WHY I LOVE THE OLYMPICS & WHICH EVENTS SHOULD BE ELIMINATED – Summer Edition

Rio_2016_logo.svgAs the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio come to an end in the next few days, I sit here bemused at my seemingly neverending interest, borderline obsession, in watching them and absorbing the energy surrounding the games. The Olympics, both summer and winter but mostly summer, have fascinated me ever since I can remember. I’m not sure why or who may have influenced it, because nobody in my family has the same infatuation. I think part of it is because I was such an athlete in my youth and even into college years. I played everything from soccer to football, rugby to basketball, rowed crew, and even track and field where I ran the 200m, 400m, 300m hurdles, 4x400m, long jump, triple jump, occasionally the 800m. Another aspect is my love of history, and the Olympics is an international competitive festival of sorts that is inspired by a similar historical occurrence from ancient times. In the back of my mind I always had (and still have) my very own “Olympic Dream”. The closest I got was when I was a rower for the University of Miami varsity Men’s 8 crew team and was being scouted for the US national team. I chose not to pursue things further back then, and although I do not regret the decision, one cannot help but think, “What if?”

usain-bolt-michael-phelpsEvery four years I huddle around the television, glued to the stories of triumph and tragedy. Well, if you factor in the winter Olympics, it’s every two years now, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the summer Olympics. I leave inspired by the achievements of these great athletes and wonder if I could have had the level of commitment it would take to reach the elite levels of athletic competitiveness in any sport. I love watching the stories of how these phenoms developed and worked to get where they are, with some of those stories ending in victory, some not so much.

Simone Biles / Kerry Walsh Jennings 2016 Olympics

Simone Biles’ story comes to mind. Her level of gymnastic perfection is unparalleled and a mere five years ago she was not even on the radar. Kerri Walsh’s beach volleyball dominance is another. Usain Bolt’s sprinting supremacy is mind blowing. And of course one cannot discuss the Olympics and not mention the ultimate reign of Michael Phelps and his medal horde, a feat that will most likely never be matched.

And then they run a promo for upcoming events and they mention table tennis, badminton, trampoline, and shooting events. I always do a double take when that happens because the athlete inside of me cannot believe that these are “Olympic” events. I don’t mean to demean their qualifications as legitimate sports, but one cannot help but wonder where the Olympic organization will draw the line. In my opinion, there are just too many Olympic events and the breadth of events has gotten out of control.

ancient_olympics3Olympic History

Let’s take a look at this in further detail. The ancient Olympic games first began as one foot race on one day… basically back and forth once through the stadium. The race was called “stadion”, the word that eventually became “stadium” where we hold these athletic contests. Eventually the games expanded for five days of events with everything from racing to boxing, wrestling, discus, javelin, chariot races, jumping, running with armor and shields (can we bring this back please?!) and a few other basic athletic events, not a ping or a pong among them.

The Opening Ceremony at the 1896 Athens Olympics.
The Opening Ceremony at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

When they renewed the games in 1896, they began with a humble collection of sports, not too dissimilar from the original events, and of course sprinkled with the then “modern” sporting events. The events in the renewed games in Athens covered sports in track-and-field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting, and tennis. As the games progressed and gained international support, notoriety, and acclaim, more and more events were added. Which brings us to the obnoxious maelstrom of “sporting” events we have today.

I will make a side note that from 1912 to 1948 they included “artistic competition” events that included many artistic pursuits including painting, architecture, music, and more. This was eventually removed due to the logistics in organizing it and it’s non-adherence to many of the Olympic principals and distracting focus from the games as an athletic competition festival. From 1952 onwards, there has been an art festival in the host city of the games to run concurrently as a compromise to losing the art competition portion of the games they wanted to include. The art festival was and is a great idea in my opinion. And I also think several of the Olympic “sporting events” should be held as artistic exhibition performances in the art festival instead of competitive events.

d9F8dJOlympic Event Elimination

While it’s understandable and expected for the Olympic event expansion to grow along with the logistic, financial, and societal capabilities and expectations, there seems to be no end in sight to what they will include. I soon expect Underwater Basket Weaving to become an Olympic event in the near future. Do we really need golf, table tennis, badminton, and trampoline as Olympic events? My interpretation of the Olympics is that it is a festival of athletic competitive events that test the physical athleticism in particular sporting disciplines that test the limits of the human body. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying the validity of these other sports, but I do think the Olympics has way too many events and should have some sort of limit or discretion when choosing events.

