Where is my ESPN 8 – The “Ocho”? Wasn’t that the original promise of cable sports networks – that we would get to see all those weird events that mainstream channels couldn’t be bothered to air? Remember when they would show caber tossing on SportsChannel? (Do you even remember SportsChannel? Yes, I’m old.) Perhaps that’s just another reason that I am loving the Olympics this year. When ESPN shows SportsCenter for what feels like 18 out of every 24 hours, it’s nice to get some variety and see some things I would otherwise never have a chance to watch. In two days I’ve seen whitewater kayaking, table tennis, volleyball (indoor and beach), boxing, soccer, archery, water polo, and swimming. Some were just for a few moments, some for a few hours, but there was something intriguing enough about each one.
Maybe it’s just nice to have that variety for once. I get that not every event is for everybody. I’ve been trying to watch a little bit of everything, but some of them just don’t work for me – field hockey (too slow), fencing (too fast), weightlifting (just not an event designed for live TV – the highlight reel works fine). But then I happened upon the one event that throws me for a loop every four years – equestrian.
Olympic rules specify that no events can involve “motorization”, so that’s why we don’t see auto racing or jet skis or motorcycles. But if the Olympics are about human achievement, why are horses allowed? I understand that you still need athletic ability to ride a horse, but please don’t try to tell me that the horse isn’t doing more of the work. Dressage is one part of equestrian – the weirdest part – where the horse and rider do some form of dancing. How is this different from the animal acts on America’s Got Talent, where owner and pet have a coordinated routine? And if dressage and jumping is allowed, why not horse racing? How about a Quadruple Crown – the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, plus an Olympic gold? That would be a lot more exciting than horses skipping.
Sports come and go from the Olympics – did you know tug of war used to be an Olympic sport? How awesome would that be to bring back? Baseball and softball were pushed out of these Olympics after their longest official runs (baseball since ’92, softball since ’96) and I get that. There aren’t enough countries to put together a deep competition and the pros are all playing while the Olympics happen. It’s just funny that baseball was eliminated since it’s one of the few things George Carlin considered an actual sport. And Carlin was right. It’s crazy to think of some of the things that qualify. Anything that requires a judge’s score should never count as a sport. I get that it takes incredible talent and focus and skill, but there shouldn’t be anything subjective about who the winner is. Points should be scored, not awarded. I don’t get how you can have synchronized diving and not baseball. Bowling (a demonstration sport in 1988) should be in the Olympics before trampoline. Cricket belongs more than rhythmic gymnastics.
But I know I’m in the minority with that opinion. Gymnastics might be the most popular group of events in the Olympics, so the uneven bars and floor exercise aren’t going anywhere (maybe the balance beam will, when someone eventually breaks their neck). The same with diving and synchronized swimming (and figure skating in the Winter Olympics). But I would hate to be a silver medal winner just because some judge gave me a 9.4 and the next guy a 9.5. I want to know I was faster or stronger or my team scored more. Those are the events I’ll be watching for the next two weeks.