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The inherent futility of speed-based Olympic sports


Some people complain about sports like snowboarding and ice skating, which are judged and scored using often-subjective criteria.

I am going to complain about the speed-based sports like downhill skiing or luge or speed skating, which are usually scored by best time. And the reason is this:

  • There are three medals to be awarded per sport.
  • There are dozens of competitors in each sport.
  • Many of those competitors are so identical in skill, pushing the envelope of what is humanly possible, that their time-based scores are separated by as little as a hundredth of a second, even a thousandth of a second.
  • Imagine working, preparing, training, practicing, competing in lesser competitions, every day for four years. Spending thousands of hours and millions of dollars, only to be ousted from a medal by one one-hundredth of a second. When for all intents and purposes, the competitors are identical in speed, strength, and skill. And the two runs that they’re normally allowed can be sabotaged by any number of factors such as wind, sunlight, temperature, a picosecond’s distraction, a half-degree tilt in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

I think speed-based sports need to have broader criteria for “winning,” because so many of the competitors are so identical in score. Say, if the top three competitors are clustered within 5/100ths of a second, give them all a gold medal, and so on down through silver and bronze if clusters exist there also. Duplicate medals have been awarded before when scores are identical. I think a broader medal criteria is necessary for speed-based sports. To have only 3 medals when perhaps 10 competitors are clustered at the top is demoralizing for both the competitors and the spectators.

Decades ago when timing devices were not so discriminating, it would have been difficult to distinguish competitors from each other. I think the Olympics do the competitors a disservice when they sort out near-superhuman, identically-capable competitors with such inhuman precision.


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