Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympic "Sports"

There are two Olympic sports I actually get excited about- biathalon and curling. I watched a 12.5km biathalon, and it was very exciting; I'm not kidding. The lead changed hands a bunch of times because if you miss shots you have to ski around a little penalty oval, which allows other people to catch you. If you choke and miss a bunch of shots, you're pretty screwed. This particular race had a veteran from Norway take the lead after the last shooting stage despite starting 14th. A much younger guy from France caught him in the last 100m sprint. Great stuff.

And I like curling because it's completely unlike any other Olympic sport- it has a very physical component, but is much more about strategy. Plus it has a whole world of jargon that is completely impenetrable to the average viewer. I spent the first hour or two just trying to figure out what the hell the announcers are saying.

I was reading Tom Benjamin's blog, and he presented a definition of what a sport really is. I think it's a good question, because when you think about it, most Olympic "sports" aren't really sports.

My big thing is that a sport has to have an objective result. That is, using scientific or other measurement, the winner is determined. Tom calls it an "unambiguous result". That means all the judging events are not sports. Figure skating, gymnastics, snowboarding, ballroom dancing- not sports. I'm not saying they aren't worthwhile pursuits, or that they don't take an incredible amount of skill and ability. I'm saying that when the results of the competition are determined by a judge, it ain't a sport any more- it's a pageant.

A sport also has to have generally physically fit or strong participants. Bass fishing is out. Bowling and pool are out. Poker is out. I think curling is on the edge here. I'm not saying all the participants have to necessarily be fit (see David Wells), but being in shape has to be considered a distinct advantage. You can be a fat guy with a strong right arm and still bowl 300.

Finally, the participants should break a sweat during the course of the activity, and not due to the elements or stress. Not sweating because it's cold is the exception, so swimming, cross country skiing (although they sweat) and curling are in (barely). I think this means that auto racing is out, and maybe even golf.

I'm sure this will piss people off, because most of the sports that fail the first criterion are popular with women, but it is what it is. That's why they should encourage sports where being nimble and light is a benefit, like rock climbing.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

You surprise me with the auto racing comment. You've got to be physically fit, and more importantly mentally sharp for long stretches of time. But that can be a debate for later...
I saw that Bryant Gumble got into some trouble for his discussion of the winter games as "sport". One of his criteria being that more than 200 people in the entire world participate at a high level (skeleton, luge, ice dancing). I think it comes down to the basic question: Is competition synonymous with sport? To me, the answer is no. And thus many events that are competitions are not sports.