The Olympics – Some Afterthoughts.
Seventeen consecutive days of Olympic Games have passed, finally, into history. Athletes have returned home to their adoring fans and huge numbers of opportunistic politicians jumping aboard the Olympic Express to gain some reflected glory from the successes of the athletes. Speeches are made, honours dished out, rewards and awards given, and promises of future glory abound – Rio 2016 here we come.
Back in old Blighty the TV channels and newspapers are crowing about the success of the Happy and Glorious Games – the Great is back in Britain.
Give the devil his due, the Brits organised a very successful Games. They were excellent hosts, although somewhat officious at times – remember the guy insisting Usain Bolt hand back that relay baton? The British weather surprised the world by staying summery for almost the entire two weeks. The Brits will be patting themselves on the back for some time to come.
A great event has passed, and now it is time for some serious evaluation of the entire Olympic tradition.
One aspect of the Olympics that particularly bothers me is the steady increase in the number of sports over the years.
In 1896 there were 10 Sports represented, with a sum total of 43 events. The Sports were: Swimming, 4 events; Road Cycling, 1 event; Track Cycling, 5 events; Gymnastics, 8 events; Wrestling, 1 event; Athletics, 12 events; Fencing, 3 events; Shooting, 5 events; Tennis, 2 events; and Weightlifting, 2 events.
The following Olympics, in 1900, added no less than 13 new sports, and two demonstration sports. The new sports included some weird activities such as Basque Pelota, Croquet, Tug-of-War, and Polo. Cricket, Rugby Union and Golf were included too. The demonstration sports were Jeu de Paume (?) and Water Motorsport.
The number of events increased to 84 from the previous 43.
The warning signs were there for all to see!
By the time 2012 rolled around the Olympics had exploded to 39 Sports and 302 events. Imagine the planning and scheduling to fit in all the heats for 302 events? After the heats there are the semi-finals and finals, and and and… Many of the events have a male and a female component, which adds to the logistic nightmare, doubling up on all the requirements.
To simplify matters somewhat the International Olympic Committee have grouped some sports together and called them one “sport”. Diving, Swimming, Waterpolo and Synchronized Swimming are grouped together as Aquatics. Gymnastics includes Artistic Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, and Trampoline. Equestrian includes a multitude of horsey stuff and Volleyball now includes ladies in bikinis.
Along the way to 2012 the so-called demonstration sports have been dropped, the last of them was seen in 1992 with the exception of the 2008 Beijing Olympics where the Chinese were allowed to run a Wushu (Kung Fu) event during the Olympics.
The events that have been discontinued include: Baseball, the aforementioned Basque Pelota, Cricket, Croquet, Golf, Lacrosse, Jeu de Paume, Polo, Rackets, Roque (?), Rugby Union, Softball, Tug-of-War, and Water Motorsport.
Ice Hockey and Figure Skating were moved to the Winter Olympics in 1924 – not sure why they were considered summer sports before then?
The growth in Olympic Sports is not yet complete, when Rio rolls around in 2016 there will be two new fully fledged Olympic Sports – Both Rugby and Golf are making a comeback! Meanwhile Baseball and Softball have retained their status as Olympic Sports just in case they want to make a comeback too!
All this brings me to the actual point of this discussion.
The time has come to slim the Olympics down a bit – get rid of the excess baggage and streamline the mammoth somewhat.
There are rather a lot of sports included in the Olympic list that are either meaningless or just plain silly – some are elitist and just too expensive for the average person to dream of competing, others have become archaic and out-dated and attract little or no interest from anyone other than the participants.
My favorite Silly & Meaningless sport has to be Dressage. This should be dropped as a sport, excluded from the Olympics, and any other games, and consigned to the darkest corner of Sports history. Someone dressed in rather old fashioned dress-up clothes and sitting on a horse that crabs sideways across an arena, then high-steps along the fence should not be rewarded for their efforts. Quite simply, the rider is just along for the ride – the horse does it all! At best the horse should get the medal not the over dressed smiling lump on it’s back! Even more appropriate as a prize for the horse would be to allow the horse that wins 3 free kicks at the rider.
I understand that the horse is well trained, but so is the cow-pony or quarter-horse ridden by someone herding cattle. That poor animal that pulls the milk cart is equally well trained.
I am afraid that Dressage is also perhaps the single most elitist sport in the entire sports universe. No commoner with any athletic ability or ambition can afford the cost of a dressage horse, the cost of housing and training, nor the cost of the uniform.
Dump it now!
Another favorite pet hate is Synchronized Swimming. People that waggle their legs in the air while holding their breath underwater just simply rings no bells in my small world. Choosing a glittery costume and affecting an artificial smile are not Olympian activities. They wear more make-up than the competitors in a transvestite beauty competition. Nowadays they seem to do as much out of the pool as in the water, striking strange poses that were invented by Salvador Dali or some deranged rap singer, before jumping into the pool. Get rid of it, it is a complete waste of time and space.
There are more Silly Sports!
