That’s become the standard comment lately from me and my friends when watching the Olympic gymnastics competitions from Beijing.
First it was the age scandal, then it was the apparent bias of judges toward a hometown crowd because Chinese gymnasts could fall and still score higher than athletes from other countries who successfully completed their routines.
And, as of Monday night (broadcast time), it was the strange judging and tie-breaking system that the International Olympics Committee has created to avoid having scoring problems. Um, care to try again IOC?
In order to prevent claims of bias, the IOC decided that no country with athletes in any given competition can be a judge. OK, well that also means that no country with a decent gymnastics program will ever have a judge on a panel that is scoring gold-medal contenders. Which, in turn, means you have judges with less experience who are less competent to be judging these athletes in the first place.
That puts you into a situation like the one on Monday night (broadcast time) where a Chinese gymnast and a U.S. gymnast tied for the gold medal. Then the Chinese athlete was ranked #1 and the U.S. athlete was ranked #2. How? Well, there’s some bizarre tie-breaking system used in which several judges’ votes are discarded and then the remaining scores are compared. It’s a system that the former gold-medal gymnast doing the color commentary for NBC had a hard time explaining, I think because he had a hard time understanding it himself.
To make matters worse, the IOC also decided that this time around there could not be a dual-medal ceremony. That means that even though the two gymnasts got the same score and beat everyone else for first place, they could not both be awarded a gold medal. Why not? They award dual medals in other world gymnastics competitions.
Talk about a public relations nightmare. Most of us only pay attention to gymnastics for one week every four years. It’s the best chance of gaining new fans and, maybe, some new gymnasts whose families are willing to go through the tremendous sacrifice needed for a young athlete to compete at an international level.
Instead, this year’s Olympics gymnastics competition has done the exact opposite. It is making people frustrated and breeding distrust of the judging and the scoring. It has probably made a lot of people think, “why bother?”
The gymnastics community needs to ban together quickly on this one and start the process to get things changed for the 2012 Olympics in London.
The 2008 Olympic gymnastics competitions have been laden with scandals. They need to be addressed head-on and openly. The first step in fixing a problem is admitting to yourself that there is one. The first step in fixing the public relations from a problem is admitting it to the world. Step two is the same for both — drop the excuses and just fix the problem.