Encouraged by the proverbial sackful of Twitter and email feedback – not all of it positive – in response to my article upon women and sport, I now feel emboldened to take unto myself the title of National Rust’s unofficial Winter Olympics correspondent, not least since the position currently appears to be vacant.
For me, you can keep cross-country skiing – the one where they ‘skate’ on skis through the countryside and somewhere along the route fire five shots at a target.
It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect Scandinavians to invent in the dead of night, over two pints of vodka, because there’s nothing else to do when the snow comes down.
Ditto with ice dance and figure skating generally, indeed anything which attracts subjective judges’ marking on things such as style, flair and artistic impression, i.e. on top of athletic achievement. With these events, the viewer tends to gain the impression that they’re intruding upon some Masonic-like devotional ceremony with rules and rituals too complex for mere mortals to understand, however helpful the ‘expert’ commentators.
The truth is, wherever there’s judging, there’s room for bribery, collaboration, prejudice and corruption – and the award of medals at the Winter Olympics is littered with examples down through history. Furthermore, such a comment is not always the last refuge of the patriot or xenophobic, welcome though that might be.
For example, I note today that a petition doing the rounds, protesting at the judges’ marking which gave the Russian Adelena Sotnikova the women’s figure skating gold over Yuna Kim of South Korea, has already attracted over 1.8 million signatures. You cannot award medals on sheer numbers of popular votes when technical and style points need to be assessed by experts, but on this occasion – in my view – those protesting are right.
In my view, Kim simply performed her freestyle long programme better that Sotnikova did hers, end of message. And since Kim was leading the competition after the short programme this should have ensured she won gold.
To be fair, Sotnikova’s effort was also outstanding but she was simply not as accomplished and classy. However, she won huge acclaim from the Russian crowd, whose representatives have never previously won a women’s figure skating gold, and Sotnikova duly won her ‘hometown’ decision.
At least Sotnikova and Kim both got around the ice rink without falling over.
Lower down the order, the ‘dubiousness’ of figure skating judging was re-emphasised by the American Ashley Wagner coming seventh … behind the ‘darling of the Games’ Julia Lipnitskaia, the Russian 15 year-old, who at one point fell out of a spin onto her backside, in fifth place. Surely, even in a subjective judging set-up, someone who executes their programme without messing up should always prevail over anyone who spread-eagles across the ice like a rag doll doing theirs?
There’s no doubt about it, the biggest hit of the Winter Olympics have been the non-traditional new sports. I describe them as ‘new’ in the sense that the average British television viewer [me] has not seen them before and/or, if he has, has not taken much notice of them.
It cannot be denied – the events in which skiers and snowboarders go down steep hills and hurl themselves off platforms to perform all sorts of acrobatics … or career down the side of mountains in a cavalry charge to the bottom for a classic ‘winner takes all’ end result … both with an ever-present risk of committing either homicide or harakiri in the flash of an eye, make for great viewing. Mainly because we at home all secretly acknowledge that we wouldn’t have the balls to participate in these events ourselves.
When you watch these competitors doing it with such mutual admiration and camaraderie, you cannot but feel a sense of awe and respect coursing through your veins.
And then, of course, there’s the commentating …