Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Monday, February 13, 2006

Special figure skating edition


Olympic time means...lots of figure skating news. For the first time (and probably last time), I'm going to write about figure skating.

The big skating news in the last couple of days has been that Michelle Kwan has backed out of the Olympics and will be replaced by someone whose name I can't recall. The story is interesting because Kwan was put on the team through some sort of exception. She didn't win a spot on the team at a team trails competition. Instead, she petitioned and had some sort of special try out.

My impression is that a lot of people didn't think that was fair. In the U.S., we traditionally pick teams by having a competition. If you can't cut it in the selection event, you're out. In Sweden they call it "American selection" (amerikansk uttagning).

To be more correct, I should say that we pick certain teams for certain events through a competition. The Olympic track and field team is picked based on results of a selection race. But, the Olympic soccer team is picked through some sort of try out/committee/coaching selection process.

In college sports the process is different still. For big programs (like Kansas basketball), coaches pick players as long as those players meet certain academic standards and the coaches want the player. It isn't necessarily fair. A coach might not like an athletes attitude and won't pick them.

Professional sports are different. Managers just pick the players they want. Sometimes they go through a draft process and sometimes they go through free agency. The teams and the athletes then negotiate employment conditions. Compared to college sports, professional sports give the athletes more power (I'm thinking big time team sports, not individual professional sports like bowling).

I think it is interesting that selection processes for sports work so differently depending on the environment (i.e. college, professional, Olympic), but that we tend not to think about the assumptions that go into the selection process. We tend not to explicitly think about the connection between the goals and the process.

That was a bit of a digression, let's get back to Kwan.

It seems to me that Kwan's selection was viewed with skepticism and controversy. People felt that it was unfair because she was treated as a special exception.

But a couple of things strike me about Kwan's case. First, treating her as an exception seems reasonable. She's got a couple of Olympic medals, has won a load of national championships, and has lots of experience. Maybe treating her as an exception is reasonable. In fact, it strikes me that putting Kwan on the team was probably a risk, but a risk that could pay off big. She might not be able to compete (apparently she's had some recent injury problems), but if she could compete she'd be a legit medal candidate. If the U.S. wants a medal, having the possibility of Kwan competing was probably putting the U.S. in the best position to take a medal.

You couldn't very well make Kwan an alternate and then, if it turned out her injury was no problem, kick someone off the team and put Kwan on. So putting Kwan on the team kept some options open -- in particular, the option that if the injury wasn't a problem you'd have a great skater available.

As it turned out, Kwan withdrew yesterday and the alternate U.S. skater is going to take her place.

Some nice O' maps

Check out Tore Sandvik's report from the weekend's Norwegian national team training camp. If you can't read the Norwegian you can still click on the links and see some interesting maps.

posted by Michael | 7:31 PM


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