15 August 2008

Alternate olympics

Every Olympics, I think about some of the things I’d like to see in a similar event.

  • No sports that involve a panel of judges choosing scores
  • No sports that require gear
  • Any victory by a margin less than human reaction time is considered a tie
  • No anti-doping rules


Jeff Rients said...

By "gear" do you refer to any item? No javelins, discus, etc.?

Robert Fisher said...

Good question!

Shot, discus, hammer, javelin, &c. aren’t really the kind of “gear” that inspires that point. Rather, it is shoes, swimsuits, goggles, caps, bobsleds, &c. The idea is to (1) keep things simple and (2) test the athletes rather than things.

Not that there’s anything wrong with contests between things or contests between athletes with things; just that that’s not what this event would be about.

If there is gear, every athelete should use the same one. e.g. Each shot putter throws the exact same shot.

Failing that, the gear should be provided by the organizers (not the athletes), and it should be randomly assigned to athletes. Maybe even rotate the gear among the athletes, which may require adding more attempts/heats/&c.

In any case, it might be best to start without even these sports.

Max said...

I like the idea of eliminating technological advantages by forgoing gear, or making the gear uniform or random. Wouldn't that be in the truest spirit of the classical games, contested by naked athletes?

But don't you undercut this effort if you remove anti-doping laws? Or are you interested in testing what effect they really have?

Robert Fisher said...

Another good question!

Do we rule that the athletes can’t use exercise machines to train? Do we rule that they can’t work with sports scientists? Do we rule that they can’t consult nutritionists?

Heck, there’s pretty much no chance of eliminating the performance enhancing effect of technology that has enhanced the food supply. Or of normal general-practice medicine. Simply living in the USA could be considered an unfair performance-enhancing advantage compared to athletes from some countries.

I find it really hard to draw a line here. When is a performance enhancing effect unfair?

Then there’s the question of effectively enforcing anti-doping. I don’t know how fair the drug tests they use are, but I know that most medical tests can have false positives and false negatives. Add to that the fact that they keep changing the rules. Is it fair that an athlete loses a medal for testing positive for a substance that, four years later, isn’t considered a problem anymore?

Probably the biggest reason I listed it, however, is simply because I’d like to see the alternative in this area. (These points aren’t really a package that I think need to all be in the same event, by the way.) I’m curious what could be achieved without anti-doping rules. I’d like to see people who are willing to take those risks have the chance to.

I suspect that such an event might actually do a lot to combat doping in other sports. Let people actually see the long-term effects happening to real athletes rather than just telling them about them.

Max said...

I'm ambivalent myself about performance enhancement in sports. I'm a bit of a cycling fan -- mostly the grand tours -- and if you read even a bit of history on the sport you discover the Tour de France in particular has been a pharmacopia on wheels since it began. Booze, amphetamines, cocaine, steroids, and on and on. Does it really lessen the accomplishment of a rider who succeeds at winning such a grueling race if he used some sort of (pseudo)medical boost?

Not really. But it does take something away from those riders who do it clean, I think. And I can't help but watch the TdF with a bit of cynicism, trying to avoid making an emotional investment in any particular bike rider. That the bias of the Anti-Doping Agency is widely thought to be compromised doesn't make me any less cynical.

But I can't quite embrace the notion that saying "anything goes" is the right answer. Idealism? Prudery? Not sure.

Robert Fisher said...

“Right answer”? No, I wouldn’t call it that. I don’t know that there is a right answer. I’m not convinced that banning them in every league of every sport is the right answer either.

wulfgar said...

"Any victory by a margin less than human reaction time is considered a tie"

Isn't a big part of the point of such competition that some humans react faster than others? So how are you going to settle on a defined reaction time?

James Maliszewski said...

I agree: any "sport" that requires a panel of judges to determine the victor isn't a sport at all.

Robert Fisher said...

Ironic that my blog post with possibly the most comments is about sports. ^_^

Reaction time: The real point here is that the resolution of the devices we use to choose a winner is much finer than is (IMHO) reasonable. It’s just silly to me to call a victory by hundredths of a second a victory.

Reaction time seems like a reasonable neighborhood for limiting the resolution. The exact number chosen I don’t have a strong opinion on.

Actually, looking at the men’s 100m results, I’d probably be happy with a finer resolution. Watching it, Bolt seemed clearly ahead.

Note that doing any sort of “ready, set, go” is an attempt to minimize reaction speed. As any musician can tell you, our resolution in following a rhythm is much higher than reaction speed. I think reaction speed is usually more of a factor in non-timed events. (e.g. fencing or volleyball)

Judged sports: Not a sport? Maybe.

Remember, though, that all sports have judges. We’ve all seen bad-calls in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, &c. And sports like diving, gymnastics, and figure skating usually have extensive (making D&D 3e look simple ^_^) rules that (theoretically) leave little or no room for judge subjectivity.

It’s not so much a clear distinction between objective sports and subjective (non-)sports as a continuum between more-objective and more-subjective.

Does a “sport” have to be competitive? By my own internal definition, no. But let’s not quibble over terminology.

To me, art and serious competition don’t mix. I look at many olympic sports and see art. I don’t want to tell anyone what the “right” way to do it is. I would think an artist would prefer to express themselves in their own way and not be told that the result is better or worse than someone else’s.

Likewise, in a competition, I want results to count more than execution. The competitor who gets better results despite poor execution deserves to be hailed for that.

Maybe that’s just my failing to understand. Clearly, lots of athletes in those sports/arts enjoy the competition and enjoy the hybrid nature.

But that doesn’t mean I have to admit them to my alternative olympics. ^_^ Except as exhibitions.