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Research Suggests Nationalist Bias in Olympic Judging

Figure skating analysts have expressed concern about the possibility of judge favoritism tainting the proceedings in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, a scandal was generated after Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal in the short program, beating out highly favored and leading skater Yuna Kim, who'd previously won the gold in 2010. The optics of Sotnikova skating off the ice and into the arms of a Russian judge, who was married to the leader of the Russian skating federation, sparked an outcry of unfair bias.

"Our jaws dropped," recalled U.S. skater Simon Shnapir, who was watching at the rink in Sochi with other competitors. "But at the same time, none of us are strangers to how skating works. … You either deal with that or you don't."

The subjective nature of the sport, combined with the unique system that allows judges to score athletes from their own countries, has created an environment rife with conflicts of interest, which is why figure skating has consistently been plagued by controversy.

NBC News found that approximately one fifth of the 164 judges eligible for the upcoming figure skating events are current or former leaders in their national skating federations, which gives them a natural incentive to inflate the scores of their countrymen.

"This, in my opinion, is a clear conflict of interest," said Sonia Bianchetti of Italy, a skating judge at seven Olympics, "but the rules do not forbid it."

Potential preaching angles: We're easiest on those most like ourselves. We need each other to reveal our blind spots. There is no insider class in the kingdom of God.

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