“That’s not an Olympic sport!!!”
That’s my voice. Over the past two weeks, out loud — to the TV screen. Even I’m surprised. The TV remains impassive.
The outbursts sharpen — more of them, more sudden, but not for as long.
“Not a sport!”
Eventually the attacks get so close, crests of waves merge. “NOLYMPIC!”
And now — good grief — I’m blogging about it. (You know someone feels strongly about something, when they blog about it.) It embarrasses me to have emotions this strong, about something I’m not participating in. That’s what religious people do.
Anyway, emergency purge: Trampoline, out. Rhythmic gymnastics, out. Beach volleyball, out. Men’s football. Mixed doubles tennis, so out. Doubles tennis. Singles tennis. Out, out, out. Was that enough outs? Sailing. Shooting. Archery. Equestrian. Heptathlon. Decathlon. Race walking. Most swimming. Mountain biking. All of the above. OUT. Have I left anything out? I fear I’ve left too much in.
Let’s start with an easy one. Race walking. Competitors walking 50 km, or even 20 km, is not a sport. It’s a symptom of poor public transport. Somebody complain to the Mayor.
Race walking is an oxymoron. You either race or you walk. (“Are we training now, or walking to training?”) It’s as if an earlier breed of humans haven’t quite twigged to running, and we the spectators are hoping that during the race, one of them will discover how to run, and then evolve. The problem is, once one does, they get disqualified. It’s like watching the Tall Poppy Syndrome at work, with little red flags.
A sport done well, done at its best, is beautiful. Here’s what you always hear about sport: They make it look so easy. Not so with walking. Done at its Olympic finest, walking is an abomination. It looks like something that needs a cure. It’s the terms-and-conditions version of poetry. It’s a flash mob who’ve been punked. In the history of pedestrian achievement, from swagger to sashay to pilgrimages to exodi to hikoi to goose-stepping — including chickens crossing the road inexplicably — race walking is an affront to every step of it. John Cleese couldn’t save race walking.
Next to go: Equestrian. Let’s be honest: a fancy name for Horse Tricks. If you can compete in a top hat, it’s not a sport. If you can compete in a top hat til you’re 56, it’s clearly not a sport. It’s a form of middle management. Mark Todd is able to win because it’s not his body doing the work. (May I suggest that the human body doing work is the minimum definition of sport.) Every 4 years, Mark Todd gets a fresh set of bionic equine legs. He’s like a rich guy who’s had his brain frozen in a jar — and every 4 years, medical and veterinary scientists bring him to the Olympics inside a better, stronger, faster jar. But it’s the jar that deserves the medal. And the jar should be at a separate competition for jars only.
Sailing. Sailing’s not a sport. The wind does the work. All the sailors do is guess which way the wind is blowing. Imagine if that’s what the sport was called. “And welcome to Eton Dorney for this morning’s heats in the Men’s Guess Which Way The Wind Is Blowing. Not so impressive now, is it? Clearly sailing is a complex manual activity. But so is knitting. So is cooking. So is glassblowing, playing the bagpipes, and building a garage. It’s tempting to think of sailing as a sport — mainly because we win medals at it — but at best, sailing is a healthy activity. Sailing is ‘being outdoors’. But does that make it a sport? No more than putting up a tent. I don’t think people look back on Columbus and say: “What a great athlete!” History books don’t describe Captain Cook and Abel Tasman as the Federer and Nadal of their day. Nobody looks at Dennis Conner and says: “What is your secret to core strength?”