Tomorrow athletes from all over the world will gather together and try to avoid getting the zika virus.
Yes, it’s NBC’s Summer Olympics: time to dust off Bob Costas (whose eyes have hopefully recovered from the last Olympics) so he can tell us about all the dramatic stories behind the games, such as open-water swimmers being devoured by floating debris.
While NBC’s prime time coverage will focus on the events that are most popular for the American audience, like gymnastics, basketball and shooting, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the lesser-known sports, all of which I swear are real.*
Let’s start with the canoe slalom. This is the most dangerous of all the Summer Olympics sports, except perhaps javelin catching. You’ve probably seen skiers have bone-crunching falls in the slalom events of the Winter Olympics. Now imagine how perilous it is to come down those mountains in a canoe! The medals in this event do not go to the athletes who negotiate all the gates in the shortest time but, rather, to any athlete who is able to remain upright on the medal stand.
Next we go to cycling. You may be familiar with the drug-infused Tour de France type of cycling competition, but that’s not all there is in the Olympics. For instance, there is also mountain bike cycling, where riders have to avoid various obstacles such as crashed slalom canoers. Then there’s BMX cycling, which is essentially what kids do when they make revving sounds and pretend their bikes are motorcycles. In fact, “BMX” stands for “bicycle motocross,” but if your bike has a motor, you’ll probably get disqualified.
Let’s move on now to handball, which is not what you think it is: two or four people whacking a small, hard ball against a graffiti-covered wall in a school playground. Olympic handball (or “European handball”) is like European football, except with hands. Seriously. It’s soccer without the feet. Well, I mean, you have to use your feet, but only to run, and possibly to kick the players on the other team. You use your hands to pass the ball down the court and to throw it into a goal which is protected by a goaltender who must feel like the last player left in a lopsided game of dodgeball. America doesn’t even compete in this event, so you can just ignore it.
Finally, let’s talk about the modern pentathlon. If you’re old like me, you may remember when Bruce Jenner won the decathlon back when he was, you know, Bruce Jenner. They don’t even have that event in the Olympics any more, possibly because nobody has the attention span for 10 events these days. Instead, we have the pentathlon, which is arguably the dumbest competition in the games. It’s as if they threw all the other events into a hat and picked five at random.
The modern pentathlon, I kid you not, is fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping (with horses!), pistol shooting, and a 3200m cross-country run. To make it even crazier, you have to do the run and the shooting at the same time!
This is called the “modern pentathlon” to distinguish it from the pentathlon of the ancient Olympic games, in which athletes competed in a foot race, wrestling, long jump, javelin, and discus. This was intended to simulated the skills of the warriors of that time. I’m no historian, but I must say I’ve never heard of the ancient Greeks going into battle flinging 4 1/2-pound frisbees, although that may be why they suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. Judging from this painting,
In any case, legend has it that the modern pentathlon used the same business model, tossing together events that simulated the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers. I do not know if the athletes in this event get to shoot the other competitors while racing for the finish line.
One thing is for sure: now that we’re two centuries later, it’s time for a modern modern pentathlon that reflects today’s military campaigns. I’m thinking the events would be driving a Humvee through an obstacle course of IEDs; firing a sniper rifle at synchronized swimmers; landing a drone on Matt Lauer’s head; hacking another athlete’s email account; and firing a surface-to-air missile at the Goodyear Blimp (or whichever blimp brand is covering the Games).
I leave you now with part of a post I did four years ago before the last Summer Olympics. It’s my 7 Defining Laws of Sports, which should be used as a guide for eliminating many of the current events and preventing some future ones from ever joining the Olympics.**
It’s not a sport if…
- There are costumes instead of uniforms. (And especially if the costumes have sequins.)
- There is a choreographer involved.
- Music is an integral part of the event.
- There is no way for a regular person to know how well a participant is doing, beyond being fairly certain that a face plant is not a good thing.
- There’s a very fine line between the “sport” (top photo) and “Dancing With the Stars” (bottom–or is it the other way around?).
- The difference between winning and losing can come down to how you “stick the landing.”
- Results are determined solely by judges. If the winner is not determined by who went faster, farther, higher, heavier or longer, or who was left standing, it’s not a sport. (Yes, I know, boxing matches are often decided by judges, but only as a second resort.)
See you soon.
*The events are real, not necessarily my descriptions of them.
**Sorry all you figure skaters, ice dancers, divers, gymnasts and synchronized swimmers. I’m not saying what you do is not athletic, I’m just saying it’s not a sport.