2010 Winter Olympics: Is Figure Skating a Sport? I Think Not!

Glenn BorokContributor IIIFebruary 26, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 25:  Joannie Rochette of Canada competes in the Ladies Free Skating on day 14 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Pacific Coliseum on February 25, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

From an American perspective, there have been plenty of great stories so far in these Winter Olympics. The ice-skating exploits of Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis, the magnificent snowboarding of Shaun White, the hockey team’s win over Canada, and gold medal hauls by skiers Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn.

According to the media, however, one of the biggest stories is the gold medal win in men’s figure skating by American Evan Lysacek, whose win inspired a massive hissy fit by Russian silver medalist Evgeny Plushenko when he thought that the judging was unfair. The fact that controversy remains over this is in and of itself extraordinary, considering that figure skating as an event does not deserve to be in the Olympics or even considered a sport.

Now, that may strike some of you (especially those who enjoy prancing about on ice in shiny, bedazzled clothing) as a bold and unfair statement, but it is one that is perfectly valid. First, let’s examine the circumstances around the Lysacek-Plushenko controversy. Now, I despise those darn Russian commies as much as any other gun-toting, God-fearing, flag-loving American, but Plushenko did make some valid points. He argued that Lysacek was rewarded for a routine that was very cautious and was based around routine tricks and dancing and that the judges has penalized the Russian for attempting more risky jumps.

Now, I’m no hard-core figure skating fan (do such sad, pathetic people exist?), but that is (probably) true. From the view of an impartial observer, Lysacek’s routine was about as potent as a neutered cat. Plushenko should have won just for having the balls to try and make figure skating exciting, although the athleticism of his “jumps” would have had most fourth-string college basketball players rolling on the floor in derisive laughter.

Figure skating in general is a laughable excuse for athletic activity. A large part of the judging is apparently based on “aesthetic beauty”, which is something most people do not watch sports for. You know a sport is lacking in athletic demand when a choreographer is a crucial part of the coaching staff.

A large part of the score is also based on the skaters’ dresses, which are shinier than a rapper’s mouth. Skaters apparently pay thousands of dollars to have their clothes designed, surprising considering the fact that a preschooler armed with glue, cloth, and a Bedazzler could probably make something just as good.

With all that, I was surprised to learn that the Olympics even contained a “Men’s Figure Skating Competition”, as no self respecting man I know would come close to the sport. I began to pity them later, however, as I soon realized that most professional figure skaters had probably been to afraid to come out to their families as kids and were instead forced to use skating as an outlet to express their true feelings.

My main gripe with figure skating, however, goes beyond the shiny dresses and the dull dance routines. No, my main complaint extends to all sports that, like figure skating, hand out medals based on the whims of judges. Something open to that much subjectivity is not even a fair competition. Real sports decide their winners in an open, fair manner. Miller and Ohno won their medals because they went faster than their competitors. The Americans beat the Canadians at hockey because they found ways to score more goals. Meanwhile, Lysacek beat Plushenko by the tiniest of fractions based on a scoring system understood by a handful of people.

Of course, many Winter Olympic sports are based on judges' scoring, including the snowboarding competition where Shaun White brought home gold. But at least sports like snowboarding are easier to decipher; the millions of people watching could see that his tricks were more impressive and his landings more solid and controlled than those of his competitors, so there was no controversy when he was crowned winner. With figure skating, however, people will be left thinking they saw two fairly equal performances, only to find that the judges have somehow decreed that one was “far better” than the other.

A sport whose results are left in the hands of so few is immediately suspect. Unless the judging is evenly computed by androids of some sort, there is no way anyone can make the case that the judges are truly impartial. Careers could turn on the decision of one person. And what if that person is influenced by home crowd support? Is a good friend with one of the skaters? Thinks one of the skaters is hot? Or even recently enjoyed a night with the skater? There are too many grey areas for such judging to ever be done evenhandedly, something that further damages what little credibility figure skating ever had as a sport.

In short, figure skating is simply not a sport. It does require skill, and I have no doubt that it is a captivating hobby in places where the winters are long and cold. As an athletic pursuit, however, it is laughable, and will hopefully be off the Olympic bill sooner than later.

Of course, the one bright spot for figure skating is that it is not the worst sport in the Winter Olympics. That (dis)honor goes to ice dancing, which I considered lampooning, before realizing no one would ever believe me if I told them it was in the Olympics.