With this in mind, I’ve selected events that I think should be removed from the games, as well as events that I think are on the line and could be removed, but also could remain.

 

collageSuggested Olympic Events to be Removed:

  • Table Tennis – Come on, it’s a trivial leisure game. Yes, it requires a specific skill, hand-eye coordination, and at the higher levels, physicality can be a component, but it’s just silly to have it in there.
  • Trampoline – Don’t think I need to explain this one. Ridiculous that it’s in there.
  • Badminton – Again, a leisure game to be played at beaches and backyards, certainly not an Olympic event!
  • Race Walking – I think hands down, this is the lamest “event” currently in the Olympics. It’s like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest. Superbly idiotic for this to even be a competitive “sport”. Just go for a walk if you want to walk. If you want to compete for time and speed, then RUN Forrest RUN!
  • Synchronized Anything – swimming, diving, etc. – Although I think synchronized swimming is a beautiful art form that does indeed require quite a bit of physical capability and stamina, it shouldn’t be a competitive sport in the summer Olympics. If you’re going to have this event, then why not Ballroom Dancing? It’s the same idea. Neither should be in there because they are more of an artistic endeavor rather than an athletic competitive event. Yes, gymnastics overlaps this idea a bit, but overall, the athletics involved with gymnastics as well as its history can allow for a little bit of the artistry to slip in there. Synchronized diving, although quite athletic, is just superfluous and unnecessary. There’s already a ton of diving events, no need for this at all.
  • Rhythmic Gymnastics – as previously mentioned, it’s just too artistic and seems like an unnecessary extra facet of gymnastics to include when the regular gymnastics is comprehensive enough to satiate the gymnastics discipline.
  • All shooting events – Ok, so this one will be controversial, but hear me out. Although there have been shooting events since the 1896 games, I think it should be taken out. It’s more of a specific skill rather than a competitive athletic endeavor. Aside from that, there’s the moral implications of exalting someone for being skilled with a device intended for killing. I think society has progressed past this and the Olympics should reflect that morality. Taking out all gun related events would make a statement and also put more focus back on the athletics.
  • All horse/equestrian events – again, this might seem extreme to some, but I have my justifications. Yes, the original ancient games had chariot races so horses were used (and I’m sure they were abused, injured, and killed along the way as well). But this is not a good reason to continue the equestrian portion of the games. I honestly enjoy watching those beautiful beasts jumping and trotting around, but isn’t the animal doing most of the work? How does this test the human athleticism? Just doesn’t seem to fit with everything else. And when you factor in the abuse and exploitation of the horses, again, I think we have collectively evolved past this and don’t need to include this in the games that represent the collective human competitive spirit.

 

On The Fence:

  • Sailing – This discipline (there are multiple sailing events), although interesting and requiring both a specific skill as well as some physicality, just doesn’t seem like it fits in the whole realm of “athletic competition”. That being said, there’s something about the history of sailing and man’s capability to circumnavigate the globe via sailing, thus bringing us all together which kind of flows with the historical spirit of the games. But if it was up to me, I’d cut it, but I do see strengths in keeping it too.
  • Cycling – Not all cycling events, however. I think the road and track cycling events are OK, but anything else just seems unnecessary and superfluous – BMX, Mountain Biking, etc., just don’t need it. Again, if it was up to me, I’d cut all cycling out altogether and just keep it in the Triathlon, but I do see some positive points to keeping the road and track events in there.
  • Golf – I’m just not a big fan of this sport, and while it is technically a sport, I log it in as maybe one notch over badminton. Not really something super athletically competitive, although it admittedly has an athletic component. It’s kind of just a leisure sport that requires specific skills that aren’t particularly athletic. It’s on the fence for me only because it is so widely played throughout the world, so perhaps there’s something to be said about universal appeal. But once again, if it’s up to me, cut it, totally excessive.

