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The Why's Guy

Judges sully the purity of the Olympics

I stayed up late to watch the women's gymnastics all-around competition at the Olympics.

Really late. The event started at about 11 p.m. Eastern. The medals were handed out at about 1 a.m.

I'm not sure why I watched. I'm not really a fan of gymnastics. Still, I watched, hooked on the Olympic experience.

But with each flip and slip, each tumble and stumble, I wondered who was determining the outcome, the athletes or the judges.

At first the NBC commentators tried to bite their lips, commenting that a score seemed low or high. But eventually even they started to question things.

The judges spent so much time talking to their superiors by phone that they looked like a bunch of 13-year-olds with unlimited minutes organizing a mall rendezvous.

A few days later, in the vaulting finals, a gymnast fell to her knees as she landed.

Usually that earns you a polite round of applause as you run to the consoling arms of your coach.

She earned the bronze medal.

How?

Surprised? Not me. This isn't new.

Remember the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the furor over the pairs figure skating results?

Or the disparity often seen in judging during the Cold War years.

That's what ruins the Olympics for me.

Not the athletes.

The judges.

All judges.

I don't want winners determined by reputation, home crowd or politics.

In the marathon, the runner crossing the finish line first wins. In soccer, the team with the most goals wins. Heck, even pingpong leaves no doubt.

The Olympics should be the purest of competitions. Winners should be self-evident. There should be no guessing.

Banning judges means removing some of the most popular spectator sports from the Games. Gymnastics, figure skating, diving, boxing. Let them have a separate competition: the Judge Judy Games, in the People's Court.

But Beelzebub will be having snowball fights before the International Olympic Committee lets that happen. There's a boatload of television money to protect.

You won't let it happen either. But you should. You should demand it.

Imagine if, at the end of the 100-meter dash, a group of judges decides the winner based on subjective criteria.

"Athlete A had the best time, but he almost went out of his lane and Athlete B had perfect form."

Or the U.S. basketball team wins by 20, but judges determine the Lithuanians played better as a team, so they get the win.

Or after Michael Phelps wins the 100-meter butterfly, judges uphold the Serbian protest because that country's swimmer "deserved" to win.

Fans would be furious.

Yet it is par for the course in an array of sports in every Summer and Winter Olympics.

While we're at it, I'd like to get rid of the referees, too. (There was that bit of nastiness at the end of the U.S.A.-U.S.S.R. gold medal basketball game in 1972.) But the athletes aren't honest enough for that, so someone has to enforce the rules.

Maybe technology can provide a way to keep the identity of the athletes from the judges.

Maybe diving, figure skating and gymnastics will require each competitor to do the same routine.

I'm tired of being stuck with what we have.

I doubt the Greeks of the ancient Games would approve. In their Olympics, there was no doubt who won.

Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? He can be reached at kreiger@sptimes.com.

Judges sully the purity of the Olympics 08/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 5:58pm]

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