Thursday, August 02, 2012

Rules are Funny Like That

I remember a long ago sports column where the columnist stated that really, anything determined by judges and not clear you get here first (speed) or you get the thing in here (score) is really a pageant.  I'm not really feeling like debating the merits of that at the moment, only bringing it up to make the point that there are things in sports that are arbitrary.  One swimmer (sorry, dude, I already don't remember your name) was talking about the whole concept that all these things measure performance very specifically.  Even in the swimming competitions where there is a clear speed based result, it's only your result in that one race that matters.  You could have had the fastest speed last week, last month, or even that morning at the semi-finals, but in the end the medals go to the fastest in the final.  Sort of the swim equivalent of any given Sunday. 
I was once in tennis lessons.  I reached a point where the divisions by age were leaving me in the middle.  The intermediate class, as they called it, had lots of kids a year or two younger who were still working on some of the finer points of hand eye coordination. The Advanced class had kids mostly a few years older who played tennis all the time.  (It seemed all the I play tennis a few times a summer kids fell out by then.  Except me.)
So, the instructor started getting one of the older kids to come play a match with me during lesson time.  This was when I realized I was not cut out to be a tennis star.  (Not a great shock or anything.)  As he crept ahead of me in games, I wanted to stop.  Just concede defeat.  Not out of embarrassment.  I knew he was a better player before we started.  I just wanted to stop because trying harder and possibly succeeding meant, I could possibly take a set and force us to play another.  And that sounded endless. 
But, this is why I'm not an Olympian.  If I was, well, one hopes I would have gotten over that.  But apparently that was not so for some badminton players.  The round robin system meant some people were essentially in medal contention early enough that losing held no actual downside.  (In theory.  Apparently they lost so badly and so obviously that they have now been removed from the competition.) And while I think the internet (at least my little corner of it) has made their distaste of that clear.  But, go here, this article talks a lot about how this is different than just benching your players because you have a playoff berth, or other shall we say, known instances of trying less hard and how it's still not as bad as this.
And the point is, that there is slacking and there is slacking.  (Or tanking.  Or throwing.) In an Olympics where all sorts of folks are playing with bits bandaged, patched and taped so they can have their shot, in an Olympics where a fencer sat on the piste in tears for hours to keep herself in contention while her team filed an appeal, well, if you're going to lose, at least make it look like you tried. 
Although, I'd be interested in considering some sort of possible redaction of playoff berths if you suck too much.  Food for thought.

h/t to ALOTT5MA for the links