Monday, August 18, 2008

The Medal Count*

And the question remains, who will "win" the Olympics. Oh, I know, guys like Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, believed that "the important thing is not to win, but to take part." But in more recent years the Olympics have been led by swell fellas like Juan Antonio Samaranch, the falangist apologist for the Franco regime in Spain. He was all about Olympic glory, and it's all due to him that this year we need an asterisk in the standings.
As a jingoistic American, I question China's lead in the gold medal standings and likely top finish in the overall count. And I'm not talking about the nine-year-old gymnasts, either. Rather, I'm talking about those entertainment set pieces that Samaranch put in the Games, things like rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming and diving. (Click here for a link to the medal winners by year, with year of introduction of the event.) Now, I grant you that those events (and, dare we say it during Beijing 2008, beer, er, ping pong) take skill and fitness, but they lack the sustained endurance necessary to qualify, from the perspective of my armchair, as a true sport worthy of a medal, such as the marquee events like track and field and individual swimming and diving as well as more sparsely-attended events like rowing and the sweet science of boxing. And it's not just areas where the Chinese may rack up the score. The keirin track cycling race is fun to watch, and those crazy European dudes spin like mad, but when your whole race comes down to 6.5 seconds of energy, that's show biz not sport.


Todd said...

The bike racing needs reform. When they actually race, it is outstanding. But they spend most of the time going slowly and screwing around for track and drafting position. Lame.

The worst sport of all is an easy one. Dressage. Basically it could be called "Slow Horse Walking." It may be a skill, but trained horses walking carefully just ain't OLYMPIAN in any sense of the word.

sluggo said...

I dunno. That's track racing. It's impossible to go that fast for much longer than they do.

You would like the Madison or Pursuit more. The Madison is a relay race where the cyclists sling each other on the exchange to maintain momentum.

The Pursuit is two riders lining up at opposite ends of the track and going as hard as they can to catch or gain time on the other inside of 4000m.

The points race is more of a race where the riders sprint for points on each lap.

Match sprinting and Keirin are just two of the disciplines of track racing. There is a variety of track racing that covers just about every possible configuration.

The appeal of match sprinting is the ability to handle the bike at such low speeds and the tactical ability to gain position. Also pedaling that fast on fixed gear bikes is impressive as well as the pure brute strength of the match sprinter.

Of course you don't have to watch.

By the way cycling has been in the Olympics since the start of the modern games in 1896. If a podgy middle aged guy in Arizona ain't impressed...*shrug*.

Anonymous said...

I think we ban any sport I have played with a beer in one hand at a picnic:

Ping Pong
Diving (unless you add the cannonballs)

Volleyball only survives because you have to bump and pass with two hands.

I would also ban any sport you can play a Fiddlesticks (i.e. put put golf) so take out trampoline.

Regarding bike racing - it would be better if they were on beach cruisers without gears.

Agreement on the horse stuff - too 19th Century bourgie.

Question for Sluggo re: velodrome bike racing - when I was in europe they showed bike racing where a motorcycle drove in front of the bicycist. I couldn't figure it out - any suggestions on what this was about?

pnwbuckeye said...

Answer to Anon:
The race that you are asking about is called derny or stayer racing. That is a race where each rider motorpaces behind the derny (motor) at speeds as high as 60mph on the velodrome. One word: crazy.

Actually, in response to Sluggo, pursuits are super boring but seem to be the only track cycling event that an uninformed observer (American) understands. The title of world's fastest cyclist is no longer up for grabs as the Olympics have dropped the kilo, track cycling's equal to the 100 meter in track and field. The Madison both from a spectator's standpoint and as a competitor is where it's at for excitement as well as being probably the highest skill event that you can do as a bike racer.