Missing the Olympics Already

Freestyles delight spectators at dressage shows, just as they do in skating.

I’m suffering the post-Olympics blues. It’s been fun for me the past two weeks to get up at my usual pre-dawn hour and have hockey, or skiing, or skating or even curling live on TV. For the past two decades I only got to watch the Winter Olympics because I was working at the equestrian events at the summer Games. While I was up close with the horses, the other events passed me in a blur as I was filing stories round the clock. I didn’t even have time for TV recaps.

When I haven’t been at the barn or at the computer these past two weeks, I was transfixed by the athletic drama. I never watched the roundup in the evening, with its endless commercials and chatter, but always live in the morning, switching back and forth between three TV channels and online results. I particularly enjoyed the figure skating, along with the commentary by Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. (Weir is from an equestrian family and showed a pony before deciding to concentrate on skating.) Weir and Lipinski entertained viewers with their competition for best makeup and clothes, but they were also a great partnership and provided excellent insights, particularly on the judging.

It came as a surprise to me that, even with the newer and more transparent – and very complicated — judging system, the judges at international skating competitions are still anonymous and considered part of their national delegation. (In the U.S., the judges’ names are identified with their scores.) That’s a far cry from international dressage judging, where the FEI names the judges a year in advance, and every score by every judge for every movement is available afterward, subject to close scrutiny. I still have printouts from the judges’ sheets from past Olympics, and occasionally I screen some of the top rides on DVD with the score sheets right in my hand.

It was fairly easy to follow the judging for the singles and pairs skaters, because the “tricks” became more important in the outcome after their scoring system changed a decade ago. However, the judging in ice dancing was harder – they all looked great! I suspect it may be similar to when I am judging dressage freestyles and the spectators don’t always seem to agree with the results – a more entertaining combination isn’t always the one that wins. These are both athletic sports, first and foremost, however, and scores for the technical stuff – not always apparent to the viewer – count the most.

I’m struck by the irony that the Winter Olympics keeps adding events to pad the schedule (presumably so that TV can fill two full weeks of nighttime shows), while the IOC would like to shrink the Summer Olympics. One discipline always mentioned on the short list of endangered summer sports is equestrian. Gee, if we could make equestrian a Winter Sport (skijouring – maybe not!), it would become secure on the schedule.

This year, a team event was added to the figure skating. It worked out very well, but I was struck by the commentary that the skaters still considered the individual medals to be their main mission. That’s certainly understandable since the team concept is so new for them. But, if you asked most equestrian Olympians, their main goal is a team medal. That’s a tradition that predates the post-WWII Games, back to when cavalry equestrian teams competed, and it has carried over to the civilian teams.

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