Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Is There So Much Falling in Top-Level Figure Skating?

I am tired of watching all this figure-skating where someone falls down. (So far it seems to be the woman who usually falls down in the pairs competitions, but that may be a mistaken impression.) It ruins the sport for me; the beauty and artistry of a particular routine is just too irredeemably marred by the awkwardness of a fall. Plus, I just feel bad for the skaters as I watch them finish their routines while knowing that they have most likely stumbled their way out of contention. A professional ballet dancer who fell as often as these figure skaters do would not be dancing at the highest levels. It ought to be the same for amateur figure skaters.

It seems we have settled at a bad equilibrium: where the payoff to landing a difficult maneuver more than offsets the penalty for not landing it, so that we get too many flub-ups (for my liking). Therefore, I would like to see the incentive structure of figure skating altered, in order to discourage this excessive risk-taking. One proposal would be to possibly assign a penalty to a fall that would carry through an entire competition, thereby hurting that skater's chances in other events and in the all-around. Or perhaps a skater should be banned from competition, or relegated to a lower division, if he or she falls, say, three times in any one-year period.

Would this lead to blander, safer, skating? Yes, and that is the point. Cleaner, less-ambitious routines, filled with maneuvers that are clearly within the skaters' abilities, will make for a better sport.

It probably goes without saying that I think that this type of remedy should also be applied in the realm of financial regulation.


Steamboat Lion said...

What's the penalty for missing a gate in alpine skiing events: You're out. Yet we still see plenty of ski racers missing gates. The racers who don't ski on the edge will beat those who miss the gates, but they'll also lose to someone who took the risk and had it pay off.

I suspect the level of risk taking is essentially a function of the degree of competition.

Jake Miller said...

Call me a fall-hawk, or a perfection dove, but I'd rather see more go-for-it, cutting edge skating, not less.

If you want fall-free skating, stick around 'till the end of next week and watch the Calvacade of Winners feel-good demo skate.

If we're pitching rule changes for skating, I'd like to see the lame, weird "you hold on to my skate and I'll hold on to yours while we play twister" moves stricken from the list of required elements.

Not sure that the equivalent for that would be in the world of finance.

nicole said...

I agree with Steamboat Lion, though I sympathize with your desire for less falling in high-level skating. One problem with your idea for changes to the incentive structure: is there anything at all that would be a great enough penalty to outweigh the possible reward of a gold medal at the Olympics? I'm thinking not.

I suppose you could change the incentives another way, by simply failing to reward audacious jumps and such, but I don't think that would produce a particularly desirable equilibrium either.

Charlie said...

I think the judging in figure skating is notoriously inconsistent*. At least, when we value hard moves and they succeed or fail, its objective. Take away the difficult moves and much more importance is on the subjective.

*I'm no skating expert, but the "expert" announcer often thinks the scores will be much different than they end up being.

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