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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Olympics: What's a Sport and What's a Contest?

The Winter Olympics start tomorrow. Time to drag out my usual pet peeve and irritating topic of the fortnight-- which of these are sports, and which are contests (and not sports).

First, the argument. It goes like this. A sport will pit athletes against one another in an event in which there is a clear and objective standard for winning: fastest time, most goals scored, first around a track. Contests test athletic skills of the participants, but there are subjective elements imposed, typically by a panel of judges.

There you have it. So if I can train my body to perform a task that is measured objectively better than other athletes, I participate in a sport. If I train and compete against other athletes in a task that involves subjective elements judged by human experts, I'm a contestant. In the spirit of making the difference perfectly clear, here are the Winter Olympic events categorized into contests and sports:

Sports:
  • Biathlon (weird, but a sport)
  • Bobsleigh (including bobsleigh and skeleton)
  • Curling
  • Ice Hockey
  • Luge
  • Short-track Speed Skating (even though it has some weird rules)
  • Speed Skating
  • Alpine Skiing
  • Cross-country Skiing
  • Snowboard: Parallel Giant Slalom
  • Snowboard: Snowboard Cross
Contests:
  • Nordic Combined (due to inclusion of ski jumping)
  • Ski Jumping
  • Snowboard: Halfpipe
  • Freestyle Skiing (moguls and aerials)
  • Figure Skating (obviously)
I have a fight every four years with female friends who insist that figure skating is a sport. It's not. In addition, it is only better than gymnastics because the athletes (especially the female athletes) are generally older and therefore the creepiness factor is much lower.

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