Westhem: Comparing the Summer and Winter Olympics

Feb. 19, 2014, 12:42 a.m.

Every four years, the same debate persists around this time: whether the Winter Olympics are up to par with the Summer Olympics. I’m sure Norway and the Netherlands would love to argue that winter is far superior, and Jamaica and Great Britain would beg to differ.

And then you have the United States, which simply dominates all seasons of sports and has incredible athletes at both Games. It doesn’t matter to us which season is more popular; we’ll put up a good fight in any sport.

The general consensus is that the Winter Games are not as popular or as entertaining as the Summer Games, and the same arguments always come up. I want to dismantle some of the common critiques of the Games and instead offer a new one.

First off, there’s the critique that the Winter Olympics don’t have as many countries participating as in the Summer Olympics. So that means a slight cutting down on the amount of fans that come to the Games, perhaps. Okay, that’s valid. Only so many countries have snow, and that’s a huge barrier weather-wise and money-wise (winter gear is expensive!). But the Jamaican bobsled team pretty much strikes down the argument about needing snow in order to compete.

The second argument against the Winter Games is that it isn’t as exciting and there aren’t many recognizable names or teams. What about Shaun White, Mike Eruzione and the 1980 men’s hockey team, Apolo Anton Ohno, Lindsey Vonn or Kristi Yamaguchi? There may not be as many big names, but they do exist.

And then there’s the common gripe with curling and how it makes the Winter Games laughable. As if table tennis, badminton and trampolining don’t fall in that same category. I’m not putting down any of those sports; I’m just trying to make a point. The one grievance that holds some water with me is how all winter sports generally blend together: they all involve some form of skis or boards or skates on top of snow or ice with the intent of not falling.

The new critique that I want to offer is the way in which the winners are determined. In the Summer Games, there is a combination of time (swimming), scoring (soccer) and judging (gymnastics) in determining the winners. Save for curling and hockey, there is no scoring in the Winter Games and it’s skewed toward time and judging.

This leads me to question whether the best athletes in each sport actually always win the gold medal. I don’t think so. Timed events are frustrating because the fastest time might have been the sloppiest-looking run, didn’t display much technical skill or wasn’t very impressive to watch, but still managed to get the job done. So the best skier in the world might not win the Super G because the gold goes to someone who happened to be the best in one particular race. That’s the only issue that I have with timed events — not that there’s anything to really do about it.

And then you have the events like slopestyle, half-pipe and ice dancing, in which judging sometimes seems totally arbitrary and something as trivial as a person’s outfit can affect the scoring — points were deducted from a Russian skater during a pairs performance for a feather falling off. And that’s especially unfortunate for the partner who didn’t do anything wrong. Similarly, if one partner falls and isn’t picking up the slack, it’s frustrating for the audience to watch and the other partner to cope with. But that’s a different topic entirely related to team dynamics.

At least the ice-dancing judges got it right when they gave Meryl Davis and Charlie White the gold. But then there are other results which come out much more controversial, like Canadian Mark McMorris getting bronze when popular opinion said he deserved gold for his run. It’s all up to the judges. And this is the same complaint that I have with the Summer Games.

It’s the politics and personal analysis of the Games, though, that make them so intriguing to watch, and you can get them out of both the Winter and Summer Games. They each have something different to offer to the audience and should be appreciated equally.

Ashley Westhem has been hard at work preparing for her debut as a sweeper on the 2018 U.S. Olympic curling team. Send her some training tips at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and suggest some sweeping techniques @ashwest16.

Ashley Westhem was Editor in Chief of Vol. 248 after serving as Executive Editor and Managing Editor of Sports. She is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She graduated in 2016 and is currently a Communications masters student. Ashley is from Lake Tahoe, California.

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