It\’s been two and a half years since I last wrote about the Olympics. And it has been six and a half years since I lamented on the X-ification of the Olympics. With the Summer Games in Beijing coming to a close in the next few days, I felt it was time to take a closer look at the sports of the XXIX Summer Olympiad. Unlike the Winter Games, which only has seven different sports, the Summer Games weigh in with a hefty 28 sports. Aquatics – this sport alone has almost as many events as the entire Winter Games. Aquatics is comprised of Diving, Swimming, Synchronized Swimming, and Water Polo; totaling 46 separate events. The bulk of which (34) come in Swimming. Kind of puts Michael Phelps accomplishments in perspective doesn\’t it? Only 8 gold medals? That\’s less than 25% of the events. You better step it up for London in 2012 Michael! Relatively new additions are Synchronized Swimming and Synchronized Diving (yes, you read that right). I love the water as much as the next guy, but 46 events seem to be a bit much, doesn\’t it? For more detail, you can also check out the offical website of the Olympic movement. Archery – has been part of the games since 1900. Archery comes in individual and team flavors. Doesn\’t make for great TV and the only newsworthy thing coming out of Archery in recent memory was Geena Davis\’ attempt to make the Olympic team in 2000. Athletics – commonly referred to as \”Track & Field\”, just edges out Aquatics with 48 events. These events fall into 4 categories: Track (almost all the running), Field (jumping/vaulting and throwing), Road (marathon and walking), and Combined (Decathlon and Heptathlon). Badminton – yes, Badminton… the game you played in grade school and at family picnics. Fairly straight forward with single elimination tournaments for: singles (men/women), doubles (men/women), and mixed doubles. Baseball – 2008 is the last year for baseball (an Olympic Sport since 1992). It\’s being dropped because it\’s not as popular in the world as… rhythmic gymnastics? While you can\’t argue that more people play baseball than badminton, I think it\’s a safe bet that more people play baseball than dive off 30 meter platforms or practice Taekwondo. And with the US team being beat there is further proof that the game isn\’t in the Olympics just to provide the US with another gold medal. Basketball – has been an Olympic sport since 1936. The best thing to ever happen to international basketball was the US \”dream\” team coming in sixth (SIXTH!!!) in the 2002 World Championships, and getting a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics. It illustrates how popular the sport is in the world, and highlights how truly awful the NBA version of basketball has become. This years \”redeem\” team seems to have realized that basketball is still a team sport. Sadly I doubt that will translate back to the NBA. Boxing – has been an Olympic sport since 1904. An interesting side note is that it was absent from the 1912 games in Stockholm because Swedish law prohibited it. The boxing I\’ve caught this year has been more entertaining than any boxing match I\’ve seen on regular TV in years. Boxing has 10 separate events broken out by weight: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, 3 different middleweights, light-heavyweight, heavyweight, and super heavyweight. Canoe / kayak – I\’ve watched a lot of Olympics, and I had no idea they raced canoes AND kayaks. However, after looking at what pictures I could find, I can\’t tell the difference. Oddly enough, women only race kayaks. Also, canoeing can be done as singles or doubles, but kayaking can be done by one, two, or four. Sixteen total events (12 in flat-water, 4 in slalom), only 4 for women (3 and 1 respectively). Cycling – while I have a strong record against the \”X-ification\” of the Olympics, I warmly received Mountain Biking as part of the Cycling events. More people ride their bikes cross-county than those who ride in a giant wooden bowl. I was more concerned with the introduction of BMX racing into the Olympics, especially since I lamented/predicted it 6 years ago (on a side note: if you look at that article, how funny is it that yahoo and google shared search capabilities back in 2002). However, it was BMX \”racing\” that was added, not freestyle BMX which is a performance event done while riding a bike. If freestyle enters the games, I may have to boycott. The other Cycling event is the Road event (think Tour de France). (Note: this article may change my mind on BMX though) Equestrian – a strong argument on having Equestrian as an Olympic event is that it is one of the few events where men and women compete. However, I am on record that horse racing and horse training is NOT a sport for the human (it is for the Horse though). The three events are dressage (horsey ballet), jumping (self-explanatory, I\’m sure you\’ve seen it before), and eventing (a combo of the first two with a cross country race thrown in for fun). Why is this in the Olympics? Well, mostly because horsemanship was an important thing to the rich aristocrats who came up with the games, and was a key skill in times of war. Is it a sport? No. Are there other Olympic \”sports\” that are questionable at best? Youbetcha. Fencing – consists of 10 events, men and women, using the epee, the foil, and the sabre. Wikipedia gives a much better explanation of the three than I could, but what I found interesting in my research is that there is Wheelchair Fencing in the Paralympics. Who knew!? Football – which you know as Soccer. Pretty standard really, an event since 1900. Gymnastics – probably the most popular events at the Olympics (although swimming is making a push this year). Three main areas: Artistic (which is the most familiar), Rhythmic (basically floor exercise with props, only for women), and Trampoline (yes… trampoline). Why did we need those last two? For the same reason we needed Ice Dancing at the Winter Games. Handball – a sport that most people don\’t see too much of, but is oddly compelling. Like a mix of basketball, soccer, and lacrosse (minus the stick obviously); handball is fast paced with a fair amount of scoring. If you\’ve been watching as much as I have