Sunday, August 12, 2012

On the closing day of the 2012 London Olympics

It has been a great success for London Olympics in terms of athletic performance.   There are also a few issues plaguing the Games.  With regards to organizations, venues, judge scores, and drug use and its allegations, these discussions are unavoidable once every four years, so nothing new.  Two things do stand out in London.  

The first is there are many rules, appeals, and overrules or no overrules in swimming, fencing, track and field, gymnastics, cycling, boxing, etc.   Those affected include Olympics and world champions, world record holders, and who would win the Gold, Silver, and Bronze. There was almost not one day going by without such an incident.  Don't remember ever seeing this before.  It is good for some athletics because fairness prevailed.  Unfortunately, different sports have different processes, so other athletics are justified in thinking they were robbed.  Judges need to improve themselves, just like athletics, with the help of better technologies.  All sports should apply the same or at least similar rules to ensure objectivity and accountability of the judges and openness.

The second is the disqualification of 4 badminton women's double pairs, one from China, two from South Korea, one Indonesia, because they tried to lose to each other during their last group matches.  Officially, competitors should try their best to win, so being passive during competition is ground for dismissal.  In a perfect world this would be absolutely true, and if I were the Chinese coach I would not have ordered it.  But clearly we are far from a perfect world.  There are many other instances of passive plays in other sports (track and field, football, cycling, etc) in the London Games or before, without such high profile DQ.  And the 4 teams were merely aiming for a better position during elimination plays since they already advanced, so from this angle, they were indeed trying their best to win the Gold later.  The only reason officials make such a unprecedented decision likely was that these teams wanted to lose so badly were such terrible actresses in the matches.    

At I watched the many different sports I am not familiar with, I appreciate that the athletics train hard and deserve the praise and medals, but I also wonder if they and we as audience place too much emphasis on Olympics.  If you never win a Gold, once every four years chances, are you a failure, even if you have won everything else in the sport?  Especially compared to your main competitor who always lost to you but won, just once, in the Olympics?   There are many such cases in the history of Olympics.  Some of the Gold medalists are out of the top 3 or 5 in their professions. Like, top tennis players are competing in Olympics as the fifth GS now, but Nicolás Massú (2004) and Elena Dementieva (2008) had never won a GS, while Federer will probably never win a singles' Gold.  Extrapolate to other sports without a GS counterweight, players have an even bigger image problem.  Is Ji Xinpeng (2000, Badminton) a better player than Peter Gade or Lee Chong Wei as of 2012?

Another long-standing problem is counting the medal totals of countries, which is fine, but what does it mean?  A country is better than another at developing top athletics in more specific Olympic sports?  If so, how much is the significance of that?  One would hope it stimulates people in a country to participate more in sports.  Otherwise, Olympics are just like a summer blockbuster movie, only it lasts for two weeks once every four years.

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