HOME ARCHIVE2016

Some of the less publicized Olympic events you may have missed

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

Every four years before the Summer Olympics begin, I’m usually complacent, thinking I would rather watch baseball instead. Then I watch the games, anyway.

But some of the events are not exactly ordinary fare for the U.S. audience, nor are they made-for-TV.
Here are some examples.

Race Walking: The world’s greatest race that doesn’t look like a race, but like a group of people trying to beat each other to the bathroom. This year, one of the walkers didn’t quite make it. He must have drank the water in Rio, I don’t know. It was awkward.

Competitive walking, originated by the British, has been part of the Olympics since 1904, when fast walking was still a mode of transportation for many.

Modern pentathlon: The name itself makes me think that this is not one of those sports you can easily follow, like soccer, for example, where the scores are nice and simple (like 1-0).

It has been around since 1912, and consists of five events that are individually scored over the course of several days: Fencing, 200-meter freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, a 3,200-meter run, and pistol shooting. It is modeled after the skills a 19th-century cavalry soldier would need behind enemy lines.

This event is definitely not made-for-TV. But back in 1912, that was not a problem.

Steeplechase: This originated as a horse race, but why let the horses have all the fun?

The race is 3,000 meters long, and has 28 barriers to jump over — seven of which are jumps into pools of knee-deep water. Competitors’ shoes get wet and slippery, people trip over barriers, and it’s not uncommon to see someone face-plant into a pool of water.

Handball: This is like soccer with your hands. It’s been in the Olympics since 1972, but its lack of popularity in the U.S. makes it a bit of an enigma for Americans. I did catch a few minutes of one of these games, and was fascinated by how boring it was.

Badminton: This is like tennis for people who can’t play tennis – tennis in slow motion. Like in tennis, the key is to hit the ball across the net, except the ball is a feathery plastic object called a shuttlecock. Yes, now you know what that thing is called.

This became an Olympic event in 1992. I know that competitors on the Olympic level train hard and sacrifice to get this far, but after watching this event for a few minutes, it still looked like a backyard game people should play during picnics and cookouts. I also noticed that there were plenty of empty seats, unlike at beach volleyball.

Here are the “sporting” events no longer part of the summer Olympics.

Underwater Swimming: This was an Olympic sport in Paris in 1900, because who really needs all that air?

Rope Climb: From 1896 to 1932, the rope climb was an Olympic sport because contestants wanted to relive their junior high school days.

Tug of War: Back in the day, tug of war was much more than just your favorite summer camp activity. From 1900 to 1920, countries could enter multiple groups, which could compete for a team Olympic medal.

Roque: Essentially croquet, this variant sport was reportedly billed the “game of the century” and was part of the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. It was an Olympic sport only once, probably because of the fact the United States was the only nation to participate.

Back to baseball. Astros are winning.