Righting past sporting wrongs

The IOC decision to give Canada the figure skating gold shows us that we can all rewrite history.

By Allen Barra
Published February 20, 2002 11:44PM (EST)

"Bad taste" is not a strong enough term to describe what the IOC decision regarding Skategate has left us with. You can't even feel good for the skaters themselves; looking at the four of them hug and mug shamelessly on international TV, you can't escape the idea that by going along with this phony feel-good campaign, they've made themselves co-conspirators. I'm not talking about who should have won the gold medal. I've watched both performances four times and if there's any way the Canadians did not deserve to win it, I frankly don't want to know about it. I can't imagine an aesthetic or athletic point on which they weren't more deserving than the Russian couple. But then, virtually all I've ever learned about figure skating has been in the last week so I'm not qualified to say who was the best. I'll bet you aren't either.

All this is beside the point. What we've learned from this debacle is that if enough popular support can be whipped up against an Olympic decision -- and when I say "popular" I mean fed by a television network's reporting of said incident -- then we will have a new decision rendered, one that isn't necessarily fair or even remotely intended to be, but simply one that will make the largest number of people feel good about the scam. Compared to the IOC's decision, Don King-promoted fights are a model of judicial wisdom.

The French judge who admitted to being "pressured" -- no other explanation or further details were offered, though Federation president Ottavio Cinquanta added that the pressure came from the French Federation -- was apparently the first and only judge in Olympic history ever to receive "pressure" from political influences. Quel surprize! Voting in the Olympics is subject to outside pressures. Thanks to the IOC, the only such instance in the history of the Olympics of such "pressure" has been corrected by public outrage, even though that same public is almost totally ignorant on how figure skating should be graded in the first place. Quel irony! And the whole matter can now be smoothed over by telling the couple who lost that they were in fact exactly as good as the couple who won, even though the point of contention in the first place was that the couple who won weren't nearly as good as the couple who lost. Donnez-moi un break, s'il vous plait!

I'm not saying I can't live with this kind of blatant hypocrisy, but what I must have is consistency. If we're going to have a world where rules can be changed after the contest has started, I want to see the same standards applied to all sports throughout history: First of all, Gene Tunney goes down for the count in his mythical 1927 title defense against Jack Dempsey. We watched the tape again and Tunney is on the canvas for longer than 10 seconds, so Dempsey is awarded the heavyweight championship. No, wait, by the logic of the 2002 IOC, Dempsey wins by a knockout, but both Dempsey and Tunney are awarded championship belts.

The "Shoe Polish" ball in the 1969 World Series is thrown out as inadmissible evidence, the Orioles are declared winners, but both teams are given championship rings and victory parades.

Sorry, New England Patriots: We're retroactively reversing that fumble call against the Raiders. You lose the game, but you get to keep the Super Bowl trophy, though a second trophy must also be awarded to the Oakland Raiders. Oops, make that three Super Bowl trophies because the Rams might have beaten the Oakland Raiders had they played them. Come to think of it, if the Philadelphia Eagles had known they would be playing the Raiders instead of the Patriots in the Super Bowl, they might have been able to beat the Rams in the conference championship. Better make that four Super Bowl trophies. (Needless to say, all "I'm going to Disney World" commercials will need to be reshot.)

Oh, and for all you U.S. Olympic hockey fans, we've got some bad news. In all fairness to the Russians after this skate thing, we let them watch a tape of the 1980 U.S. victory over the Soviet team. They spotted an icing of the puck that wasn't called. Sorry, but the U.S. gets a tie.

In fact, what's good for the IOC is good for the world. Congratulations, Al Gore, you're the first co-president. And congratulations to you, O.J. Simpson, you're still free.

Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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Figure Skating Olympics