What is the deal with some of the sports they have in the Olympics? Whether you watch the Winter Games or the Summer Games, there are some seriously unusual competitions, and you really have to wonder where some of these sports came from.
My understanding about the history of sporting events is that they have evolved over time from similar, real-life activities that figured prominently in mankind’s past. Thus javelin-throwing is a holdover from the days when warriors threw spears, running events hearken back to a time when hungry bears with sharp teeth chased our ancestors, and skiing derives from that time that those cave men tied boards to their feet one winter just to see what would happen.
Okay, I’m not so sure about that last one.
Similarly, skating events began when hungry polar bears with sharp teeth chased a different set of our ancestors out onto the ice. Wrestling was invented by the ancient Greeks, who used to take off their clothes and tussle with burly men from neighboring city-states. And hockey was invented by a large group of men with sticks who couldn’t quite make out who had said your mama to whom.
Speaking of wrestling, I was a wrestler back in high school, and I once harbored aspirations about someday going to the Olympics. I was a pretty fair scrapper in the 128 pound weight class—did I mention that this was a LONG time ago?—and at one time I was rated second in the state.
Then I came up against Diego Marinas, who was rated first in the state and who had been voted Most Likely to Hurt Someone Real Bad in his high school yearbook. Diego let me live because he wanted to date my sister, and he wisely figured that killing me would hurt his chances for romance. But my short match with him ended my Olympic hopes, the use of my right arm for about eight weeks, and any desire on my part to ever wrestle again.
But back to the subject at hand. I tuned into the Olympics the other night just in time to catch the curling competition. For those of you who don’t know, this amusement was invented in Scotland back in the 1500s. That’s right. A sport brought to you by the same folks who invented haggis. How can you go wrong with that? The sport’s ancient pedigree means that no one currently living had anything to do with its invention, so I say we should let bygones be bygones, especially since there’s no one we can sue, anyway.
Curling is a relatively simple sport. There are four people on a team. One of these four slides a blue granite stone down an icy path which is called the hog line. I don’t know why. While the stone is making its way down the hog line, two of the teammates use brooms to sweep around the rock in an attempt to make it stop close to the target. As all of this is going on, the fourth person shouts encouragement and advice. No, really. That’s this person’s job. I assume the training period for this coveted slot is short.
And that is the entire game. Why would I make this up? And no, before you ask, I have never played it, but I did slide a rock on a patch of ice once, and I have swept the kitchen several times, thus I feel qualified to comment.
While there are admittedly a few aspects of curling that I don’t understand, like why you would want to be outside and cold while doing it rather than be inside and warm while not doing it, at least it’s not as bad as that event they have in which the participants ski around in the woods with guns. After they ski for awhile, they stop and shoot at targets. They call this sport the biathlon, which I think is from the ancient Norse for let’s take two totally dissimilar things and make a sport out of them.
But whatever you can say about curling or the biathlon, at least they’re not water polo, which is sort of like curling without the ice and the rock. I don’t even know why they call it polo, because it doesn’t involve horses or mallets. Incidentally, it would be a better game if it did, although it would be awfully hard on the horses.
A typical match goes like this: Team A swims down the pool pushing a ball with their noses, like dolphins, and then they don’t score. Next, team B swims back down the pool pushing the ball with their noses, and then they don’t score. This drive is followed by team A swimming back down the pool pushing a ball and not scoring, which of course is followed by team B swimming back down the pool and failing to score. This goes on for four 8-minute periods, after which the team that has had the fewest spectators leave and go wait in the car is declared the winner.
As bad as water polo is, it is actually the Thanksgiving and Christmas of the Olympics when compared to another summer sport, beach volley ball. The Olympic version of this activity has tall blond people—wearing not very much at all, sort of like ancient Greek wrestlers—playing volleyball in the sand. Not only is the game not quite Olympic material in my opinion, but they don’t even play it correctly.
I can tell you from having witnessed actual beach volleyball matches out in the non-Olympic world that there is a lot more to the game. In real beach volleyball, if at least half of the players are not sporting third-degree sunburns, penalty points can be assessed.
Additionally, due to the nature of having to play in the hot sea-level sun, participants are encouraged to consume large quantities of fluids rich in carbohydrates to avoid dehydration. This causes the occasional sportsman to line up on the wrong side of the net, thus adding to the drama of the contest. And finally, play must be suspended periodically to allow for dogs with Frisbees to run through the area.
The only way that any of these sports could be worse would be if Diego Marinas took one of them up. Of course, he would have to escape from prison first. Take curling as an example. If the rock didn’t stop where it should, he could break it in half, assault the sweepers with one of the pieces, chase the encourager with the other, and finish up by asking my sister out because he had a couple of free tickets to a combination water polo/beach volleyball tournament.
With my luck, Diego will be up for parole by 2012. My right arm hurts just thinking about it.