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A better way to score Olympic competition

Caricature of SteveThe world of international sports competition all too often is as much about national politics as it is about individual artistry, accuracy and athletic ability.

No where is this more obvious than in those events where winners and losers are decided by  human judges from different countries. The list includes figure skating, synchronized swimming, wrestling, judo and gymnastics.

That’s regrettable and inevitable because evaluations are debatable.

Unlike those sports where points are based on indisputable  measurements of height, speed and power–as in track and field, swimming, and weightlifting.  These winners and losers are without doubt.

Flawed current system

 I enjoy watching men and women’s gymnastics but hate the scoring at the Olympic Games.

Currently there are two panels of human judges.  Panel one comprises two persons who evaluate the competitor on difficulty.

The second panel has five individuals whose scores are based on the gymnast’s artistry, ability to stay on the apparatus (doesn’t fall) , and how well the competitor lands on the floor (doesn’t move feet)

The beauty and athletic ability of American  Simone Biles in the women’s floor exercise illustrate what the two panels want to see.

But no matter how well Biles performs judges will evaluate her routine differently. Their scores will be based on criteria that are not according to rules. That is, personal opinion not objective viewing.  In a word–bias.

There is a better way.

Bring in the robots

A more accurate measurement would come from robots—computerized scoring systems that rely on a universal standard for every gymnastic event.

Here’s how it would be done.

First, the robots are programmed with the criteria humans look for in specific moves and routines as  described above.

Second, male and female gymnasts of different heights, weights and body structure would perform the same series of moves on all the required equipment. This would mean looking at many athletes going through the same routines and moves. The greater the number of athletes and routines scanned, the more accurate the programming.

The robots now have archives of all possible moves by all possible body types.

Third, during the practice routine by every contestant before international competition, the robots enter the athlete’s height, weight and body structure, and watch the rehearsal routine to match the moves to the athlete.

Now a standard is developed for a perfect routine based on specific criteria for the routine and the potential of the gymnast according to his/her physique.

The athletes compete, the robots calculate their scores objectively, and human error and bias are removed from the process.

The international athletic community has time to develop these robots and their programs before the next Olympic Games.

The robots, of course, won’t stop arguments by humans about the accuracy of the judging. After all, we are a rancorous species.

Nevertheless, robots are more reliable than people. I trust the judgment of artificial intelligence than the human variety.


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