you know that about the only rules are that after three steps a player must pass, dribble, or shoot. Other than that, most anything goes… holding, \”gentle\” tackling, biting. Ok, I made that last one up. Regardless, out of all the Olympic sports I\’ve watched this year this is the one that has entertained me the most. Hockey – of the Field variety. A sport that looks like it would be terrible for your back. Sort of a mix between ice hockey and lacrosse. Some of you on the east coast may have played in school growing up, but the game is relatively foreign to much of America. Doesn\’t help that the US has only one two bronze medals (one men\’s, one women\’s) with the men\’s coming in 1932. Judo – funny, it was introduced at the 1964 games in Japan… and no surprise that Japan leads the medal count in this sport by a wide margin. What\’s actually surprising is that France is second! Judo is Japanese for \”gentle way\”, and is the sport of the take down. The basic
idea is to take down your opponent by tripping them, and then putting them in a choke hold or arm-bar. From the Olympics website: it is the only Olympic sport where submission holds allow choking an opponent or breaking an arm. Sounds like fun, no? Modern pentathlon – The oddest Olympic sport I\’ve ever heard. To be honest, before I started my research I wasn\’t even aware of this event. Imagine if you will an event that starts the day with shooting an air pistol, fencing in a round robin tournament, swimming freestyle for 200 meters, next… no seriously.. get this.. NEXT it\’s off to the show jumping ring to get a randomly assigned horse for an obstacle course, then wrapping up the day with a 3000 meter run. I assume this just doesn\’t make for good TV and it\’s why I have never heard of this before. Been an Olympic sport since 1912!!! Rowing – fourteen events in rowing… FOURTEEN! Sculling (an oar in each hand) and Sweep Oar (both hands on one oar. Sweep Oar also breaks down to whether or not you have a cox (I\’m serious). Coxless or \”without Coxswain\” (no body yelling \”stoke\” and steering the boat) and Coxswain. Why they have events called \”Coxless\” and \”without Coxswain\” makes no sense to me. Anyway, I suppose we need a sport for all those good Harvard boys and girls to participate in. Sailing – eleven different sailing events. Ranging from the Dinghy, to the Windsurfer (I\’m serious), to the 49er, to the Skiff, to the Keelboat… well, you get the picture. A few different styles of craft with sails on them. And no one making less than $350K gives a shit. Shooting – fifteen different shooting event… FIFTEEN! The events are divided between pistol (air pistol, pistol, rapid fire pistol), rifle (air rifle, rifle) and shotgun (skeet, trap, and double trap). Did that make any sense? I didn\’t think so. Ok, so pistol and rifles shoot at stationary targets at different distances; while shotgun events shoot at moving targets. Also trap shooting differs from skeet shooting in that there is only one \”house\” that releases targets and the shooters move through 5 different positions. Double trap is the \”house\” putting up two targets at once. Out of all of the Olympic \”sports\” that I question, none of them do I question more than this. There is no athleticism involved whatsoever. Great skill… yes. Can a fat guy with congestive heart failure compete? Yup! Softball – along with baseball this is the last year for softball, which is too bad considering the US has absolutely dominated the sport. Fair thee well Jennie Finch… fair thee well. Table tennis – China has dominated this sport so thoroughly that after the 2004 games the IOC had to change the rules so someone else could actually win a medal. Taekwondo – funny… funny how Taekwondo made its debut as a demonstration sport in at the 1988 Seoul games. And funny that the South Koreans have dominated the sport. Did we really need a second martial art in the Olympics? Anyway, unlike Judo, in Taekwondo you can actually hit your opponent instead of grapple them to the ground. Call it Korean Karate. (yes, I understand the difference…sheesh!) Tennis – really it\’s just like a random 5th major tennis tournament that comes along once every 4 years. Triathlon – is the \”standard\” triathlon consisting of a 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) swim, 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) cycle, and a 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) run. I think they should really consider making it an ironman triathlon!!! (2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, a 112 mile (180 km) bike ride and a marathon (26.2 mile, 42 km)) Volleyball – consists of beach volleyball (new as of 1996) and regular old indoor volleyball. Although I couldn\’t find any information on this, the beach volleyball women wear the same skimpy suits they wear on the beach volleyball tour (where the two piece bikini is mandatory). I\’ve always enjoyed volleyball, but ever since they ditched side-out scoring (when you could only score on your serve), in 1999, the game has become more popular. Weightlifting – it doesn\’t get much more basic than \”who can pick up the heaviest thing\”… but of course the Olympics had to make it slightly more complicated so each weight class does two different lifts, the snatch (lift above your head in one motion) and the more well know clean and jerk (lift to the shoulders, then over your head). Never has such a simple sport been so fun to watch. Wrestling – touted as the world\’s oldest competitive sport, wrestling is primeval and has been popular for millennia. Wrestling comes in two forms at the Olympics. Greco-Roman: wrestlers use only their arms and upper bodies to attack and can only hold on to those same parts of their opponents. Freestyle: the more traditional wrestling you\’ll find at your local high school. Regardless, at least in the modern Olympics the wrestlers wear clothes. Whew! So that\’s it. That\’s a lot of sports, with over 300 events. As of this writing the US holds a 12 medal lead over China (however China has 17 more gold medals). This may be the last Olympics where that is the case. But we\’ll have to wait 4 more years to find out. See you in 2012!