Like many people, Meaghan and I have been watching the winter Olympics on TV. We both enjoy watching the figure skaters but as the competition draws to an end I start to see more clearly the difference between a program that receives high acclaim in the skating world and a program that would receive high praise from me. Clearly there is a subtlety and skill within the skating world that is of a higher resolution than the signals I use to judge the programs at home. I recognize some of the skills involved with triple– and quad– jumping tricks but in all honesty I often enjoy the routines that bring aesthetic dance qualities to compliment the music. Some of the programs with big amazing jumps in them feel stunted and don’t flow well because the skater has to spend the majority of their time preparing for the jump instead of dancing to the music.
I’m not a figure-skating expert. I can barely even skate around an ice rink without slipping and face-planting. However, I am the audience for the TV broadcast and as an observer I find my favorite routines are often in contrast to those of the judges. It reminds me how differently people who are “in” a sport of pass-time perceive that sport from those who are outside it. It reminds me of bowling in college. For your average casual bowler they will select a pair of rental shoes that fit, pick up a house ball and try to throw it as straight as possible at the middle pin. Those who have seen bowling on TV might try to curve their shot, not realizing that professional bowlers use special weighted balls to hook their shots. To a casual bowler they will see a straight shot down the lane and think “Yay! That was awesome!” However, to a professional bowler the lane looks quite different and a ball heading straight down the middle of the lane is a bad thing because it regularly leads to a 7-10 or 4-6-7-10 split.
I’m sure the same effect is in play with the figure skating I see on TV. I observe and enjoy the dances that flow with the music and are enjoyable to watch. The judges and aficionados of the sport observe the minutiae of where the skate blades landed at the end of the last triple-axle. Technical correctness is often less aesthetically pleasing, but from the perspective of the sport it is the more advanced and worthy of a higher score. Either way I’m still enjoying watching. It was as I watched on the TV as they reviewed the same 0.5 seconds of footage over and over to see exactly whether the jump was a quarter-turn off the mark that I realized how little I know about the sport I am watching.