Friday, February 21, 2014

I"m Shocked, Shocked That There is Another Olympic Controversy...NOT...

Every four years or so controversy over figure skating at the Olympics rears its ugly head almost as regularly as the American commercial media use yellow journalistic tactics to increase their circulation or viewing audience. This time around many, including, one presumes, a bevy of South Koreans, are claiming that their South Korean goddess hero Kim Yu-na, "Queen Yu-na" as she is called by her fans, was robbed of a gold medal at the Olympic Women's figure skating final in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday the 20th of February.

Not surprisingly this time around the Internet--this is the brave new era of digital technologies after all--is playing a major role in the condemnation of the 2014 Olympic figure skating results and in proffering a bevy of conspiracy theories--the digital universe has become the new purveyor of choice of conspiracy theorists--"explaining" how "Queen Yu-na's" gold was stolen from her. In fact, only one day after the Olympic women's figure skating final, 1.5 million people had signed a petition demanding an inquiry into Kim's loss to Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova.

So how was the conspiracy of 2014 done? According to our conspiracy theorists it was the judges who stole "Queen Yu-na's" gold medal from her. Specifically, claim our conspiracy theorists, it was the Russian judge or judges--some conspiracy nuts claim that four Russian judges were on the jury--and their allies, who plotted to keep "Queen Yu-na" out of gold medal heaven.

This claim, of course, raises the empirical issue of who the judges actually were for the women's skating final. According to a source at the British newspaper the Guardian the judges for the women's figure skating final were as follows:
Judge No. 1: Germany, Birgit Föll
Judge No. 2: Ukraine, Yuri Balkov
Judge No. 3: Italy, Franco Benini
Judge No. 4: Estonia, Zanna Kulik
Judge No. 5: Japan, Nobuhiko Yoshioka
Judge No. 6: Russia, Alla Shekhovtsova
Judge No. 7: France, Hélène Cucuphat
Judge No. 8: Canada, Karen Howard
Judge No. 9: Slovakia, Adriana Domanska
As the source who posted this list notes there is only ONE judge from Russia on the panel. There is a Ukrainian but even assuming that the Ukrainian judge was a Russian Ukrainian or favourably disposed toward Russia given the current situation in the Ukraine, that doesn't explain how two judges could give a victory to a Russian skater over the golden goddess of the figure skating world. Though some conspiracy theorists have claimed that there were no judges from the EU on the jury there were actually five judges from the EU, one from Germany, one from Italy, one from Estonia, one from France, and one from Slovakia. It strains credibility, despite the claims of some conspiracy theorists, that three of the judges from the old Cold War Soviet bloc plotted together to give Sotnikova the gold. Estonia and Slovaka are part of the EU these day and the claim that any of these EU judges would be part of conspiracy to give a Russian figure skater the gold in the women's final given the past and present grievances of all of them toward Russia is absurd. Rather, given the number of EU judges on the final jury, an EU conspiracy theory would seem much more likely than a Russian one. Still one can, I suppose, find a modest degree of hilarity in the notion of some apparently intellectually challenged conspiracy theorists that the Cold War and the Eastern bloc are alive and well and living in 2014.

The judges are not the only problem for the conspiracy theorists. There is also the problem of how judges for the short and free programmes are chosen. As the source of the judges list notes, at the beginning of any figure skating competition a panel of 13 judges is chosen. 9 of the 13 judge the short program. The remaining 4 automatically become members of the free programme jury. As there are only 5 remaining spots this means that those who judge the women's Olympic figure skating championship are chosen randomly. How one would work a conspiracy given random chance is a question the conspiracy theorists never address.

There are, of course, other problems for the conspiracy theorists. Given, for example, that the Russians seemed to pin their hopes for a Olympic women's figure skating gold medal on 15 year old Yulia Lipnitskaya--she skated for Russia in the Team Skate competition--wouldn't, if a conspiracy was afoot in Sochi, she be the beneficiary of any conspiracy?

But enough of these crazy fictional conspiracy theory ravings. The claims that the gold was stolen from "Queen Yu-na" is utter sour grapes. Some of these sour grapes are nationalist sour grapes coming from South Koreans. Some of them are celebrity sour grapes coming from "Queen Yu-na's" fans--apparently there are many--around the globe. Most of those who should be in the know, however, including three of commentators for NBC, the network that is covering the Olympics in the United States, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, and Scott Hamilton, former figure skaters all, said they would have given Sotnikova the win. The other, Sandra Bezic, said she would have given Kim more points for her artistic components giving here the gold medal. Bezic, however, went on to note that she was old school. Presumably this means that she would prefer to go back to those bad old scoring days and a scoring system excoriated by many and changed during earlier conspiracy theory days because it was too "subjective", because as we all know "art" is in the eyes of the beholder. Both Weir and Lipinski, by the way, repeated that they thought that Sotnikova won the competition the day after the event pointing out that, given the technical difficulty of Sotnikova's programme, she won relatively easily.

What many of the conspiracy whingers are missing is what Weir and Lipinski make clear in their two interviews on NBC after the women's figure skating final and what Adam Leib makes clear in his article in the New York Times. Scoring in figure skating is based, in part, on the jumps, the difficulty of the jumps, and when the jumps are done. Doing difficult jumps in the second half of the programme (as Sotnikova did) gain more points than those done at the beginning of the long programme (as Kim did). The conspiracy theorists may not like the current emphasis on athleticism over "art" in figure skating (misnamed since figures are no longer done). But that is how the scoring works. I suggest that if they don't like this state of affairs they should try to change the scoring rules (as has been done on several occasions already) rather than signing petitions grounded in the fiction that a gold medal has been stolen from their beloved celebrity. Talk about being blinded by the ideological "light".

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