I love the Olympics. Who ran the fastest? Who threw the stick the farthest? Who hit whom most? Did she point her toes enough? Once a quadrennial we are treated to the best the world has to offer, this year in 26 sports with 302 events.
Here is my list of awesome, confusing and boring sports to watch in the Summer Olympics.
Let’s get serious, it’s weird. It’s not weird because we now have guns, but because you can’t see what the hell is going on and you don’t know who is winning or why. Ultimately it boils down to, did you hit your adversary more with your stick than he did you? The answer nine times out of ten is, “I don’t know, I can’t see out of this mask that makes my head look like a fly’s eye.”
Thwang. Wheeeeew. Fump. No, those are not the names of the Korean team members, rather a simplistic attempt to graphically represent the sonic nature of the arrow from release to hay bale. Archery rules because the game is straightforward: get your arrow as close to the center as possible. Though the bows of today look more like a Swiss watch than the bow you shot at Boy Scout camp, the spirit of this sport inspires all of us to channel our inner Robin Hood, Legolas or Katniss Everdeen.
I have done the rowing machines at the gym and they are difficult to say the least; I cannot imagine doing what these athletes do to get their sliver of a boat across 2,000 meters of river in a matter of minutes. I admit, however, that I find it more impressive how they manage to go so damn straight–rowing backwards no less! But, as a spectator, I find the rhythmic and relentless dance of the oars in and over the water hypnotic and soporific. I usually fall asleep until something better comes on.
One of the few sports that relies on subjectivity by part of the judges, diving, as a sport and art form, is one of my favorites. Synchronized, individual, springboard or platform, I find it all exhilarating and utterly terrifying. The only thing I can really judge from my couch is, of course, the splash. Three twists, four somersaults, pike, downward dog, I don’t know, it all looks chaotic until half a second from impact when they turn into a vertical battering ram and slip into the pool.
This Frankenstein’s monster of an event combines fencing, equestrian, swimming and the ‘combined event’ of running three kilometers while stopping to shoot targets. The combined event is much like the biathlon of the Winter Olympics, another bewildering mash up of skills. I thought baseball was an expensive sport to do, the modern pentathlon requires you to have a pool, a horse, a gun and many swords. It sounds like a bunch of drunk Barons in the olden days got together on a Sunday funday and made this up.
My guilty pleasure on TV is History’s Top Shot. It’s a reality shooting competition and I can’t get enough of it. Shooting in the Olympics, however, is much more…one dimensional. Air rifles, trap, skeet, all great skills to have, at the Olympic level no less, but there aren’t any explosions, and the athletes aren’t hanging upside down using a Civil War era pistol. I am just too saturated with over-stimulating content that I can’t bring myself to watch this.
This sport truly showcases the upper limits of human strength, balance and flexibility. I also like it because the athletes are small. Like in diving, I can only really gauge if the gymnast landed, er, on his feet or not. Yet that does not deter me from watching and shaking my head in disbelief anytime any Olympic-caliber gymnast does anything.
Need I say more?
One note on the commentators thus far. I have been watching the majority of the games on either BBC or Eurosport. I have found that both networks have been providing excellent commentators who really know their sports. They are former gymnasts, swimmers, divers and so on, and it is refreshing to hear insightful and smart remarks on the events. In stark contrast, I remember the days of John Tesh commentating the 1996 Atlanta games. All he said was, “that might cost her a tenth.” Stick to music, John. Actually, don’t do that. Stick to dog shows, leave the Olympics to those who’ve been there.
[images courtesy of: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/08/womens_olympic_fencing.html