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Cheatin' Hearts

To hear most local and national media tell it, the Winter Olympics were an exciting, competitive sports extravaganza, but personally I've found them to be the most disappointing Olympics I've ever watched (or, more accurately, not watched). Shaken by the events of 9/11, people worldwide were ready to see some form of world unity, proof of sorts that we can all get along, at least as long as we're skiing down mountains and not developing planetary policy. But rather than a show of international unity, the 2002 Olympics were a display of pettiness and corruption day after day. Not only did the Russians and South Koreans threaten to take their hockey pucks and go home if they didn't start winning some medals, damn it, but the games were also disgraced by actual scandals almost on a daily basis.

Sadly enough, at games that supposedly represent and instill a sense of international cooperation, cheating was a factor in many, if not all, of the scandals plaguing the Olympics. For example, on the very last day of the Olympics, three cross-country skiers were kicked out of the games for drug use. It seems the three had all used the same performance-enhancing drug, which was detected in their blood samples. Now, if they were using marijuana and still had the gumption to get out there and slalom their hearts out, we'd all be impressed instead of scandalized. No such luck, though. I realize that certain athletes might argue otherwise, but it seems clear to me that using chemicals to boost one's abilities is cheating. Olympics officials considered the drug use to be cheating, too, and the two drug-enhanced skiers who had been awarded gold medals were stripped of their awards.

This scandal was minor, though, compared to the figure-skating debacle that preceded it. Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier came in second to the Russian pair skaters, despite a near-perfect performance on the Canadians' part. Eventually, the real story emerged: one of the figure skating judges had been influenced to vote for the Russians over the Canadians or, in other words, to cheat.

It's probably due to the prevalence of cheating in our society that few were shocked by the news of the Olympic figure-skating scandal. I know I certainly wasn't shocked. After all, as much as we always claim that athletic competitions are nothing more than fun and games, I remember junior high school physical education classes far too well; those basketball scrimmages were all about winning, and you can trust this all-thumbs player who was frequently chastised by over-zealous future Olympians on that one.

But even a jaded cynic such as myself couldn't help but be surprised by the way the figure skating cheating scandal was handled. The obvious way to avoid future figure skating judging fiascos is to add a hockey puck to the "sport" (I use the term loosely). The skaters would have to shoot the puck into a net, just like they do in hockey. But the number of points they receive for the goal would depend on the difficulty of the trick performed just prior to the score. Skating backwards would be worth one point and spinning around in circles while reaching elegantly for the sky would count for 10 points. Totaling the points becomes an objective exercise.

But, my idea aside, the medals weren't simply reassigned correctly. Apparently in order to avoid offending the Russians, the Canadian skaters were awarded an additional gold medal. So apparently two gold medals were given in figure skating: to award excellence in performance and to award excellence in pressuring judges. Even if the Russian skaters were blameless, as I am sure they were, why would they want to keep their ill-gotten medal?

The story isn't even over there. Already thinking ahead, Olympics officials have begun contemplating the future of the figure skating competition. Their solution is to increase the number of figure skating judges from seven to 14. All 14 judges will score the skaters, but only seven randomly chosen scores will count. This, of course, will make it more difficult to cheat because countries will require more money to bribe a greater number of judges and better mathematical abilities to calculate the number of judges they will need to influence in order to win. Increasing the number of figure skating judges, though, does not address the problem, which is simply a lack of ethics. The only thing this Olympics cheating issue proves is that Americans aren't the only ones who are guilty of harboring ethical shortcomings.

It wasn't that long ago that a news story about plagiarism at a high school in Florida was being touted as evidence that American schools are in a state of moral decline. A high school biology teacher at the Florida school discovered that many of her students had plagiarized a project, so she gave them failing grades, as per school policy. When parents protested the grades, the school board ordered the teacher to change them, prompting her resignation and a flood of negative feedback against this high school that goes easy on cheating.

Even though the Olympics cheating incident proves that cheating isn't solely an American problem, it is a serious societal problem nonetheless. After all, what is cheating? It's taking the easy way out, instead of doing the hard work necessary to improve oneself, whether physically or mentally. The performance-enhancing drugs in the case of the Olympics, and the internet in the case of the school plagiarism, are both examples of technological advances that make taking the easy way even easier.

Of course, it stands to reason that people will take the easy way, especially when it is so easy. But as a society we used to at least value individual achievement and publicly condemn cheating. Now, it seems as though people consider cheating to be a feasible and practical solution. This is beyond sad. n

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