People always get their panties in a knot when the nature of any given sport is criticized, and while I'm admittedly one of the biggest Olympics fans you'll find, let’s be honest: Some sports are cooler than others. And since the Olympics is a giant worldwide competition, I thought it would be fun to break down some of this Summer’s Rio Olympic sports winners and the losers.
Obviously subjectivity is inevitable, but in an effort to be as ‘objective’ as possible, I used the following criteria—features that I think all sports should boast—and gave a rank on a 1-10 scale for each.
1. Physicality: To measure this, I considered the 10 general physical skills: While each sport has different demands, I believe at least 7 or 8 of the 10 general physical skills should be required if you’re going to call yourself an Olympic sport (These skills being flexibility, strength, speed, power, cardiovascular respiratory endurance, stamina, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy). I also considered the question of skill acquisition: How much skill does the sport require? And how transferrable are these skills to other sports, and to life?
2. Does the sport make sense? I don't think sports should be confusing. The sport should make sense when you’re watching it, even if you’re not totally adept in the sport.
3. Entertainment value: For this one, I asked the question: ‘When this sport comes on TV, do I flip from NBC Olympic coverage to CBC coverage, for example, in hopes they’re showing a more entertaining sport?
4. Aesthetics: While this should be less important, it’s hard to ignore the fact that human beings are naturally drawn to pretty things. How good do the athletes of the sport look, and how flattering are their uniforms?
Before selecting my bronze, silver and gold medal sport winners, here were the losing sports I sifted through:
The Made up Sport of Synchronized Diving: A recently invented sport (it has only been around since the Sydney Olympics in 2000) arguably invented just to provide another medal opportunity. Confusing to the viewer who wonders, ‘Why do we care if they can dive in unison?’
Just doesn't make much sense
The Oxymoron Sport of Synchronized SOLO swimming: The absurd sport of staying in sync with oneself was around for three Olympics—1984, 1988 and 1992—until the IOC realized their mistake. Maybe if they just called it ‘Water Dancing,’ it would have had a better chance of surviving.
Perfectly in sync with herself
The Nonsensical Swimming Strokes—Breaststroke/Backstroke/Butterfly: While freestyle swimming makes sense and could contend for a Top Three Sport of the Games spot, these other three strokes put a damper on the sport of swimming. In my mind, swimming is an intuitive and useful skill, like running. And it should be tested like running: Get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. You don’t see backward running or skipping at the Olympics. While diving invented a sport to increase their medal opportunities, swimming offers an inflated number of opportunities for an athlete to hear his national anthem.
The Sport for the Eldery—Equestrian: There is a 52-year-old male competing in equestrian in Rio, and a 61-year-old female. What does this tell you about the physicality aspect? About being at your prime fitness fitness level?
The Rushed Sports of Rowing and Rugby: As a former university rower, you’d think I might score this sport high. Here’s why I’m not: There's something beautiful to me about it taking a lifetime of dedication before being able to compete with the best athletes in the world. But with rowing (and rugby), it's possible to start the sport and get to the Olympics within a couple years. I know two people in rowing who made it to the Olympics within 2 years of starting the sport, and one person who won the Indoor Rowing Championships after just one year of rowing. Similarly, with rugby, there’s a woman on the Canadian rugby team in Rio—Megan Lukan—who finished her NCAA basketball career and less than two years later, here she is in Rio. While a cool story, what does it say about the requirements of the sport? What other sport, other than bobsled in the Winter Olympics, is it possible to become good enough to be an Olympian in a matter of months? (Don’t get me wrong, I was NOT a natural rower, but I began the sport in university after playing two years of basketball. When deciding what sport to do next, I asked myself: 'Ok, I want to make another varsity team. What sport can I start now at the age of 21 and make the varsity team?' My options were rugby or rowing.
The Unclear Sport of Boxing: I have a problem with a sport, where when the match ends you don’t know who won. I have even watched boxing with people who claim to know the sport, and sometimes even they guess who won the match wrong.
