clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Two Olympic Truths

Watching the ongoing Olympics I was struck by two stories which led to broader observations.

The first story was the seventh gold medal won by Michael Phelps.  This was the 100-meter butterfly in which he edged out Milorad Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second.  The thing that struck me was that watching live, and even in the replay, it didn't look like Phelps won!  You could have sworn he was second until, apparently, they slowed down the replay to frame 1/10000th of a second apart.

This got me thinking about what we observe in NBA games.  How many times have we sworn we have seen something happen on the court but an official calls it differently?  How many times have we looked at the replay as proof?  Now granted the officials could also be mistaken in what they observe, but the point is are any of us 100% sure that we perceive reality correctly?  In a world where even replays sometimes screw up should we be a tad bit easier on referees, coaches, and analysts who see things differently than we do?  They're not perfect, but being specifically trained and focused on the matter at hand on average they're going to see things better, clearer, and more accurately than we do.

The second notable moment was televised this past evening when American Nastia Liukin and China's He Kexin tied for first on the uneven bars and Lukin was bumped into silver medal position because of a tiebreaker.  First of all the commentators went berserk over the scoring, claiming Liukin's routine was superior.  Second of all they slammed the tiebreaker system.  The criticism was so pointed that play-by-play man Al Trautwig asked whether He Kexin really thought she was the gold medalist when she took the awards stand.  I'll admit right now I don't know enough about the sport to judge whether their critiques were correct.  What struck me were the two words that failed to enter the conversation anywhere:  Paul Hamm.  Hamm was the American gymnast who, in the 2004 Olympics, had a disastrous fall on the vault but later came back to win the all-around gold because of a horrific judging mistake against South Korean gymnast Yang Tae Young.  The controversy ran well after the Olympics were finished.  I'll admit my memory isn't word-for-word perfect but I do recall the American gymnastics contingent defending that gold medal with teeth and nails bared and I believe the commentators basically followed suit.

This got me thinking about fandom and its bias in general.  We're always going to see things in a way that favors our chosen team and its special players.  Even at the highest, most sanctified levels of sport people will distort truth--or at least their stance on the truth--to suit their rooting interest.   If people with intimate knowledge of the sport--experts in their field with the most access to accuracy--will do this, how much more so the casual fan sporting a team jersey and a brewski?  It would be foolish to try and curb this impulse.  It's part of what makes fandom fanatical.  But it does strike me that we should always include a dose of humility with our opinions.  When someone argues with us there's always the possibility--sometimes a strong possibility--that they may be closer to the truth than we are.  It's unfortunate when people who disagree with us also end up being our enemy because we are not able to understand this.  They may not be our enemy, they may just be seeing a little clearer than we do as well.

--Dave (