The Buzz by Mike Schaffer - PR, Social Media, Pop Culture and Sports

#SportsPRChat, Sports

February 23, 2010

Is Figure Skating a Sport?

Tags: #SportsPRChat, figure skating, nbc, olympics, sport, Sports

Every four years, the Winter Olympics rule the pop culture landscape, featuring a mix of events that are athletic, daring and sometimes insane.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at Shaun White.  To do what he does, he must have healthy doses of all three of those traits.

Most of the American audience, I can assume, can better relate to the Summer Olympics as a display of sport.  Who can run faster?  Jump higher?  Swim like a fish?

The Winter Games do have some of those elements, but there is one competition that seems to be the tipping point of sport for many people: Figure Skating.

[Noting my bias - I took ice skating lessons for several years as a kid.  I fell.  A lot.  I also majored in Sports Information and Communication at Ithaca College, where we debated the definition of "sport' on a daily basis.]

Is getting dolled up in spandex, skating backwards and doing some triple axels sport?  Does it deserve a gold medal?  [Translation - Usain Bolt got a gold medal for running faster than any human in recorded history; Is figure skating on-par with that?]

Instead of me trying to answer that question, I’d like to turn the floor over to you.  What do you think?

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  • I agree and disagree with Matt. I think you have made a great comparison of the two and rightfully so call it an Athletic Competition. However who do you call the competitors in these so called competitions? Judging from the way you named it and using the first part of the word, I would say you are implying that they are athletes. Take this a step further and I ask the question; what do any athletes compete in? The answer to me here is "Sport." Therefore, judging from this logic I will reluctantly say that, yes, figure skating is a sport.

    Plus I add in the fact that I am the most athletic person I know and there is no way in HE** I could ever do what they do on ice. :)
  • Maureen
    Having been a figure skater since the age of 8, trained, competed, coached and judged on occasion, I can tell you figure skating is more of a sport/athletic competition than many many others. I second those who have brought up the hours of on ice training, office ice training, dance training etc that justify the athleticism involved. While many knock ice dancing, I have also dabbled in that. While on TV it may look like their feet don't leave the ground much and it's a lot of flowery costumes and faces, I challenge any person to go out there and dig the edges and difficult footwork they do and not fall on your butt. It requires tremendous coordination and trust in the person who is waving a 10' sharpened piece of steel just a few inches away from your own body.

    Having been a judge at amateur competitions I'll be the first to say the scoring system is completely arbitrary at times and often unfair. But, when you get interested in this sport and make it your life, it's just one of the parts you deal with.

    If anyone would like to contend it's not a sport I'll meet you at any one of the local ice rinks for a rigorous training session and we'll see what you say when you likely can't lift your sore bruised butt out of bed the next morning...
  • Matt Hannaford

    While I don't discount your opinion, it is the same as others who participate in the competition. I don't think we are discussing the athletic ability of the persons participating, I think we are more discussing the opinion of sport vs. competition.

    I'll be the first to say that as a former baseball player there is no way that I could do ANY of what those people do on the ice, but I am willing to bet many of them cannot do what I've done on the field.

    Certainly there is a ton of training, coordination, talent, etc., but those do not a sport make. By that simple definition you could consider any sort of training or activity that renders you sore a sport.

    I think the biggest thing that I see between a sport and competition is just that, a competition does not take ANYTHING away from the abilities of the person competing, but even curling requires skill, ability, awareness, and more.

    As I said before, to me (and this is just my personal definition of sport) a sport is something competitive that renders one side a winner and another side a loser based on statistical facts with no opinion involved.

    A competition among great "athletes" (and I only put that in quotes for emphasis that I do believe they are every bit as athletic as a football, baseball, hockey, etc., player) is not a sport when the outcome is not based on empirical evidence.

    For the argument of the quad vs. triples in FS I have only this to say. If all else is held equal, if someone replaces a perfect triple, with a completed quad (and all other jumps are 100% equal) then the quad wins out based on degree of difficulty. However, with the example of the other night in the Olympics, there is no way that even I (with no training in figure skating) would grade the other parts of his performance even close to that of the gold medal winner.