 

Sports I’d Like to See Added:

  • Surfing – Not only super athletic and challenging, but it adds a modern sport in there that gives the games an updated relevance while adhering to the spirit of the games. I can see the point of view regarding the judged aspect of it, but think of it like gymnastics in the water while on a board. Cool, interesting, and definitely athletic.
  • Baseball/Softball – This is a team sport that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions. I think they may of cut it out because there’s only a handful of countries that are even capable of fielding a team – US, Japan, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, S. Korea – maybe a few more I’m probably missing, but certainly not a huge pool of internationally competitive teams. So I understand the reasoning behind removing it, but I’d still like to see it.
  • Pankration (or Mixed Martial Arts) – Pankration was an original Ancient Olympics event and I think with not only the popularity of MMA, but the historical relevancy, plus the obvious clear athletic competitiveness, I think it would be a great addition to the games.

 

Kunst, Epochen, Antike, Griechenland, Vasenmalerei, Diskuswerfer, rotfigurige attische Trinkschale des Onesimos, Innenbild, um 500 v. Chr., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Skyphos, Diskus, Diskos, Werfer, Sport, Sportler, Athlet, Malerei, hist, ~ fine arts, ancient world, Greece, painting, discus thrower, attic red-figure Skyphos of Onesimos, circa 500 BC, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, red figure, sport, sports, sportsman, athlete, historic, historical,

Final Thoughts

As an overall note, I think for the sporting disciplines that I haven’t mentioned at all that are great in the games, there could be some reduction in the number of events. Sometimes it seems like there’s so many distances and team/individual versions of some of the disciplines, it’s just so puffed up that the focus get’s blurry. Let’s keep things honed, lean, and super focused on the athletic competition of it all and in the spirit of the

Olympic motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger”

2 Comments

  • Well thought out argument. I agree with many of the points you made and no doubt some issues will ruffle feathers. But I’m sure puzzled why you think cycling should be removed when it’s one of the most challenging physical activities in the world (at these high levels of the sport); yet you think Baseball should be included. I live baseball but come on, most of the game involves standing around. It’s the only sport I know where the athletes can eat hot dogs while they’re actively engaged in the game. A top cyclist burns over 1000 calories an hour. A baseball player probably more like 250.

    • Thank you for the comment George. I hear ya, cycling is indeed physically demanding, that’s why I stated that I might leave the road and indoor races in there. But something about it seems a little bit like sailing (and equestrian for that matter), where there’s a contraption or mechanical device involved as the focus as opposed to the human body rawly achieving something. There becomes other elemental factors such as what bikes they are on, if the tire goes flat, and bike crashes are notorious for eliminating top contenders. I know it’s all part of the sport, but in my interpretation of the Olympic Games (summer at least), I think the athlete’s athletic prowess and skill should be the main focus of the event, as opposed to the mechanics of a device. All that being said, I put cycling in the “On the Fence” section because of the reasons you mentioned 😉 Regarding baseball, that honestly comes down to a personal preference, having been born and raised in St. Louis, MO, the quintessential baseball town! I will concede that having baseball in the Olympics is challenging due to the fact that not a ton of nations can even field a team. It ends up being just a handful of nations that have baseball/softball, so it kind of loses the international appeal of what an Olympic event should have. But I still love baseball and love the team aspect of it, so I just put it in there as something I’d personally like to see. But I do understand why it was removed. But as long as “race-walk” is still in there, I stand by my choice of baseball over that any day! 🙂

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