Time to Put Figure Skating Competitions on Ice

By Jason Menard

The first item on the agenda for the International Skating Union’s congress in June will be looking at implementing a new scoring system for figure skating, ice dancing, and synchronized skating.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t do a triple Salchow in excitement upon hearing this news.

It amazes me that people get up in arms about the travesties of figure skating judgements and marking. Any system that one puts in place to judge these types of competitions are doomed from the start for one simple reason:

Figure skating is not a sport.

Now before you angrily dismiss me altogether, hear me out. And you may want to gather your friends in the synchronized swimming, competitive diving, and gymnastics fields for moral support, because all of these alleged sports fall under the same category.

We’ll start with this basic statement: having a competition does not a sport make. A true sport should consist of two or more opponents or teams competing against each other with an established set of rules, a clear goal to attain, and defined terms of victory.

A true sport rewards the fastest, or the one who scores the most goals, or the person that lifts the most weight. It’s a clearly defined finish. That’s where figure skating, diving, and other sports of this nature fail the test. In these sports, you don’t win based what you have done, but rather what a set of observers believe you have done. It’s that inclusion of subjectivity that removes these type of events from the world of sport.

And this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. While I may dismiss the notion of these endeavours as sport, I don’t dismiss the athleticism, dedication, and hard work that goes into becoming an elite skater, diver, or gymnast. These athletes possess a grace, beauty, and level of physical achievement that many athletes in established sports could only dream of attaining.

That’s what we should appreciate them for. Skating doesn’t need justification as a sport — it should be appreciated for the art form it is. You don’t see ballet enthusiasts sitting around debating who performed the better plier, Mikhail Baryshnikov or Karen Cain? It’s all subjective, and that subjectivity precludes it from becoming a sport.

My intention in making this statement is not to diminish figure skating, diving, gymnastics, etc. by removing their designation as sports, but rather to elevate them to the art forms that they are. Ballet, dancing, painting, sculpture are all valid and appreciated forms of expression in our society, and there’s no reason why people will not go and watch them in that context.

But do they come watch them now? What’s most amusing, in my mind, is that people only truly get interested in these “sports” when the Olympics come about. People tune into the CBC and live and die with the fortunes of these athletes, celebrating their victories, and lamenting their losses. After each competition, the familiar refrain of how we don’t allocate enough resources to become competitive is voiced.

The concept of national pride is often floated as a rationale for the upswing of interest around the Olympics, but we only display national pride when there’s a medal around someone’s neck. We become enraptured with gold medallists in competitions we’ve previously never cared about, but then promptly go on to forget about them. We complain when we don’t win enough gold medals, but we forget to take pride in our athletes competing at this elite level. A seventh-place finish is not something to be lamented during the Olympics, but our nation of instant fans look at is as failure.

Where are these so-called fans during the intervening three years? These elite athletes often ply their trade in front of empty houses or before a select few die-hard enthusiasts. So that’s why this outpouring of support every four years rings so hollow.

Admittedly, figure skating is a different beast in this respect. Touring companies are largely successful. In addition, competitions are well attended for the most part, but what people seem to enjoy most are the final performances by the winners. Under no pressure of competition, the skaters are able to do what they do best – entertain through sheer artistry.

It’s time to appreciate these athletes for what they truly are – artists.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

1 thought on “Time to Put Figure Skating Competitions on Ice

  1. Pingback: World Figure Skating Championship’s Legacy of Opportunity, Learning | The M-Dash by Jason Menard

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