Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Olympic motto, faster, higher, braver. Nice catchy motto, which largely captures what is understood to be the Olympic spirit. There is no mention of beauty, elegance, artistic impression, and the motto also leads us into a world of sport that is objectively measurable; faster time, higher distance, no room for any human failings, no disagreement.
Athletics, swimming, skiing, cycling, rowing, and many other sports are measured and the competitors are judged by a measurement, with no (or negligible) human input. It doesn’t matter how elegantly you run, if you beat everyone else then you win. Other sports are contests between individuals or teams won by points, goals, etc, other sports are races, the winner wins irrespectively of how beautifully they may have performed.
Sport vs Performance. Figure skating even has its own set of marks for artistic impression, which is indicative of a performance, and we all know that beauty counts, that the costume counts, the make-up too, and that’s not confined to skating. Synchronised swimming is probably an even more extreme example, gymnastics, diving, dressage, and anything that is subjectively scored by humans has inherent failings. Even such sports as mogul skiing, the half-pipe snowboarding, ski-jumping, and to top it all off, judo, wrestling and boxing are incredibly objective.
So what is wrong with human scoring? Humans make mistakes, humans are swayed by beauty, humans are sometimes bad.
The Olympics have survived these few human errors. A few? Each Olympics is replete with human mistakes, some unintentional, some deliberate.
Probably the biggest scandal involved figure skating, when it was discovered that judges from different nations were helping each other boost their nation’s stars. I’ll score your skater high, if you score our pair high.
But it went deeper than that. Soviet bloc countries had always scored higher for their own, and had often manipulated the judging line up to ensure their judges outnumbered all others. Even to the TV viewer at home the judging stank. Not just at one Olympics, but for years and decades, in all skating competions. In addition the maximum score that any judge could award was 6. So once a judge had awarded the maximum score they had nowhere to go for a subsequent competitor who was better (objectively rating performance rears its ugly head again).
A mention here for skating which eventually got its act together when the whole murky world of ice-skating judging was revealed, but they never went back into past misdemeanors, and decades of injustice remain untouched. Skating worked out a much more rigorous marking system, did away with a maximum limit, and, even though it is still all about performance, the judges scores are much fairer.
So where does that leave us? Unfortunately many of the performance sports are now so ingrained into the fabric of the Olympics that it would seem wrong to omit them. But should any new sports be considered then a measurable sport must surely have precedence. At present there are sports like baseball, squash, darts, even bouldering, in which human judgement is minimal. These sports are eminently worthy of consideration.
The balance should swing back to citius, altius, fortius, and not higher, faster, cuter.