What on earth does anyone see in shooting targets with an air-rifle, the pellet gun of my youth? The air rifles they use are simply not rifles anymore, they are highly specialised, and expensive, gadgets designed to propel a tiny lump of lead just ten meters. Gas chambers, counter balances, special eye shades and bits and bobs worn on their caps. A special jacket that resembles a straitjacket and holds the torso rigid to prevent movement is included in the “shooters” ensemble. This is again elitist and out of the range of the average kid with Olympic aspirations. The whole competition is artificial and pointless. Scrap it from the menu please.
(You may as well add all those other gun related sports too. Who needs ’em. (The Americans will probably object on the basis that their much revered Constitution grants then the inalienable right to buy as many weapons as they can afford and then to kill each other whenever they are feeling a bit off or had a bad day at the office.)
Get rid of Soccer – this sport already has more competitions and events than any other ten you could group together. It is the World Cup, and UEFA, and The Africa Cup Of Nations, and The Americas Cup, The Asian Cup,and and and…. The soccerists are the most over-paid and uncouth bunch imaginable, and the Olympics is not taken too seriously by any of them. Get rid of it!
Maybe, just maybe you can keep Women’s Soccer, at least the ladies seem to take the Games more seriously than their male counterparts.
Fencing is another completely silly activity. Way back in history it was an important and necessary skill. The swords were also more rigid and a lot sharper. They were weapons designed and meant to kill. If you were good at it you survived, no medals were required. Nowadays the entire thing has become very artificial. The “swords” are whippy bits of wire that need to be straightened after every short bout of energetic waggling. Competitors make more noise than Maria Sharapova, yet no spectator can actually see what is going on! Another activity that should be removed from the Olympic lists and our TV schedules.
Which, logically, brings us to the Modern Pentathlon. Fencing, Shooting, Show-jumping, Running and Swimming. Again a very necessary group of activities, if you were a soldier back in the early 19th Century. If you wanted to survive on the battlefield you had better be able to shoot well, use your sword, ride a horse, and – in the event of your coming second in the first three events – running away and swimming were probably very important skills too. What purpose does the Modern Pentathlon serve today, other than to irritate the millions that tune in to watch the Olympics and find this event being highlighted on their screens?
If you were to dump fencing and shooting then the Modern Pentathlon becomes a Triathlon and we already have one of those.
Greco-Roman Wrestling, the Javelin, the Discus, Hammer-throw and the Shot-put are also on my hit list. I simply cannot understand the sublime beauty of any of these activities. I might be kind and allow the four so-called field Events to remain, as long as we can add Tossing The Caber and the Hercules Stones as being of equal relevance. Greco-Roman wrestling should be left to those of Greek or Roman ancestry. Lose them now.
Beach Volleyball is another odd choice for an Olympic sport. The very nature of the activity excludes anyone not built like a super model or Adonis – and wearing a bikini or a speedo is simply not an Olympian activity. The whole thing seems to be a little sleazy…
Now that we have dumped the sports that simply have no raison d’être – lets move on to some that need a bit of up-dating or an overhaul.
Track cycling comes to mind. I cannot understand the nuances of two people on bikes trying to go around the track at a crawling pace when they are supposed to be sprinting! This is similar to the first 75 meters of the 100 meter sprint being done at a walking pace. I just do not get it. This is also the only sport where you can lose your heat and still get another chance, the famous “Repecharge” – Why? If you lose, go home. Some athletes prepare for 4 years to get to the Olympics, training and sweating and hurting, just to run in the 100m sprint heats and lose. Their Olympics lasted all of ten seconds or so and they get no second chance. Why are people of bicycles different?
Another cycling event that boggles the mind is the one where they start off with three riders but only one finishes. I simply do not get it. There is another where a man on a motor scooter leads them round and round the track until, at some obscure moment the scooter leaves the track and about ten seconds later the whole event is over… What?
Make the cycling events simpler. A race is a race is a race, full stop!
Another that could do with an Olympian re-invention is Tennis. We already have the four Grand slam events and a host of other tournaments, the Olympics is simply one more, and one too many. Most of the top players are not interested or excluded because only 1 or 2 are selected to play for their country while others in the top echelons of world ranking languish at home. Reinvent the game as a truly Olympian event. Someone suggested that Tennis take a leaf out of Cricket’s book and develop a shorter form of the game. Instead of 3 or 5 ordinary sets reduce the game to three super-quick sets that consist of just the tie-breaker part of the ordinary tennis set. The T20 of tennis? Fast and furious, leaving the elegance and focus of real tennis for the Grand Slam events.
I think I should stop now. I am sure there are Dressage fanatics out there that devoured every minute of the TV broadcast of the event, spellbound by the horse and it’s unique ability to walk like a crab. I am just thankful that we are spared this stuff during the four years between Olympics.
Somewhere in some small village in some obscure country there is a pub where they practice Dwarf Throwing – given time they will want this to be added to the list of events too. Stop the silliness now.