The Unenthused Athletes of Golf/Tennis/Basketball: Ordinarily basketball could be in the running, and tennis for sure could be (golf, not so much), but it’s hard to make that argument at the Olympics. For most sports, the OLYMPICS is the pinnacle for their amateur athletes. But for sports like tennis, golf and basketball, these highly-paid professional athletes treat the Olympics like an exhibition—with less passion than most—because, well, they kind of are an afterthought: Just a chance for a free tip to Rio and some fun in the athletes village.
On to the winners…
(By the way, my results even surprised me. But when I thought about it based purely on my criteria, and crunched the numbers at the end, this is what I pumped out):
THE SPORT PODIUM
BRONZE with 31 points: Artistic Gymnastics
8 out of 10 for Physicality: Other than cardiovascular endurance, which as a former gymnast I know gymnasts don’t spend a whole lot of time on as they don’t ever need to do anything for more than a minute and a half, gymnastics covers pretty much all the general physical skills. The one small hole I see is that many high-level gymnasts I know aren’t very good at any other sport other than gymnastics. Often, they even look awkward and unathletic when they try doing things like throwing balls.
5 out of 10 for Common Sense: While I’m biased because gymnastics is my ultimate favourite sport, others around me who are arguably more objective, have pointed out that there is a lot of boring, wasted time filled with flailing arms and poor choreography on certain women’s events—namely beam and floor. I would argue this is where artistry comes in, but it’s hard to ignore the feedback I keep hearing. Vault = Very cool. Bars = Amazing. Beam = Too much arm waving Floor = Poor dancing to fill time. (If gymnasts were ballet dancers, the dance element would make sense to those who don’t understand the sport, but dance to gymnasts is an afterthought and therefore confuses onlookers). The second inevitable aspect of the sport is the fact that it’s judged (and via a tremendously complicated code of points), making it difficult for viewers to truly understand what’s going on.
10 out of 10 for Entertainment Value: (with the exception of men’s parallel bars, which doesn’t seem to have progressed since the 1980s), I flip the channel searching specifically for gymnastics, and then PVR it and watch it again later. And even people who don’t know what’s going on tend to be entertained by the impressive skills and feats of strength these athletes have mastered.
8 out of 10 for Aesthetics: Gymnasts are obviously lean, muscular, attractive, impressive-to-look-at human beings, and while their outfits are flattering because their bodies would look good in anything, they confuse non-gymnast viewers. A common comment I’ve heard is: ’What’s with all the glitter?’ Also, makeup needs work.
Simone Biles captured the hearts of the world...
SILVER with 32 points: Track and Field
9 out of 10 for Physicality: About as purely athletic, and transferrable to life, as it gets: Run, jump, throw. (Racewalk is the only questionable event)
9 out of 10 for Common Sense: If an alien showed up on earth, he would be able to figure out the purpose of the sport without any explanation. Pure common sense. Again, race walking rules are questionable.
7 out of 10 for Entertainment Value: I took the average here of all the events. The 100 m sprint is a clear 10 out of 10, while some of the throwing events, and longer run distance running events, are closer to a 5.
7 out of 10 for aesthetics: See entertainment value.
GOLD with 34 points: Volleyball
9 out of 10 for Physicality: Speed, power, accuracy, agility, flexibility, balance, coordination, the list goes on. (The only thing you don’t need much of is cardiovascular endurance (and you don’t need to have huge amounts of beastmode strength, either). Further, the other aspects required for the sport, such as jumping ability, game sense and quick reaction skills, certainly transfer to other sports, and to life.
9 out of 10 for Common Sense: The basic premise of the sport makes a lot of sense—prevent the other team from getting the ball back over the next—and scoring is as objective as it gets, and easy to follow.
9 out of 10 for Entertainment Value: While admittedly the most subjective part of this scoring system, elite volleyball to me is incredibly entertaining: Good rallies, high intensity, high flying jumps, hard hits and lots of close games that come down to the wire.
7 out of 10 for Aesthetics: Beach and court volleyball, the women still look classy and sexy. Legs for days. (Although, what is going on at the beach volleyball courts right now? I have no problem with women wearing long-sleeve shirts if it’s cold out, but what’s with wearing their sports bras on top of their shirts? That just looks weird). Also, the Men = A bit awkwardly tall and skinny.