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Thursday, August 2, 2012

OLYMPIAN MEDITATIONS

One of the oddities of the American presidential cycle is that it coincides with the cycle of modern Olympic Games.  As a consequence, every four years, political junkies like myself, who have by this point all but od-ed on polls and feverish speculation, are compelled to take a break for several weeks and watch superbly conditioned young men and women do manifestly impossible things.  This year, the Games also coincide with my post-operative regime, which consists of giving myself three different kinds of eye drops at five minute intervals four times a day.  I relieve the tedium of the eye drops by lying on my bed and watching snatches of the Olympics through drop-blurred, but now glasses-free eyes.

Herewith, some idle reflections prompted by the endless broadcasts of the London Games.

First of all, even though I am seventy-eight and a reasonably attentive spectator of the passing scene, there always turn out to be events whose existence I was not even aware of.  It reminds me of a letter I wrote home from college in 1950 as a first semester Freshman.  I told my father, excitedly, that I had just learned of something called Sociology, which I had never known existed.  [My father replied indignantly that he had most certainly informed me of the existence of Sociology.  He may have been right.]   This cycle, it is synchronized diving.  I had no idea that there was a sport called "synchronized diving."  Watching two young Chinese women do a complicated manoeuvre off the thirty meter board in perfect synchronization reminds me of other extraordinary things people can learn to do with enough practice [I have that same sense of wonder when I watch Alfred Brendel play a Beethoven sonata.]

The system employed for keeping track of the number of medals won by each country is clearly defective, although as I quite well know from my study of Utility Theory, there is really nothing to be done about it.  I mean, anyone can see that two Golds, four Silvers, and four Bronzes is not as good as eight Golds and two silvers, but both count as ten medals, making the countries with those scores tied in the overall tally. 

I think it was unfair to boot eight women badminton players from the Games for deliberately throwing games.  They were acting strategically, attempting to avoid being eliminated by the Chinese team before getting to the medal rounds.  Why is this not the equivalent of sacrificing a piece in chess, or laying down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner into scoring position?

Generally speaking, I am not Anglophiliac by inclination, but I really had to rethink my position after seeing the Opening Ceremony tribute to the National Health Service.

The US basketball team should have to play with only four men on the court at a time.  I mean, give everyone else a chance!

Beach Volleyball is not a competitive sport.  Correctly understood, it is a pre-coital mating ritual.  Bringing in sand to London to play volleyball is as absurd as bringing in grass to Dubai to play golf.

5 comments:

Jim Westrich said...

I think every system for ranking medal counts would place the 8G/2S ahead of 2G/4S/4B as the number of gold is the tie breaker. The more interesting issue is 8G/2S vs. 2G/4S/5B. I can remember alternate ranking schemes in the past (dimly) that counted gold as 3, silver as 2, and bronze as 1 but the simple count has been more popular. This was probably cemented at the Beijing games where the simple count made the US look better (China won many more golds).

I have no problem with disqualifying the badminton pairs. I understand the point about it being strategic but it is fundamental to understand that the reason that they "got caught" is that BOTH teams were trying to lose. It is quite easy and generally undetectable to "try to lose" when your opponent is trying to win. So with both teams trying to lose it made a simple mockery of the competition. Both teams should have been smarter about it. Their fault was about appearances and poor strategic thinking (it should have dawned on them once they noticed the other side was trying to lose that the whole sham was exposed and they risked expulsion).

Your arguments about the sacrifice bunt and sacrificing a piece in chess are not relevant at all. They are both strategic moves designed to win that game. Intentionally losing as a bad strategy in some other more important metagame is different.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I know, I know. I was reaching for facetiousness. :)

Kevin said...

Unrelated: any thoughts on this?

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/08/03/cake-on-the-having-and-eating-of-it

What a strange series of responses...

Don Schneier said...

So, while China has replaced the Soviet Union as the main Olympic rival of the U. S., a lot less has been made of the fact that they, too, are Commies.

Murfmensch said...

I don't want any national medal count. It's apples and oranges.

The badminton tournament is flawed if competitors are ever incentivized to lose. No one should be punished then besides the organizers. I'm not sure what to do on the day.

Don't feel bad about synchro diving. It's quite new. I find it annoying to watch.