FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Can Olympic Ice Skating Sink Any Lower?

Noam Chomsky said somewhere that organized sports were training in irrational jingoism. I doubt he was thinking of figure skating, but, sadly, figure skating is one of the worst sports in that respect. I’m a member of a Yahoo group of skating fans. The emails have been fast and furious among the members of that group since the Olympics began. A large number of them have been Canadian bashing. Ever since the story broke of possible collusion between the Russians and Americans to ensure a Russian win in the team competition and an American win in ice dancing, members of the group have been spewing vitriol at Canadians and labeling as “fellow travelers” anyone, such as myself, who would dare to point out that the Canadian ice-dancing team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the reigning Olympic champions, was superior to the American team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Davis and White didn’t need any help to win the gold was the constant refrain of most members of the group. They’ve been winning everything in the last few years. That is sadly true, but it begs the question of whether Davis and White needed help by tacitly assuming that they had not had help with these other wins. British skater Chris Howarth, one of the UK announcers for the live feed, acknowledged several times that Virtue and Moir had “the best edges in the world,” and that they had, “without a doubt the best skating skills in the business,” that they were “the epitome of ice dancing” both on his view and on the view of many others. So how had Davis and White been able to beat them so consistently?

The results of the ice-dancing competition were sewn up at the end of the short dance. Davis and White were conveniently slated to skate last making it that much easier to determine what sort of marks they would need to achieve a decisive lead. Virtue and Moir skated flawlessly. Despite that fact, however, and the fact that Davis and White, according to the announcers, did not skate so well as they had in the team competition, that they did not “engage the audience” as they had done earlier, the judges still gave them nearly a three-point lead over Virtue and Moir.

That’s an old judging trick that dates from the days of school figures: Give the skater, or skaters, you want to win a decisive lead in the first part of the competition and then it won’t matter how they do later–the win will be secured. Jon Jackson, a former skating judge, writes about that in his book On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed. There was no way Virtue and Moir could catch Davis and White after that and everyone knew it. It wasn’t that Virtue and Moir couldn’t skate that much better than Davis and White. It was that the scores the two teams had been receiving in the past few years had been so close that such a gap would be considered unbridgeable.

Virtue and Moir had to have read the writing on the wall long before coming to Sochi. They had not been allowed to beat Davis and White for a while, so what chance was there that they would be allowed to do so at the most politically charged event of their careers? The U.S. wanted that ice-dance gold and they wanted it badly. The U.S. had never before won a gold in Olympic ice dancing. They had hoped to with Belbin and Agosto in 2006, but those hopes had been dashed when the team came in second. The U.S. started early pushing and promoting the artistically challenged but powerhouse team of Davis and White. I don’t believe Davis and White could have garnered all the golds they did leading up to the Olympics if they had not had the political clout of the U.S. behind them.

Virtue and Moir had to know going into the Olympics that they were not going to be allowed to win the gold again. And yet they went anyway when as reigning Olympic champions they could easily have retired on their laurels. They went and as the U.K. announcer, Howarth, observed, “they brought their A game.” Consummate athletes as well as artists, they peaked right when they should have peaked, in the individual rather than the team competition where Davis and White had clearly peaked.

Everyone who knows anything about skating, and who has not fallen victim to irrational jingoism knows that Virtue and Moir should have won. It was a strange disorienting experience to watch the live feed. The announcers had nothing but praise for Virtue and Moir, whereas they are mildly critical of Davis and White. “Without a doubt,” observes Howarth, Virtue and Moir have “the best skating skills in the business, but on the day not quite enough to keep the Americans behind them.” But why not? Neither team made any mistakes, yet the team that is generally acknowledged to have superior skating skills came in second.

I knew after the short dance that Virtue and Moir weren’t going to be allowed to win. It was difficult for me to watch the free dance for that reason. I found myself hoping that Davis and White would make a mistake, a big one. I’ve never felt that way before watching skating (or any other sport for that matter). I’ve always wished for all the athletes to do their best. It wasn’t that I thought a fall, or other serious mistake, would make it possible for Virtue and Moir to win. I knew there was no chance of that. It was that I hoped a mistake by Davis and White would make the irredeemably corrupt nature of the judging that much more obvious.

Of course Davis and White didn’t make a mistake, though, because they skate like machines (which is why, despite the fact that they are very good, they are still infinitely inferior to Virtue and Moir). They skated well, and in an effort to make certain that there would be no controversy around their win, the judges awarded them wildly inflated marks, marks designed to give the impression that Virtue and Moir had never even been close.

But, of course, numbers can lie. And these numbers do.

I have a new admiration for Virtue and Moir, one that extends beyond the admiration I have always had for them as athletes and artists. It showed greatness of spirit to take on what they had to have known was ultimately a lost cause. They skated beautifully. They skated not for a medal, but for the art of it. They have what skating so desperately needs if it is going to survive: a commitment to an ideal that transcends the individual ego, a commitment to beauty. And yet the skating establishment turned its back on them.

I thought that skating had sunk so low that it could not possibly sink any lower.

I was wrong.

M.G. Piety teaches philosophy at Drexel University. She is the editor and translator of Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs and the author of Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology. Her latest book is Sequins and Scandals: Reflections on Figure Skating, Culture, and the Philosophy of Sport, She can be reached at: mgpiety@drexel.edu 

 

More articles by:

M.G. Piety teaches philosophy at Drexel University. She is the editor and translator of Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. Her latest book is: Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology. She can be reached at: mgpiety@drexel.edu 

August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
CounterPunch News Service
Critic of Wildlife Department Removed Day Before Scheduled Meetings on Revisions to Wolf-killing Protocols
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail