Friday, August 10, 2012

That's an Olympic Sport? Really?

In the span of a little more than a century, the sages of the International Olympic Committee have seen fit to change course on whether this or that competitive endeavor should be considered merely a schoolyard pastime or elevated to the status of sport and thereby worthy for inclusion in its sanctioned international competitions. One case in point is the time-honored game of tug-of-war, probably not much engaged in these days when schoolyards and sandlots lie deserted and choked with a weedy riot of hydroponic marijuana plants and exotic Afghan poppies.

"Mind the poison ivy, lads."

Another such contest long gone by the boards is aquatic motorsport which in its day featured three different events. The sport had its brief run only in the 1908 Games. All three events were equidistant, five laps around a course of eight nautical miles. In each of the events, multiple boats started but only one finished, the others casualties of a serious gale. It was like NASCAR-on-water, but too dependent on weather - and no Earnhardts.

 Sorry, no encore

Still, it would seem the Olympic Committee, in this era of large screen, high definition television is making decisions based on standards from the mean and pandering through sheer cheesecakery to low comedy. Take racewalking (please), a perfectly fine way to stay fit in between mowing the suburban lawn, trimming the suburban hedge and washing the SUV in the driveway, but deeply questionable as an Olympic sport . . . 

 . . . inviting as it does interminable violations of the rules (one foot on the ground at all times), interminable disputes about who violated the rules and when, unending appeals to instant replays and television footage to determine whether the rules were religiously hewed to at each step by each contestant. The disputes are so numerous, protracted and acrimonious precisely because no one gives a shit about it as a medal event.

Dressage is such an obvious target for skewering that I hesitate to include it in the list (the Colbert Report has already had its way, predictably, with the Romney horse).  It's the equestrian version of racewalking, except the horse doesn't get a medal. Still, why not pander to the wealthy instead of just having a separate Olympics for their horses? If we're going to enlist animals and call it human competition, then why not, say, cockfighting? Or sheep dog trials? The animals are a lot smarter and have to do more, but those events don't require the entire superstructure of Western capitalism with its conspicuous consumption to give it raison√©e and false buoyancy.

I think divers are pretty amazing and diving is a real sport that takes all the concentration and strength and coordination of any specialized motor activity. Synchronized diving, on the other hand, is both silly and redundant - the same can be said of synchronized swimming which is more exhibiting odd behavior in the water than it is actual swimming. Both events prove that you can have too much of a good thing (remember the "Doublemint Twins"?). And like racewalking, absolutely nobody cares.

Then there are the twin scourges, badminton and table tennis (a.k.a. 'ping pong'). These are family entertainments best confined to, in one case, the briar patch out behind the clothesline poles in the backyard where you played it naked with your cousins . . . 

Cousin Euphronia

. . . and in the case of ping pong, inside the garage that the old man remodeled as a screened-in family room, where your slightly inebriated and ill-tempered uncle always managed to whip your ass in the annual Thanksgiving family tournament.

 Uncle Wang

Which brings us to beach volleyball. This is an event that, I would venture, has a primarily male audience and has proven a big draw for NBC's "viewership" (a word which makes watching television sound like a sacred trust). Let's admit the truth - a man who claims to be watching beach volleyball for the love of the sport is very likely the same guy who would also tell you he reads Playboy for the articles.

As for me, I'm still hoping that roller derby is finally sanctioned by the venerable tradition of the Olympiad. Then we'll be off and running, no more waiting for the judges to post their scores, cheesecake for the asking, an oval track and not a horse anywhere. Roller derby is to roller skating what "Fight Club" is to "My Dinner With André."


1 comment:

  1. I don't know. If NBC televised that girl playing badminton, I'd probably watch.