The Sports Beat

I don’t care about 99% of Olympic competition. I could care less about gymnastics, track and field, horseback riding, basektball, rowing, or just about anything else you can name as an event. In fact, there are precisely two things I will watch in venues other than the Olympics: baseball, because it’s”¦ well”¦ baseball and diving, because I think it’s pretty cool.

That being said, I, like many other Americans, will watch sports I really could give two shits about in the name of rooting for my country.

So, two weeks ago I was in Maine for my yearly week off and I watched the Olympics. I watched Carly Patterson’s performance in the all-around competition vs Svetlana Khorkina. Now, I don’t know very much about gymnastics, and I certainly don’t know where they find deductions sometimes, but I do know when something looks smoother and better than something else. And I certainly know that a noticable slip on the balance beam is something that cost you points, even though Khorkina swears it was a “minor mistake that was hardly noticable.”

I watch gymnastics twice a decade. If I can notice it, it’s noticable.

This in stark contrast to a girl who performs a dismount NAMED after her on the balance beam. One would think you’d try to stay safe and consistent against someone who’s bread is buttered based on the apparatus. Much like Patterson did on the uneven bars, where Khorkina has a move named after her. Carly Patterson didn’t make an obvious flub on the uneven bars, while Khorkina DID on the balance beam. That flub cost her a tenth of a point and Khorkina lost by a tenth of point. Coincidence? Probably not.

And then, in a show of complete and utter classlessness, Khorkina decided to break into the tired routine of people who lose at the Olympics and blame the judging, going so far as to call the judges biased in favor of Americans. If the judges were Greek, she said, she would have won and, in fact, everything was decided in advance. “I have seen much tougher opposition than her,” Khorkina said. “Let’s see how long she can remain on top. Can she keep going and compete in two more Olympics like myself.”

Honey, she’s already got a gold, she doesn’t have to.

Yet for every inch that Khorkina showed a lack of class, Russian gymnast Alexi Nemov showed it 100 times over. After a high-bar routine where he got obviously screwed by a Canadian and a South Korean judge, both rating a nearly flawless performance as 9.6 while the rest of the pretty much universally rated it at 9.8 or 9.75. Again, when I was watching this, I was just baffled. I didn’t know where they could have possibly deducted points. Neither, in fact, did the crowd who reacted so strongly to the low score, that an IOC chairman actually forced the Canadian and Korean judge to reconsider their score, which they did, raising it by a tenth of a point each, leaving Nemov at 9.762 and in fifth place. He was to be followed by Paul Hamm who, in all honesty, didn’t do a performance that looked half as hard, and was rewarded with a 9.811.

This happening to the same poor guy who, just days earlier, had won his gold medal “based on a judging error” and has been asked to return the gold medal by the IOC, to which the USOC has responded, in his behalf, by telling the IOC to go f*ck themselves. The USOC had offered to recognize a second gold medal being awarded to the Korean, but have also now declined that, as well.

As for Hamm. I have read a lot of columnists who think he should show enough integrity to hand back the medal and take the silver instead. Here is my problem with that theory:

Judging is subjective. Who I determine is a winner is not necessarily going to be who you determine to be the winner. I might see something as a 9.4 while you see it as 9.8. The fact that someone can even say that “the judges were wrong” shows how retarded the whole thing is. A judge can’t be wrong. He can only judge it based on what he sees. I read somewhere that gymnastics is more art than sport, and you can’t judge art in the same way you judge a sport. And this is why these controversies will continue. They happened with ice skating in 2002, boxing in 2000, and they will continue to happen. Just like every year, people are up in arms stating how they need to fix the state of judging at the Olympics, and it will continue until Carly Patterson and Paul Hamm make their Letterman/Leno/Stern/Conan rounds. Then, no one will care about these sports again until 2008. Nothing will change. Then the winter games will roll by in 2006, and the same controversies will pop up for ice skating.

Judging will not be fixed until there is no longer a need for them, and a computer can do all the scoring. It would probably be possible now, if not insanely expensive. 50 cameras mounted from all angles around they gymnastic apparatus, feeding into a CPU that knows how to look for deductions and body angles and the like. Everyone judged via the same program, with no thought of nationality or money. Done. Boxing? You’re telling me they can’t put some kind of sensor in the glove that knows when a sold hit is scored? Bullshit. If Mortal Kombat could figure out when someone is blocking 10 years ago, a multi-billion dollar Committee can hire someone to figure out this problem.

As for Mike Hulse’s angle on the US basketball team. In case you didn’t check: “Anyone who boos our Olympic Basketball team, anyone who roots against them and wants them to lose should be ashamed of themselves and be shot in the leg. If that don’t learn ya right, you take one to the head

I think people rooting against the US basketball team is simply a statement of how far away the NBA has gotten from the standard United States sports fans. You said it yourself, they are overpaid millionaires who may or may not care about winning a medal.

May or may not care about winning a medal?

You’re telling me that I’m supposed to give two shits about a team of 12 guys who are doing this as an afterthought when compared to groups of people who have spent their whole life training and sacrificing to win a gold medal? I’m supposed to care about a group of 12 guys, at least one of whom (Iverson) is a scumbag who the US shouldn’t be proud to cart out in front of the world as a representative of the country?

People aren’t bailing out like rats on a sinking ship because Team USA is up against stiff competition. People are bailing out because nobody likes any of these players. 92’s dream team was a different era of basketball. It was an era of, by far, classier players in whom Middle America had something emotionally invested. Jorden is Jorden, Magic and Bird were legends playing in their own time, Stockton and Malone we’re at least universally respected. The team was good and from a time where America could identify with basketball. You drop 1992’s Dream Team in 2004 where the world “has caught up” and they still roll over the competition. Two reasons. 1) They give a damn. They were the first team of NBA players allowed to play and treated it like the honor it was and 2) They’re worlds better than anyone playing the game today, with the possible exception of Shaquille O’Neal. Today’s NBA is full of whiners (Kobe), criminals (Spreewell, Iverson, et al), and kids (‘Melo, ‘Bron). The United States doesn’t care about these guys when they play in the NBA, and they don’t care about them abroad.

Why?

Because the NBA has gone out of it’s way to brand it self to a certain audience, and that audience is not the same audience who watches the Olympics. In fact, that audience has become so disillusioned by the NBA, they WANT to see NBA players lose, because these players took basketball away from them.

People don’t hate the fact USA basketball can’t dominate. People just hate the members of the USA basketball team. If you put a team of guys people like, or don’t even know, on the floor, the Americans will cheer for their team. You put a team of guys on the floor people don’t like, and they know they don’t like, they won’t want them to win. The fact that majority of the US can’t get behind these guys when they are representing the country is probably something the NBA should think about addressing.