Olympic Preview

July 15, 2008

The middle of summer is a time that most real sports fans dread. Your choices are between golf (good for a nap, if nothing else), NASCAR (as boring as golf, but much noisier), and baseball (whose games make the national spelling bee look like a meaningful competition).

In honor of this season of boring, I've been reading stories on www.nbcolympics.com.

Never in our history has man been pelted with non-meaningful sport as we are about to be. NBC owns so much of your cable spectrum, and each and every channel must be broadcasting events. Even Oxygen is shelving women's programming for events.

NBC is shelling out so much money for the games, that they have the Olympic Committee scheduling the top-shelf events in America's prime time. Do you happen to already be in Asia? Prepare for sprint and gymnastics finals over breakfast. In Europe? It's going to be an awfully late night for you to see the finals starting at midnight.

As always, there are some events that need to be shelved. Everyone knows about synchronized swimming. Thythmic gymnastics is right there too -- the performers dance around with ribbons and props. It's like a judged cirque de soliel, although I bet it's not as imaginative.

Olympic-caliber trampolining.

I didn't know until last week that "Trampoline," is now an honest to goodness Olympic event. That's obviously a candidate for being dumped. I'm going to try to find it on one of the broadcasts to see what it's like. If it's a third-grader bouncing up and down, throwing in the occasional flip, I'll call for its immediate dismissal. But you have to see it to know. Face it, you thought Table Tennis was a silly game too, until you went to see Forest Gump and saw how well it could be played.

Since I'm killing sports, I'm also willing to add them back in. I'll pass on car racing, but I'll throw a bone to the events where you can drink and participate: golf and bowling. Golf is by far the most popular spectator sport that isn't already included, and if you're going to add one sport where a couple of beers can improve your game, then go ahead and add them both. That's my school of thought.

After that, I would concentrate on events that combine different sports. First, I would add an adventure race. Get from point A to point B as fast as you can, however you can. But between points A and B, there would be rivers, lakes, volcanos, tar pits, or whatever might make it interesting.

Rhythmic Gymnastics has got to go. Keep it as a comp show in Vegas for the families of the high rollers.

Then, I would have a combined canoe, rowing, and sailing event, called the boatathalon. Or maybe, we can throw in a swim and some diving, and call it the aquathalon.

Finally, we would have an event called Olympic Grab Bag. The event would span several days. Each morning, a judge would pull the name of an individual Olympic event out of a hat. That afternoon, the entrants would compete. After that, the event and the event's close relatives are pulled out of the mix. You don't want to see them run a 200 m dash one day, just to turn around and run the 400 the next day.

I'm thinking this goes on for six to eight days. Or maybe we just go ahead and do an event every day of the games. Think how well rounded the athletes would have to be: they would need to be strong enough to throw the shot put or do weightlifting, but then quick enough for sprints on the track, bicycle, or in the pool. They would have to be able to operate any number of boats, ride a horse, use the gymnastics equipment, handle racquets for tennis, badminton, or ping pong, handle the various swords, guns, and bows used in fencing, shooting, and archery, pole vault, dive, and everything else that you see people do. This might be so hard that no one could actually compete. But wouldn't it be fun to see someone try?

Lest you think this is just nonsense, read from Wikipedia about the modern pentathalon -- an underrated Olympic event that has been part of the games since its modern inception.

Leg 2 of the future boatathalon.
The modern pentathlon was invented by the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. As the events of the ancient pentathlon were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier of that time, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run.

Yes, they ride horses (I didn't realize that it had to be an unfamiliar horse), shoot pistols, run a cross country race, swim, and sword fight. That's so obscure, I bet I could start training now, and be nationally ranked by next go 'round.