Faster. Higher. (Yawn). Stronger. The Olympic mantra is tired. Worn out. Kind of like the Games themselves.
There is certain ridiculousness to the whole Olympic movement that borders on farce, underpinned by the glaring lack of relevance of many events to the average viewer.
There is a lot about the Olympics that is great and always will be, but, let's face it, there are a lot of events that could get axed tomorrow with nary a tear from the general public — though no doubt plenty of tears from athletes that spent 10,000 hours training for an obscure sport that is only broadcast every four years. It's also pretty obvious that there are a lot of sports that should be included but are not.
I get tradition, especially when it comes to core sports like running. The 100-metre dash is awesome, and will always be awesome because people will always care who the fastest man in the world is at this point in time. I can care about who can throw a 16-pound shotput the farthest because we've been doing that competitively for 500 years since the first cannonball rolled off a cart. Raw power is never dull.
But do we honestly care who wins air rifle? Synchronized swimming (or synchro anything for that matter)? Are villagers in Africa and India gathered around televisions watching dressage? European handball? The strange mix of fencing, horse riding, swimming, shooting and running that is the Modern Pentathlon?
Speed walking? (Sorry, "racewalking" — that's way cooler.)
Swimming is a fine, legitimate sport, but is the 100M breaststroke really that much different in the eyes of the average viewer than the 200M breaststroke? How can one man, Michael Phelps, possibly win eight gold medals at a single Games? Is he eight times better as an athlete than the soccer player or marathoner who wins just one gold medal, or just a really good swimmer doing the same basic thing over and over in the pool while piling up the rewards?
The Games do try in their own way to keep up with the world, but with a four-year cycle between events, an already huge list of sports and a stodgy committee of white European chauvinists still running the show (not long ago, IOC board members were appointed by other members for life), the pace of innovation is a little bit off. It's difficult to get new sports added, and even harder to get existing sports removed — especially when one or more countries with voting members on the IOC relies on that sport to deliver medals. It quickly becomes political — "You don't vote to cut badminton and I won't vote to cut steeplechase."
The implementation is clunky, the execution poor. Somehow, by trying half-assedly to keep up with the times, the Olympics manage to seem even more out of touch.
For example, BMX racing was finally added to the schedule in 2008 — about 25 years after the sport peaked in popularity. Meanwhile the X Games has BMX street, vert ramp and dirt jump events that show the actual progression of the sport. Not that there's anything wrong with racing, but imagine if they only played Olympic basketball by the original 1891 rules?
There's a reason why the X Games are relevant and the Olympics not so much. The X Games are centrally organized within a single corporation, ESPN, that can pretty much do whatever it wants, and that works with the athletes themselves to put on the best show they can. Meanwhile, at the Olympics, everything is decided by committee — a massive committee representing a wide range of cultures and interests, and that's never a good thing. They're the United Nations of sport, still tainted with the faint scent of corruption resulting from the 1990s bribery scandal.
Ultimately, the Olympics are going to have to realize that to be the world's premier sporting event you should probably showcase the sports that the world actually cares about. It took a long time, for example, for the IOC to consider rugby at the Games, despite the fact that the rugby sevens is already a well-established international sport. Even with approval it won't be in the Games until 2016.
By any global standard, downhill mountain biking should be in the Games — and if a host country doesn't have a big enough slope to run a race then they should pick a nearby country that does. Mountain bike slopestyle and dual slalom should also be considered at this point.
Road cycling events in the Games include the road race and a time trial, but there are a growing number of criterium events around the world, plus spectator-friendly side events like the hill climb. The best overall cyclist should be awarded a medal in the omnium.
Squash, one of the top three activities in the world for fitness, is still not on the Olympic schedule, while badminton and table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong) are. I'm not a fan of MMA, but if boxing and judo are medal sports then it certainly should be as well. Karate? Goes without saying.
Skateboarding, downhill longboarding and street variations, are also huge, and overdue.
The Olympics did add kiteboarding to the schedule for Rio, but surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, wakeboarding and other water sports are not. Ultimate Frisbee deserves a shot. So does ultra running and trail running. The Games do have a triathlon event, but why not Ironman? Or off-road?
There's still a lot to enjoy about the Games, and I plan to spend a lot of time enjoying them. But not as much as I would if the sports actually meant something to me.
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