Thursday, September 8, 2016

Time to Add New Sports to Summer Olympics

(From the September 8, 2016 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune).

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the summer Olympics this year. I had thought I would not be watching them due to reports that there were lots of problems in planning.

Premier athletes were bowing out because of caution about the Zika virus. The Brazilian planning committee was struggling to complete buildings for housing athletes and hosting key events. It looked to be a mess.

Then there is the weather issue. In the summer, I would rather be outside doing things as opposed to sitting inside watching some brute from Bosnia heave a heavy object.

But, as I said. I was pleasantly surprised. My wife and I recorded Olympic events or periods of broadcast time on the DVR and then watched them each evening. This way we could be doing our own summer things and then watch on our own time, skipping or fast-forwarding through events we were less interested in or the preliminary qualifying rounds of others.
            As the Olympics wore down to the final event, the men’s marathon, I found myself a little sad that they were ending. They had been fun, dramatic, compelling and exciting to watch. My wife and I even came up with several other events to propose for future summer Olympics.

First, to make room for our proposed events, some current summer Olympic sports would have to be removed. There are some easy first round eliminations, such as sports that should be kept to recreational activities at the beach or cottage for which they were originally intended. I count among these Badminton. Hitting a little birdy an Olympic sport? No. Add to this list golf, sailing and tennis. Any activity common at snooty country clubs does not merit inclusion in the international competition of that originated among naked Greeks.

There are other sports that could be removed just because they tend to crowd the field. There are four cycling events, for example. Perhaps BMX or mountain biking, which have their own competitive circuits, are not needed in the Olympics. There are three equestrian events, including one called ‘eventing.’ If an event is called ‘eventing’ then it apparently has not been thought through. It sounds like it could be simply horsing around. Advocates of that sport should at least specify what their event actually is and get rid of the generic name and reapply.

With the field cleared of extraneous sports, it’s time to breathe a little life into the next summer Olympics with some new sports. Here we go.

Couples synchronized 5K running. This is my favorite. My wife and I run together, both in training and in events. Running is hard enough without having to match pace with a spouse. I think it would encourage healthy marriage, reduce gender bias in sports, and provide exciting viewing. There is already synchronized swimming, so why not expand the concept to something above water that people can actually see?

Mini golf. This is golf for the rest of us. Golf has a major circuit of international competitive events. But mini golf has a different set of skills, would provide an athletic outlet for a whole new range of athletes, and offers wonderful potential for country specific competition at each upcoming Olympics. It’s not that hard to whack a ball across an open pasture. Real sport is trying to bank a ball off the left rear pillar of a  scale model Eiffel Tower.

Yo-Yo. There used to be yo-yo competitions. I saw them as a kid, but not at all recently. It’s time to bring it back. If there’s such a thing as “rhythmic gymnastics,” with its prancing and waving of streamers, it’s not a stretch to have an event that involves bobbing and twirling a round disc at the end of a string.

Hammocking. Yes, it’s a thing. Perhaps you’ve seen people at parks and along the boardwalk and even on the pier when the catwalk was still there string up a hammock for some serious relaxation. Why not make this competitive? Plus, nothing says summer like a supine swing.

Roller derby has made a come back in Grand Rapids and in other cities. The sport is a team sport, highly active, fun to watch, and reminds me a lot of the speed skating in the winter Olympics. It certainly has more compelling viewing potential than badminton.

Lawn bowling is another summer sport that seems to be the warm weather equivalent of a winter sport, in this case curling. I never really understood curling, with its frantic sweeping, but I always enjoy watching it. At least lawn bowling is on a grassy field, and its history is traced to the 13th century, which gives it more historical credibility than many current summer Olympic sports.

I don’t know if I’ll get my wish when the next summer Olympics kick off in Tokyo in 2020. But I’ll be watching, not just to see what’s on when, but if there’s anything new.