Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Despatie Prepares for Final Dive to Silver

I have always enjoyed watching Alexandre Despatie dive -- when I get a chance. I usually hear about his previous 4 years of feats during the Olympics, but in between it's difficult to follow him as the coverage is spotty. It's too bad because he's one of those rare athletes with TALENT and a real joy to watch.

Unfortunately, no matter the talent or the hard training, he wasn't going to get a gold here. The Chinese divers come from a sports system few other countries would subject their children to and are consistently excellent, hard to beat. But what I didn't expect was that the judging would so obviously favour them, as if their technique needed to be bolstered. A splash here ignored, and a wide split in the tuck there ignored, and slightly higher marks given for the chosen Chinese diver than for an equally stellar diver from another country, all added up to a distinct judging advantage regardless of the actual performance. Whether the judging bias made a difference in the end to the medal ranking is hard to say; it's too bad because it robbed us of the thrill of a close competition and the certainty that the top Chinese diver deserved the gold.

Talking about those wide leg splits in the tuck position -- apparently you're supposed to get deductions for those, but because the judges can't see them from where they sit at the side of the pool, they're rarely handed out. Which begs the question: why don't they sit a judge at the end of the pool, where they can easily see no-nos like that. Otherwise why bother having the deduction? The silliness of this on-paper-only deduction became really apparent with the top Chinese diver when, during one dive, his legs in the tuck were so far apart that even the camera at the side showed it in real time. I had no difficulty seeing it, so why did the judges pretend it wasn't there -- their marking was pretty stingy for all the divers, deductions readily given otherwise -- when they marked that dive?

I liked what Kyle Shewfelt said, when asked about judging and being robbed of a medal in a previous competition (and I think, too, here in qualifying for the Floor Final when he was clearly better than at least one other gymnast who did get in). He said that he doesn't worry about that, he sets only performance goals. It's a great way to stay sane in a judged sport, methinks!

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