Watching the Olympics is inspiring. Watching athletes do amazing things takes your breath away. Whether their triumph is defying their life circumstances by making it so far or it’s breaking an Olympic record, you cheer for them because they are just like us. They are human beings, albeit exquisitely trained, passionate and talented-to-the-point-of-nearly-superhuman beings.
Nearly a quarter of all Olympic viewers watch swimming, followed in descending viewing popularity by gymnastics, basketball, track and field, soccer and volleyball. It makes sense that the most viewed sports are all sports we can relate to because we might have actually played them at some point.
But my favorites, the more esoteric events, get maybe 1-2% viewership. That may be because those events are shown at 3 am on a channel you need a divining rod to find. I love archery, cycling, canoeing, equestrian, rowing, fencing and weight lifting in particular and give thanks daily for the DVR so I can enjoy them.
Those less mainstream events I like best can be divided into three categories, as delineated below. If I am ever hired by the IOC to suggest ways to improve the Summer Olympics, I have some events they might consider that also meet my chosen criteria:
Sports I can participate in with a trace amount of skill
(Cycling, archery and weightlifting fall into this category)
Miniature Golf There are rules, tournaments and anti-doping policies and a governing body, The World Minigolf Sport Federation. I fancy the windmills and loop de loops, but suspect that an Olympic puttputt course might be more complicated.
Skee ball. What’s not to love. Competitors would not only get medals, they’d get coupons for valuable prizes. The world could use more televised skee ball. Or any televised skee ball.
Bowling, both tenpin and candlepin. Clearly defined rules, a nation of fans, awesome clothing opportunities a la the Norwegian curling team. Cost for athletes would be low as shoes, balls and bags are easily acquired by thrift shoppers of even moderate ability.
Sports that have rules and play that are utterly baffling to me
(Fencing, judo and wrestling fit here)
Cricket. The Economist magazine was willing to name cricket the second most popular sport in the world behind football/soccer (with a few asterisks that aren’t really all that important to the point I am trying to make). I’ve watched it. I still cannot even pretend to understand any of it. And yet I continue trying because it’s mesmerizing.
Sheep Herding. This has all the components of exciting sports viewing. The defensive team is dressed alike in wool bodysuits. The offensive team is a clever dog and a guy who doesn’t say much you can understand. Yes please, Olympic Sheep Herding. Let the Irish dogs show you how it’s done.
Sports that are so terrifying they’re like watching a suspense movie because you know something is going to happen to someone, it’s just a question of when
(This would be canoeing and equestrian events)
Skateboard Vert. Watching these incredible athletes in a half-pipe is nerve wracking. Big air can lead to some displays of the power of gravity that make you cover your eyes and wince. But not very often. Mostly it’s just amazing to watch.
Parkour. Whether you watch the Japanese original, Sasuke, or the stateside sequel, American Ninja Warrior or you loved watching Vincent Cassel do his avoid the laser beams thing as Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve, parkour has the gravity defying thrills of skateboard vert without the need to keep your feet on a board.
Barn scramble. This is a fantasy sport inspired by the American Pickers, who, for better or worse, have made crawling around in collapsing barns look like a good idea. The winner is the one who finds the most pieces of rusty gold (hidden by event referees) in the allocated time, who also requires the fewest of the following: rabies shot, tetanus shot, stitches, cotton balls soaked with hydrogen peroxide or a tank of oxygen.
That’s my highly subjective list. If you could add a sport to the Olympics, what would you add?