Another Olympics is in the books, and once again I find myself asking the same question: how did it come to this?
As usual, some fantastic athletes put on some phenomenal individual performances. Who can forget American swimmer Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals? Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was a chest-pounding yellow blur on the track. Japanese breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima won two more golds and a bronze, setting the 100m world record in the process. The Japanese were also in fine form on the wrestling and judo mats.
Certainly can’t quibble with any of that.
But let’s keep it in perspective, people. I had a conversation last week with a couple of relatively sane guys I play hockey with. They were bemoaning the fact that our native Canada was getting butt-kicked in the medal standings by, well, just about everybody.
My response: “Who cares?” Every Canuck worth his back bacon knows that if it’s not played on ice, we really don’t give a beaver turd… so there!
But our little chin-wag did reaffirm something I’ve found strange for years, which is how people can attach so much national pride to a sporting spectacle that features so much of the bogus and the bizarre.
There are many legitimate sports in the Olympic Games, of course — track and field, swimming, boxing, basketball and even soccer. Yet the ancient Greeks would have gotten their togas in a twist if they knew what had become of their baby.
When the Olympics started back in 776 BC, many of the competitions were based on the tools of warfare — javelin, discus, pole vault, Greco-Roman wrestling and even the marathon all have applications related to battle. It seems unlikely that the Greeks could have envisioned the day when trampoline, beach volleyball and BMX would be added to the docket. (BMX? I used to like jumping over things on my bike, too… until I hit puberty!)
How can you get your head around table tennis as an Olympic sport? I saw these “athletes” pounding their chests and pumping their fists during games — in other words, taking the sport seriously. Come on, guys, it’s ping-pong! You should be playing in your buddy’s den while pounding back a few brewskies, not on the world stage at the Olympic Games.
As mentioned, many of the Olympic sports were borne of the necessities of battle. But table tennis? Unless you throw the paddle at your opponent — or your beer bottle, if played properly — then it’s not really a sport. It’s an activity invented to kill time at summer camp.
And what about race-walking? Looks like a bunch of guys trying to hold it in until they find the next toilet.
The Japanese media made a big deal of Hiroshi Hoketsu, an equestrian who at age 67 was the oldest competitor in the 2008 Games. I don’t know… if this really is a celebration of the greatest athletes on the planet, should 60-year-old guys even be competing? Give the medal to the horse — he’s the one doing all the work.
What’s next? Foosball, skateboarding, miniature golf? “Now hitting into the clown’s mouth, representing Australia and playing a day-glo green ball, Timmy ‘Tapper’ McCracken.” How about pachinko? Guaranteed medal for Japan there.
With all this in mind, here are a few rules I’d like to suggest when deciding whether to allow a sport into the Olympics:
☛ Anything requiring sequins, music, makeup or a panel of judges gets the boot. See ya, synchronized swimming; so long, figure skating
☛ Activities potentially enhanced by herbal and/or alcohol intake are gone. That means no more snowboarding or BMX
☛ Basically, if you can’t determine the winner by looking at the scoreboard or the clock, then you’re outta here
☛ With sports that are on the fence — like fencing — you have to take into account its roots in combat. Any sport with the potential for major injury is all right by me, so fencing stays (but you might want to get rid of the facemasks)
☛ Of course a few exceptions have to be made. Rhythmic gymnastics, for example, meets several of the no-go criteria, but it does feature Spanish FHM cover girl Almudena Cid, so it gets an automatic free pass.
People have been railing on about this stuff for years, so I’m not suggesting anything new. But did you ever wonder, as all these fringe sports are being added, just what’s being dropped to make room for them? Try legitimate sports like baseball and softball, which were given the heave-ho when the Euro-centric IOC voted them out of the 2012 Games….
Sorry, gotta run — they’re replaying the men’s dinghy final on TV, and it looks like a real nail-biter.
Reg Dunlap is a Tokyo-based sportswriter. This commentary originally appeared in metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today