Judging can be a bitter pill to swallow for a sports fan like myself. The idea that the best athlete wins is put under more stress in direct correlation to the amount of judging there is. Perhaps this is why I go into Winter Olympics with all kinds of ideas about what my favorite sports might be but end up watching a freakish amount of Curling. I don't believe there have been any controversies in curling so far, and I have yet to see any brilliant shots awarded mysteriously few points, or withdrawn due to complicated fouls. Curling happens without subjective judgement of any kind, which one might think to be more common in sport than it is.
Of course some beautiful Olympic sports are clearly impossibe without a great deal of judging; freestyle skiing, most of the snowboarding, and perhaps, above all of them, figure skating, which even, alas, needs layer upon layer of judging on the consequences of the illegal use of drugs. (And I must interject here to say that I have read a great deal of opinions on the subject of Kamila Valieva's positive drug test, but feel only that the great German Figure Skating two-time Gold Medalist Katarina Witt has the correct take: "This scandal is a dramatic cut to her young and promising career and I sincerely hope that enough people are by her side and protect her so that she doesn't break," she said. "Kamila has learned her quadruple jumps with infinite diligence and courage. No doping would have helped her to land these! And especially not with their artistic radiation! If anything, the adults responsible should be locked up for sports forever!").
An interesting tension expressing this split between the purity of competition and the more adjudicated events in the Olympics is the one on the seemingly narrow divide between Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating. There is a bit more thrilling tension to short track speed skating, where multiple skaters race around a tight track in a strategic race that regularly involves wipeouts and official apportioning of blame and disqualifications. It's exciting, but not necessarily always reliably fair or satisfying. Traditional speed skating suffers no such impurities. There is strategy in the one-on-one racing against the clock, but the fastest skater is irrefutably the winner in traditional speed skating.
Indeed, one could even go possibly too far, and say that one kind of sport lends itself to the purity of justice in sport; That we can set immutable laws that reliably and fairly determine a winner as a virtue of their finer performance and greater talent. Whereas the other kind of sport can be as much about accepting fate and destiny itself as the main law in determining the greater performer. We are just here to accept and live by the result, even if it is, occasionally, wrong.
I favor, theoretically, the purity of sport, but acknowledge some of the fascination and excitement that can only come from sports containing elements that have to be judged to be fair or even meaningful, whether that be regarding a foul in Hockey, or the beauty of a quadruple flip.
But I will say this: Judging should always be the barely tolerated guest of sport. Yes, sometimes necessary, but always reduced to the places of absolute necessity. There is some ornate part of me that says: "Shouldn't an amazing series of passes between three hockey players to cleverly weave the puck into the goal be worth more than a hopelessly errant slapshot that freakishly bounces off a defender's shin guard to go in?"
The answer to that is simply "No." Such an idea always starts out exalting beauty, but ends in bad decisions and twisted play. And so when someone says "Shouldn't a ski jump that is gorgeous and graceful, but a meter or two shorter than a rougher jump with a sloppy landing, be worth more?" the answer should again be an emphatic "No." Let them jump farther. The most beautiful jump is the most effective jump. Such judging on style is clearly not necessary enough to the sport.
But for some bizarre reason this extra judging is nevertheless there in Ski Jumping. Imagine the High Jump, or The Downhill being partly evaluated on the grace of the athletes!
Which is why I watch more Curling than Ski Jumping.
No one has ever docked a point in curling because someone's sweeping looked funny.
Although I guess if that were the case everyone would be docked a point.