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Mon March 3, 2014

Double Axels And Death Spirals — Yes, Figure Skating Is A Sport

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 6:57 am

With the addition of team figure skating to the Olympic manifest, I wasn't surprised to hear from my grumpy old pal the Sports Curmudgeon. "Hey, Frank," the crabby kibitzer said, "when you gonna admit that anything that calls itself a sport that has music outside o' halftime ain't a real sport?"

Actually, there are other sporting defenders of the faith who are even more critical. They maintain that any sport — like figure skating, gymnastics, diving, halfpipe — that is resolved by exterior judges rather than by the participants themselves is not a true sport.

Boxing is not a true sport, I reply? Most boxing matches are determined by judges scoring, not referees counting to 10. Well, the critics say, that's different.

See, it's not easy to qualify what makes a sport a sport. My broad, more inclusive definition would simply be that anytime you compete in a physical activity, you have a sport. In terms of the purity of sport, I would say that the ultimate is when one individual goes directly against another, mano a mano — where you must not only compete, but compete against your rival's attempts to stop you.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

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Transcript

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Well, snowboarding may be a relatively recent addition to the Olympics, but hardly anyone would question that it's actually a sport. Commentator Frank Deford says purists still quibble over some other Olympic events.

FRANK DEFORD: With the addition of team figure skating to the Olympic manifest, I wasn't surprised to hear from my grumpy old pal, The Sports Curmudgeon.

SPORTS CURMUDGEON: Hey, Frank, the crabby kibitzer said, when you going to admit that anything that calls itself a sport that has music outside of halftime, ain't a real sport?

DEFORD: Actually, there're other sporting defenders of the faith who are even more critical. They maintain that any sport - any - that is resolved by exterior judges rather than by the participants themselves is not a true sport. Boxing is not a true sport, I reply? Hey, most boxing matches are determined by judges scoring, not referees counting to 10. Well, they say, that's different.

See, it's not easy to qualify what makes a sport a sport. My broad, more inclusive definition would simply be that any time you compete in a physical activity, you have a sport. The key words to me are physical and compete. I think, for example, that perhaps the greatest athletic feat of the 20th century was Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norkay conquering Mount Everest. But however rigorous, is mountain climbing competitive? Ah, but curling is a sport because, yes, even on one knee you're physically playing against someone else.

In terms of the purity of sport, I would say that the ultimate is when one individual goes directly against another, mano-a-mano, where you must not only compete but compete against your rival's attempts to stop you. That, to me, is sport is at its highest, pure level. Wrestling, tennis and fencing would be good examples. Some speed sports are a touch below. Runners, swimmers and short-track speed skaters do race against each other, but racers don't have to contend with an opposition's defense.

I put auto racers, jockeys and bicyclists down another notch because they must depend on an apparatus to propel them. Then, in my ranking, the next-to-last category of pure individual sport involves the likes of golf, bowling, shot-putting and ski-racing, where you perform by yourself and then are measured against others you might not even see.

Finally, at the bottom of my sports purity scale, come the sports that are judged: figure skating, yes, and gymnastics, diving, the halfpipe. Are these really sports, even if the competitors must influence judges rather than beat opponents? Well, yes, in many respects winning a gold at figure skating is more similar to winning an Oscar than winning Wimbledon. But figure skating is physical and a competition and that makes it a sport for me.

Of course, you, like the Sports Curmudgeon, surely won't agree with my analysis.

CURMUDGEON: You're right, Frank, I don't agree.

DEFORD: But that's my definition and I'm sticking to it. Bring on Tchaikovsky and the double axels and the dimwit judges.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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You can hear commentator Frank Deford every Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.