they've done the same exact thing. And believe me - they train and train and train. But sometimes things just don't have the right "feel" - it's not something that can be explained - it's something you KNOW when you do these sports. So you train and train and train - even when things don't "feel" right so on the day of competition when everything you've done COUNTS you can pull it off - even if it doesn't "feel" right.

If they could all be perfect - there wouldn't need to be any judging. They could just look at the planned routine and say "This guy's gold, this pair is silver, bronze goes to this gal - Olympics over. Let's go home."

And some moves are more difficult - the skaters are always pushing the envelope because there is a scoring system that judges every moment of a routine. If they just skated from one end of the rink to the other and jumped two or three times, yeah - you'd expect them to be perfect. But now they get extra points for footwork and "connections" between required elements.

Take the Russian guy - he's a phenomenal jumper - and he can land them every time. BUT - if you compare his spins to the Swiss guy - it's clear the Swiss is a FAR better spinner. So yeah - he (the Russian) didn't fall - but he's not really pushing the envelope. He does simple steps and jumps really well.

It's not like this has changed - remember the battle of the "Carmens" (Katarina Vitt vs. Debbie ???). The Canadian gal did a beautiful, clean long program - but Katarina and Debbie literally couldn't stand up and it was who fell the least that won the gold (Katarina) - because of judge bias and the way the scoring worked back then from short program to long.

So - if you expect precision and perfection every single time from every single skater - figure skating is not a sport to watch. Or gymnastics. Or half-pipe. They're gonna make mistakes. That's why there are judges sitting there. It's whomever is best doing the hardest stuff on the DAY of the competition. And THAT's why I LOVE the Olympics.

Mr. New Dilemma said...

Haha, seems like you struck a nerve with someone.

I have been watching it too, and I have told my friends, wife, even my mom how terrible the figure skating is this year. It's hilarious.

(To the Olympicly Sensitive - I understand these are the best, I mean if they made it through olympic qualification, we know they are "capable" of being awesome, just not this time.)

Anonymous said...

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing

mike said...

I could never bear to watch the figure skating, but what i have seen so far has put me to sleep.

Ooh...Canada just got a gold in Skeleton. woo hoo!

There's an idea: Combine Figure Skating and Skeleton, just to spruce things up :)

Anna said...

I think it's funny that the Russian is ticked off about not getting the gold. His routine, though more difficult in some aspects, was overall sloppily performed. The American definitely had a cleaner, more refined routine despite a problem with his spin and the lack of a "quad" jump. It's all so subjective and the way the commentators were talking, it was almost as if the top 4 or 5 were a given no matter what their performance level.