As both U.S.A. curling teams flounder at the Vancouver Games, I feel obliged to briefly address assessment (athletic, pedagogical, or otherwise). According to curling legend and NBC commentator Don Duguid, the men's curling team was the forth ranked team in the United States when they won the U.S. Olympic trials. That is, over the previous season, there were three "better" teams in the U.S. However, because "better" is assessed in terms of Olympic trial tournaments, America is represented, in many sports, by those athletes that won the last tournament just prior to the Olympics.
I do not intend to dismiss this means of assessment out of hand. In many ways it is fair. I can imagine all sorts of problems that might emerge if a committee selected the representatives. Any assessment method necessarily selects its measures and deflects others. And assessment, in sports and beyond, is necessarily complex because no one measure accounts for everything. In the moment of decision and in order to decide at all we must pick one way of picking.
However, it is becoming clear, at least to me, that the U.S. curling team isn't just a unfortunate team on a cold streak; they seem genuinely out-matched by nearly all of their competitors. Sure, many of the matches have been tight, but I have seen no other team miss as many shots (and I have watched way too much curling at this point). And so we must reconsider, or should at least consider at all, how this particular squad of curlers has come to represent the U.S. of A.
And so here is my critique of the tournament-style assessment measure: it is predicated, in part, on a desire to have a undisputed representative. It is a way of choosing that appears the least like a choice. "Look, we lined everybody up and they ran to the finish line. The first one there was the winner. It's completely objective." Except, of course, it isn't. Choosing the tournament as the means to select an Olympic team is already a value. And, as a said earlier, it is a reasonable one. It is a value and a choice, however, that erases history and reputation and unduly reduces complexity. It rewards what one team has done in one tournament, and not what one team has done over a longer time frame (over more series of moments), which is, I'll admit, a trickier, a messier, and (most likely) a more contestable measure.
But in this moment it is safe to say that U.S.A. Curling couldn't have done much worse.