    Long story short, in my opinion, a sport is based on facts, while a competition is based on generalized rules and judges opinions.
  • nickwilliams12
    The only issue that I would have with your argument here Matt is that while you're saying that the judges opinions, which are subjective, make it a competition rather than a sport, you are ignoring the fact that most "sports" have subjective referees! The NFL had to add in replay because referee's were making decisions that were effecting the outcome of the game.

    Every "sport" has this issue, whether its penalties in the NHL, foul's in the NBA and NFL, or even if someone is safe or out at first base in the MLB. I don't think you can say that a sport is something "with no opinion involved" when that is practically impossible.
  • Matt Hannaford

    I understand what you are saying there, but the "score" is not subjective. There are finite terms that determine a goal, touchdown, run, etc. In scoring figure skating and others there may be a "max score" set by the rules, but the amount that a judge takes off is individual opinion. That is why they drop the highest and lowest scores to make sure its "fair" judging. That is why a few years ago we saw what we did with all of the controversy in scoring.

    Yes, I will admit that a ref can attempt to change the result in certain sports easier than others, but at the heart of the game it is sport vs. competition. All are athletes, but the type of event that participate in is different.
  • I decided to look up a few 'dictionary' definitions of sport, just out of curiosity. I like the Wikipedia definition best: "A sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive, and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. It is governed by a set of rules or customs. In a sport the key factors are the physical capabilities and skills of the competitor when determining the outcome (winning or losing). The physical activity involves the movement of people, animals and/or a variety of objects such as balls and machines."

    Going by that definition...figure skating is definitely a sport. I do, however, think pairs skating would be more exciting if it included animals.
  • tshepard
    I was a competitive figure skater for more than 10 years and must have had this debate a million times. I'm not going to go into why figure skating is a sport, but more importantly I pose the question: Why is figure skating the one that seems to have such a big debate? Because it's not "manly" and includes artistry as opposed to being strictly technical?

    I can agree with Matt on sport vs. athletic competition, but don't think people commonly look at it that way. By that definition Snowboarding Tricks, Boxing, etc aren't sports, but you never hear anyone say that. With such controversy over skating I think that maybe other judged events need to be re-evaluated as well.
  • As Matt already stated, ice skating is NOT a 'sport' but an 'athletic competition.'

    When you can not determine the winner or loser by what you do on the field of play but have to really on a third-party's decision, that is not a sport.

    I will see it takes great athletic ability to do what they do in figure skating, gymnastics, diving, cheerleading (add to the list if you wish), but those are not sports.
  • I'll weigh in as an ice skater who has participated in several other sports (swimming, gymnastics, soccer) as well as being an ex-professional ballet dancer. I would say that for sure that ice skating is not an art form, even if female skaters are to look graceful as the jump. But there is for sure an athletic component to ice skating. The jumps and spins don't come just from repetitive practice, but also from muscle strength. in addition to several hours per day on the ice, there are several hours put in training in the gym for strength and conditioning. How is that different from any other sport?

    Mike, the judging system and how it works is a whoooole other conversation and whether you should win with or without the quad is a subject I am happy to debate/discuss with you sometime if you want.

    so, just my two cents worth.
  • mikeschaffer
    Thanks for the discussion, Kristina! I can't blame the athletes for the judging - they compete, and I'm sure they want to be graded fairly. Watching Johnny Weir get underscored by judges on both his long and short programs this past week really bothered me. Yes, he's controversial and outspoken, but he should still be evaluated on an objective scale. Not his fault the judging is screwy. But the judging does impact the audience's perception of the competition, no?
  • Matt Hannaford
    I will say this the same way I've said before. It is not a "SPORT" it is an "ATHLETIC COMPETITION".

    To me, by definition, a sport is an event that occurs that has a distinct winner and loser based on facts. Therefore since the winner of an "athletic competition" is determined by a judge's opinion it is not a sport. While people who participate in sports and athletic competitions are both extremely athletic I do not believe that Figure Skating, Snowboard Trick competitions, or other "judged" events are sports.
  • Matt Hannaford
    One point to add to my argument. In a sport, your opponent has a direct relationship to your performance while an "athletic competition" you compete relatively alone and are judged based on your performance. Yes there are a few exceptions such as downhill skiing, but I believe you understand the point.
  • mikeschaffer
    Thanks, Matt - the "sport" vs. "athletic competition" line is a tight one - and one I agree with!
  • MattLaCasse
    I totally agree. If there are judges determining who is the winner and loser, then I don't think that by definition can be called a sport. However, that isn't to say ice skating/dancing participants AREN'T athletes. They most certainly are, it's just the competition they've chosen can't be called a sport.

