Does all this controversy over the figure skating judges detract from the Olympics? It appears that judging decisions (and therefore medals) are being bought and sold. Well, they can't tamper with the clocks in the timed events, at least not easily, so what's left to fix? You vote for my skater and I'll vote for yours.
It's a nasty deal, but it takes nothing away from the performances. It will, though, if it's allowed to go on. Athletes will turn away from a sport that they know isn't being fair. If Sale and Pelletier had known ahead of time that they had no chance because the outcome of their competition was decided ahead of time, why would they have put in all those years of work?
The Olympics used to be a strictly amateur competition, which meant that only those athletes from the Soviet Union were being paid openly. Gradually more and more sports allowed professionals to compete, and now the whole affair reeks of money. This isn't all bad, because it keeps the best performers around longer, but it's taken its toll on the integrity of the games. I can understand if people are so turned off by this that they turn off the Olympics altogether.
On the other hand, in a subjective competition like skating, the abuses by the judges were probably as bad in the good old amateur days as they are now. It's just that the increased scrutiny makes it seem worse, the same way the U.S. presidency has been devalued by the way the press looks into the private lives of politicians. NBC's money gives the network its share of influence over how the games are conducted, and I'm sure that's no small reason for all the press conferences and council meetings going on now.
What a feeding frenzy, though! Reporters from all over the world took the International Skating Union president apart this morning, in several different languages. And he responded in most of them, translating his own answers into English. It was quite a show, and I'm convinced of his integrity, even if I don't believe the judges. He was cautious, and at times a little prickly, but some of the reporters were relentlessly hostile, asking over and over again questions he clearly wasn't going to answer.
To answer my opening question, yes, it detracts from the Olympics, in the sense that it's a distraction from the performances of athletes who have trained for years to make it to Salt Lake. But it doesn't keep me from watching, and caring about these athletes. And it's a good distraction, because it will force changes in the way figure skating events are judged in future competitions. They'll have to find a way to shine the light on the collusion that tainted Monday night's pairs program, so that it can't happen again (at least, not the same way).
Even with all this scrutiny, the judging will still be subjective. Prejudices against athletes with certain styles or from particular countries will still be inevitable. Even under a different system, it's possible that honest judges, trying to do their best, will see things differently from the fans in the stands and the millions watching on television. They can be a little blind, in their eyes or in their hearts. Human nature isn't going to be changed by an edict from the sport's governing body.
Whatever happens, I'll be watching the rest of the Olympics, including the figure skating. I'll enjoy the performances and probably disagree with some of the judging. Why not? I still don't think that was strike three to Barry Bonds in the game against the Phillies last July. I still think Tom Brady fumbled and the Patriots should have been eliminated from the playoffs. But life goes on. Bonds hit an incredible 73 home runs, and the Patriots won a thrilling Super Bowl.