Playing to Win in Badminton

David Sirlin:

And now we come to the actual problem with the Olympic badminton situation. There are “pools” of round robin play where the top 2 finishers from a pool advance to a single elimination bracket. Further, the system of seeding in the single elimination bracket is known ahead of time. This creates the situation where you could playing pool matches but *guaranteed* to make top 2 by your record. If you win, you will qualify and play team X. If you lose, you will also qualify, but you will play team Y. If you think you have an easier chance of beating team Y, you absolutely should lose on purpose. If you don’t, you aren’t playing to win, and you are kind of a bad competitor. You also happen to be playing in a tournament with absurdly bad rules.

This is the real hang-up with the badminton mess: the teams that were disqualified were doing their best to win the entire competition based on the structure of the tournament. This is the first year badminton has used a round robin opening round in the Olympics. Hopefully it will be the last.

Manufactured Drama

Timothy Burke for Deadspin:

Despite NBC’s odd penchant for showing crying gymnasts, the rather amazing image you see above (taken by AP staffer Matt Dunham) didn’t make it to air last night. It’s the Russian team reacting to the shock of world champion Ksenia Afanasyeva inexplicably falling onto her face on the closing tumble of her floor exercise. That fall—and the resulting 14.333 score—didn’t only shock her Russian teammates, but gymnastics fans around the world. If the routine had been scored slightly lower, it could have even cost the Russians silver.

It most certainly cost them gold, though as our Dvora Meyers pointed out yesterday the U.S. had pretty much secured it already. That’s because the Russians performed their final rotation on the floor before the Americans, meaning the U.S. floor exercise routines were simply procedure.

I watched the team finals live yesterday while working, so I knew this, but at this point is anyone surprised? NBC needs to provide as much of a pretense of drama as possible to keep people from changing the channel.

The further from live the footage is, the more time they have to cut around these things and change the way you think of what’s going on. They barely showed anything that wasn’t an American athlete already anyway. This is only going to be worse in Sochi.

The only indication that everything was easy was a slip by Al Trautwig that Aly Raisman only needed to score a 10 and a third to win the gold medal. A trained monkey could score a 10 based on the judging last night. A 13 if it was wearing a Russian leotard.

Best image of the Olympics so far, by the way:

Like apparently everyone else on the planet, I have some thoughts about the coverage of the Olympics and the Olympics in general. I will probably write about them at some point.

But for now:

If these Games belong to everyone and these programs are supported by our money, why aren’t the broadcasts open to everyone? The OBS should be offering all this stuff to everyone directly instead of forcing us to accept ludicrous broadcasting agreements.

Sparkle Motion

Brian Phillips for Grantland:

The problem my little plan almost immediately ran into is that when, as part of my research, I started watching RG videos, I found that I actually liked it. I mean, I think you’re not supposed to say that if you’re an American sports fan with pretensions to red-bloodedness, but fuck it: These women are amazing. If you care about sports on any level beyond box scores and regional rivalries, if you love watching a wide receiver make an acrobatic catch or a striker score an off-balance goal, if you ever feel astonished by, just, like, the incredible things people do with their bodies — then I defy you to watch a few minutes of RG and not think it’s pretty cool.

Rhythmic Gymnastics starts on August 9th. We’ll be watching the stream in my house.

I love this paragraph, too:

Obviously — I mean, obviously — gender has something to do with this. RG is often not just girly, it’s aggressively, in-your-face girly; it’s an h-bomb of girliness. Looking at the overall culture of the sport, you sometimes get an impression of an ancient, complex civilization made up entirely of 12-year-olds named Bethany. The core aesthetic of RG is … well, there are leotards on which the sequins have sequins. There are pinks that cut your brain. Words like “butterfly princess” and “Euro Disney halftime show” and “the crime scene after the Easter bunny is beaten to death with a vintage Patrick Nagel print” flutter into the mind. If you’re a fan who’s got the least bit of insecurity about the sports you are watching, it is really, really easy to feel like, OK, at least pro wrestling involves smashing things. It is really, really easy not to give RG a chance.

Awesome writing to boot. And a great article title.