December 6, 2001

Try 'Em Before You Knock 'Em

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Figure skating and horseback riding are two sports that get drastically overlooked in the public eye. Ice skaters are a bunch of prima donnas and horseback riding involves sitting on the saddle and letting the horse do all the work. At least, this is what your average sports male fan thinks.

These stereotypes could not be further from the truth. First of all, and perhaps the most compelling argument, is the fact that these are both Olympic sports.

Figure skating was included in the 1908 Olympics, before it was broken down into summer and winter games in 1924. Ice hockey, which is a professional and respected sport in our country, was added in 1920, after figure skating — which is also a professional but disrespected sport.

Equestrian was added as an event in 1912 in Stockholm. Basketball wasn’t made an official event until 1936 in Berlin, despite the fact that the sport had been around since 1891. Baseball was only included in the Olympics from 1912 until 1992 as a demonstration — i.e., unworthy of awarding the winning team a medal. It was made official in Barcelona.

Football, admittedly, is an Olympic sport. It was added as an Olympic event in 1904 in St. Louis. Oh wait — that’s the version where they use a little black and white ball and goals with goalies. Apparently, the International Olympic Committee doesn’t feel our rough-and-tumble version of football is appropriate for the Olympics. Table tennis, however, has been an Olympic sport since 1988 in Seoul.

These two overlooked events were added to the Olympic roster far before more popular sports like ice hockey, basketball, baseball and “football.”

Figure skating requires years and years of practice to perfect two routines for the Olympics — one no longer than two minutes and 30 seconds, the other no longer than four minutes. They have an entirely empty ice rink to skate in front of a panel of judges and absolutely no room for error.

First, they have to skate in a short program, in which the skaters are

required to complete eight moves including spins and jumps. Secondly, they compete in the longer free skate in which the skaters have the freedom to choose their own choreography and which movements they want to do.

There are few other sports that are as stringent as figure skating. One fall or misplaced foot can easily be the difference between first place and fourth. Missed shots are expected in basketball, strike-outs accepted in baseball, and falls regarded as the norm in ice hockey.

Because of the strictness, figure skaters must be in impeccable condition.

Personal trainers are virtually essential for anyone attempting to make it in the world of ice-skating. You would be hard pressed to find a 1:1 ratio of trainer to player in any other sport, especially in professional leagues.

As for equestrian events, we are fortunate to have a team on our campus. If you doubt the athletic ability of those riders, head out to Cornell’s own show next March.

Horses are remarkably intelligent animals with a knack for picking up on subtle signals from their riders. If you feel nervous and you are on an unfamiliar horse, it is a guarantee that your mount will sense that and take full advantage of the situation. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, breaking into a full-out gallop around the arena, stopping in front of a jump and dumping you over its head into the polls, rearing on its hind legs, bucking, going left when you want to go right, and going right when you want to go left.

The unfamiliarity aspect of competing in collegiate shows is well known to the members of the Cornell squad. When you travel to another school for a show, you will ride that school’s horses. Additionally, the horse you ride is randomly selected, so the chance of you having ridden that particular horse before is not that great.

To adequately deal with a new horse, and hopefully win your class, you must be in excellent physical condition. I am not talking about taking a horse out on a trail ride once a week and walking. You have to get into the barn almost every day to ride and refine your skills.

I have ridden horses for nine years, and believe me, every day was a

completely different experience because you were not only battling your mood swings and enthusiasm; you also had to convince the horse that he should listen to you and get over whatever might have been bothering him in the barn.

If you do not understand the athleticism required to ride a horse, I

suggest that you head over to Cornell’s barn and take a one-hour lesson. If you can walk the next day, please come visit me.

The next time you’re flipping through channels and come across a figure skating competition, stop and watch for a while. Chuckle at the sparkly pink outfits, then notice the difficulty of the jumps and tightness of the turns.

It took that skater over a decade to get where he or she is now.

Finally, when you see an article in The Sun about the equestrian team, don’t bypass it with out acknowledging the sport’s uniqueness. After all, a horse is the only animal that can win an Olympic medal.

Archived article by Katherine Granish