Are you a fan of ski jumping? What about figure skating, gymnastics, or ballroom dancing? If you are, you’re probably comfortable with the idea of a judging element in your sport.
Yes, generic ski-jumper, I can see that you just leapt three-hundred-metres, but you looked like a bag of spanners being chucked into a ravine. Six points.
Subjective scoring by judges brings an element of artistic interpretation into proceedings. This is all very well in, for example, figure skating, because how else are you going to separate one triple Salchow from the next?
In boxing, by contrast, unless you splat your opponent’s brain into next week your fate lies in the hands of a judge who may or may not have been slipped a brown envelope three days previously*.
Because there’s such a thing as a home-town decision.
I agree, boxing man, he was cross-eyed and wobbly legged by the end, but I’m surrounded by testosterone-fuelled boxing fans who look quite fight-y themselves. Unanimous decision.
Generally, in sport, I like black and white. It acts as a soothing relief from the cacophony of grey area we’re faced with in real life**. Certainly in bike racing I believe we should stick with the clock as our favoured method of arbitration.
Except, ironically, in the time-trail. The race against the clock. The discipline where the variables are minimised and the amount of time elapsed is the truth.
This is the one place where the clock cannot be trusted.
You may be familiar with the bike brand Wilier; Italian manufacturers of bikes so jaw droppingly beautiful as to elicit a sexual response unusual towards an inanimate object. Wilier bikes are the cause of many a saliva mark down the window of my favourite bike shop.
And yet, have you seen their TT bikes? Or, in fact, the TT bikes of any of the major bike manufacturers?
They are no doubt whippet quick (or whatever the Italian translation is…veloce come un whippet) but the price paid for that speed is too high. Like a fine Picasso portrait, all the right bits are in there but they’re mangled and misplaced.
It leaves me feeling queasy.
And a bit sad.
All attraction (sexual or otherwise) is dampened by seat posts at weird angles, strange flaps and farings, and an overall sense that all human input into design and construction has been replaced by computer.
The only solution is a judging system.
The timing mechanism gives a time, and a judges gives a mark out of ten for style. The relentless search for speed is tempered by an appreciation for panache. If you post the quickest time riding Wilier’s Cento10PRO then you are the winner. No arguments. If you do so on Lapierre’s Aerostorm DRS you’ll finish about forty-third.
Which seems about right.
It gets complicated, of course, when you factor in riding style, helmet design, kit colour scheme, sock length, and every other variable. But the alternative is the continued development of the wind-cheating monstrosity of the modern TT bike.
Had the judging system been around back in the 60’s and 70’s Eddy Merckx would’ve had his crown as the greatest of all time totally undermined by that relentless bobbing style on the bike. Replace those five-hundred career wins with a handful of top tens and a twenty-third overall at the Tour de France and you have a very different legacy altogether.
Perhaps that would’ve led him to focus a bit less on being fast and a bit more on looking good.
And that’s a lesson that modern pro cycling would do well to heed.
*Other methods of bribery, in other sports, are available.
**If you think the ways of the world are black and white, you’re not thinking hard enough.