**UPDATED for the 2020 (2021) TOKYO Olympics**
As 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, I can’t help but think, “What if?”
Every 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’ 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.
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.
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.
Olympic 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.
In addition to the aforementioned, for the last several years there have been discussions about the Olympics costing the host cities too much, with a diminishing return compared to previous eras. So much so that the IOC is having trouble finding cities that even want to bid on becoming host.
Aside from the IOC’s greed when it comes to broadcasting rights, which could warrant its own post, there are so many sports and events included now that the logistics of having to plan and build out all the venues has gotten astronomical. Even just BIDDING on becoming a host city cost many millions and every Olympics in recent history has gone billions and billions over budget, with particular egregious cost overruns in the past ten years. There is no need to burden the purity of the games with so many venues, sports and logistics for events that don’t quite fit the bill of that enduring Olympic motto: Faster. Higher. Stronger.
With all 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.
Suggested 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.
2020 Tokyo Olympics (in 2021) UPDATE:
- 3×3 Basketball – As a huge fan of basketball, I’m glad basketball is in the games, but why add this 3 on 3 version? Just totally unnecessary and adds additional burden for the host city to come up with yet another venue in an already absurdly bloated Olympics.
- “Artistic” Swimming – aka Synchronized swimming – see above. But just to reiterate, if it’s artistic, then leave it to another competition or tournament or whatever. Just to echo my thoughts about rhythmic gymnastics from 2016 – they are just too off the core path of what the Olympics were meant to be. Not to deny the inherent athleticism involved in these events, but they are more performance based in nature and do not need to be involved in the Olympics. Nice to watch, but not as an Olympic event…Vegas maybe?
- BMX Freestyle & Skateboarding – First, let me acknowledge that I think those disciplines are cool as hell and hats off to anyone brave and skilled enough to attempt them much less excel at them at an international level. BUT, Olympic sports they are not. There is artistry involved as well as an athletic component, but they don’t fit the mold of an Olympic event. Faster. Higher. Stronger.? Nah, just feels like they’re trying to force an edgier sport in there to somehow connect to a younger audience. When in reality they are diluting the Olympic experience by including any physical activity that involves getting off the couch. These have their niche in the extreme sports world, no need to bring them into this jam packed Olympics with even more expenses for the host cities.
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.
2020 Tokyo Olympics (in 2021) UPDATE:
- As a former rower myself, I love those events, but do we really also need Kayaking AND Canoeing too? Just seems overkill. Pick one or the other. If it was up to me, lose canoeing. Keep kayaking and rowing. But I’m still on the fence about it, I see the value in having them all in there and since the venues already exist what’s the harm in throwing a few more different boat configurations down the courses, right? But if one were to cut the fat and trim the games down then I’d probably lose one.
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.
2020 Tokyo (2021) UPDATE: Surfing, Baseball, Softball added!!! And they added Sport Climbing, which I didn’t mention before and wish I had. So glad it was included, as it adds an amazing human vs nature ultimate athleticism aspect to the games. Overall I’m excited about these new (and returning) Olympic sports. With all the different martial arts disciplines in these Olympics, it would still be cool to see one of the original ancient Olympic forms in there as Pankration.
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”