February 17, 2002

Making figure skating judging more objective

The Figure Skating Powers That Be have announced that they are going to try to make their sport's judging more objective by giving credit for each move on a degree of difficulty scale. There's only one problem with this. Figure skating, as we know it, is essentially about being a princess, not a jock. The more they make it more of a sport like gymnastics and less of an art form, the less feminine it will become and thus the less feminine its champions will be. The danger is not so much that skating will crown as winners more burly women like Tonya Harding, who are strong jumpers, but then so was Charles Barkley. No, the risk is that skating will be overrun by more pre-pubescent girls like Tara "The Human Drill Bit" Lipinksi, the 15 year old who took the gold in 1998 with her high-RPM jumps.

The physical difference between a little girl and a woman is basically body fat. Women have higher body fat percentages than girls (more body fat is bad in just about any sport not involving massive heat loss like English Channel swimming or Iditarod dogsled mushing). And their weight is distributed farther from their vertical axis (i.e., they have T&A). Recall how skaters spin faster at the ends of their routines when they pull their arms in. It's basic physics. The same applies with T&A. A womanly beauty like Katarina Witt could never attain the RPM necessary to jump like the stick insect-like Lipinski. Gymnastics has been overrun by pre-pubescents for years (e.g., 14 year old Nadia Comaneci in 1976). That's why they had to set a minimum age of 16 for Olympics "women's" gymnastics. Unfortunately, that just means girls try to delay puberty with dieting, exercise, and drugs, with God-knows-what long term health effects. Ultimately, womanly grace is awfully hard to quantify, but we sure know it when we see it. It would be sad to penalize that in the name of making skating judging more objective.

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