    Does this mean NASCAR is a sport then? Maybe that's a discussion for another day.
  • mikeschaffer
    Hahaha - we'll have the NASCAR debate another day...
  • Interesting, Matt. I've actually never considered the term "athletic competition" before. I actually think I have to agree with your definition.
  • Sheema Siddiqi
    I agree with TJ: anything that takes year of practice, dedication, and skill (and maybe some natural talent) and makes you push yourself physically could be a sport. Figure skating may not align with the typical "masculine" aesthetic but most guys can't lift a girl over their head while ice skating! If we're going to talk about whether a sport should be considered as one, let's discuss curling.
  • mikeschaffer
    Nobody loves curling in the Olympics more than this guy, but you may be on to something. If you can compete at a high level with a six pack of beer.......
  • stephmajercik
    Agree! If we classify curling as a sport, then figure skating definitely classifies.
  • but with curling, the outcome is decided on the field of play and judges' opinions don't decide the winner like figure skating, which is based on solely people's opinion.
  • Curling is awesome. End of story.
  • mikeschaffer
    In a true highlight of my PR career, I promoted a curling expo in DC this weekend. It was incredible.
  • Dude. I can't do a triple axle. No one could just skate out on the ice and do it without years and years of training. Plus, all those ice skaters could probably kill you using only their thighs. In my uninformed, pedestrian opinion, I think anything that requires a lifetime of practice and physical perfection to master is a sport. Just because it looks sort of weird with the hair and makeup and spandex doesn't mean it's not a hardcore, medal-deserving sport.
  • so, in your definition, can we say that ballet could be a sport as well if judged, as it can't be perfect without years and years of training?
  • mikeschaffer
    Great points, TJ! Skating takes a lifetime of work to perfect, and while I spent most of my youth skating on my keester, I definitely respect what the top-shelf competitors do! Christina told me you did a QUADRUPLE axle last week. Did she lie to me????
  • Mel
    I think figure skating is a sport if you constantly push the envelope of skill. I won't go so far as to completely agree with Pleshenko, but if an athlete participating in the contest doesn't attempt to do an advanced skill (be it jumps, spins or footwork that would put me on my kiester quicker than one can blink) they shouldn't compete.

    All that said, ice DANCING is ridiculous and does not deserve to be an exhibition "sport" in the Olympics nonetheless something that earns medals. It's on par with rhythmic gymnastics in the Summer Olympics - you know, where they dance around the floor tossing a rubber ball or spinning a long ribbon like we did in 4th grade gym class.
  • mikeschaffer
    Thanks for chiming in, Mel! I actually saw rhythmic gymnastics live at the 1996 Olympics. Thought is was a travashamockery of sport. Very athletic, but I was kind of offended by it being in the Olympics - much like Ice Dancing. I'll give them pairs skating. And even though Tanith Belbin is one of the most marketable athletes in the US right now, I don't buy it as a sport.
  • For the sake of discussion, Mel, do you mean that if you attempt a skill you should win regardless of how well you do the skill? Then you will have skaters pack their programs with tons of quads, eat it all over the place and then win just because the elements were there. The idea is to skate a "clean" program with skills that are executed correctly without being cheated, poorly executed, or a fall. It seems to me that winning just for having quads in your program is like getting an "A" for effort.
  • Mel
    Kristina - I completely agree with you. I think you have to show that you've mastered a skill rather than just attempt it, but at least push yourself to be better than you have ever been before. I believe Evan L deserved to have won the men's competition - he put a solid, well-rounded performance on the ice from start to finish, and said afterward that if he had left Vancouver sans jewelry he would have been proud of the effort he put down. Pleshenko front loaded his program with jump after jump and figured the judges would be awed. I didn't enjoy that at all. While I like medals as much as the next American, I'm thinking the true Olympic spirit is trying to achieve your best performance on the grandest stage with the whole world watching.
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