My call: <i>But does it belong?</i>

One morning this week I switched on my television and immediately began to curse ESPN: "Those damn satellites seem to go haywire all the time and they always replace the scheduled programming with this lousy X-Games nonsense," I thought to myself. But quickly I realized that it wasn't ESPN's replacement programming. It wasn't even ESPN, but rather Eurosport's live Winter Olympic coverage of the women's half-pipe snowboarding event. Over the next few days, I also had the misfortune to catch the moguls in the freestyle skiing category and other bizarre inventions including the team pursuit speed skating races. What would cause the International Olympic Committee to make these fringe competitions Olympic events? Certainly it isn't the IOC's commitment to the Game's origins. For try as I might, I just can't fathom the ancient Greeks doing 1080-degree snow turns in the nude. Call me a traditionalist, but for me, the Games should be about their motto: "Citius, altius, fortius" (faster, higher, stronger in Latin). And when the competitions fail to represent that motto, well, they just don't really belong. And this may raise some ire, but if it were up to me, every Olympic sport would have to reflect that spirit. So, speed skating: In. Freestyle anything: Out! I would even take it a step further. Events must have an objective criteria for winning. If not, take it somewhere else. So, ski jumping: In. Figure skating: Out! And while I'm at it, I'd also do away with team sports at the Olympics. If there's a professional league and a world championship competition for it, then it doesn't need the Olympics. So, cross-country skiing: In. Ice hockey: Out! (I would apply these same rules to the summer Olympics. But since I may need a column for Beijing 2008, I won't belabor the point.) Perhaps with these more stringent - and sporting - standards, competing at the Olympics would actually be the pinnacle achievement of an athlete's sporting career. And not just a pit-stop on the road to a sneaker (or skate, or snowboard) endorsement. Until the International Olympic Committee decides to solicit my wise advice, I - and the rest of us - will just have to make do with the current format. The advantage to it, of course, is that five Israelis are able to compete this week in Turin - 80 percent of whom will perform (er, compete) for the first time on Friday night, when the ice dancing pairs of Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky and siblings Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky take the stage. In the build-up to these Games, I have done my best to educate myself on figure skating in general - and ice dancing in particular. I have seen the combination of power and grace that must go into a successful figure skating routine, and learned why the sport is among the most popular at the Winter Olympics. I have also learned about the judging scandals of the past and the short-comings of the New Judging System, which was designed to rid the sport of bias, but is still riddled with problems. Far be it for me to claim to know the difference between a perfect and a flawed performance (unless of course one of the skaters falls flat on his face), but those who know far more than I do have made it clear to me that these competitions are about more than just what takes place on the ice. Apparently, just as a basketball or soccer referee might be inclined to give more respect to a star on Maccabi Tel Aviv than a reserve on Ironi Afula, a skating judge will automatically score a well-known Russian pair higher than any young Israelis, regardless of their performance. Let's hope that this time it will be different and that we can all enjoy the skating competitions - especially the ice dancing - without worrying about judging scandals. Let's hope that the best pairs really will take the medals they deserve.