Top Five Current, Non-Existent, and Least-Deserving Olympic Sports

Jonathan GillContributor IAugust 6, 2008

The Olympics will be upon us again in two days – actually, about a day and a half, given the time difference – and I thought I would share my thoughts on the Wide World of Sports’ biggest stage. 

I have always had a bit of purist opinion when it comes to the Olympics. That is, I find fascinating the sports which have history in the ancient world and ancient Olympic Games, and tend to shy away from new sports that have little to no historical significance.  Still, some “new” sports are engaging to watch, and some old sports not as exciting. 

I find it necessary, however, to mock the sports which I find most ridiculous, that have somehow been added to the revered worldwide competition simply because of popularity – badminton, for example – and would rather that, if sports are added for watchability and popularity, certain other sports be considered before some of these.

Therefore, in the spirit of international competition, one-upsmanship, and bloodless war, I present the following as a tribute to the Olympics: as they are, as they have been, and as they should be in the future...

PART I: My top five favorite Olympic sports/events:

Honorable mentions:



Ice hockey (big guys hitting each other became the Icy War during the Cold War)




5. Steeplechase

Of all the running events, the steeplechase is certainly the best.  It beats out its relative, the hurdles, in historic significance and realistic simulation of true athleticism by not only putting in hurdle-like obstacles, but also high and low obstacles and water jumps. 

In the 3000m race, runners must go through at least seven water jump obstacles, just as they might do if they were, say, running anywhere other than a road or running track.  The point of a good Olympic sport, in my mind, is essentially to re-create athletic skills from real life, and compete in a safer fashion.  Thus, the steeplechase is the best re-creation of running in real-life instances.  Plus, it’s cool that they have to run with wet shoes.  The only way a running event would be cooler is if they made the marathon a steeplechase, or had a full-contact steeplechase where the runners can hit each other to get ahead.

4. Swimming (races)

Just as with running events, the simple idea of “whoever can go the fastest wins” is the epitome of Olympic sport and true athleticism.  I have no single favorite event in swimming, though I think the butterfly is the most impressive overall.  I wish they had an underwater swimming race, but even so, you can’t argue with “I can swim faster/farther/better than you” as a basically pure sport. 

Historically, man has always benefited from being able to swim faster and farther.  The only swimming sport I could think of that would be cooler would be swimming with sharks.  Alas, we may lose too many Olympians that way.

3. Biathlon

Being from Minnesota, it was hard to pick just one winter sport for my list, but this was the close winner (over skeleton and ski jump).  The simple reason is guns. 

Yes, I understand that the ancient Greeks did not ski around with guns on their back, and for this reason, this is less of a purist’s choice.  Conversely, though, in cooler climates than Greece, snow is a major factor, and survival in and across the snow has of course been a historically athletic necessity, in life and warfare as well as sport.  Thus, a sport where athletes simulate the long trek across snowy mountains while hunting food and/or fighting wars is pretty cool in my book.

2. Gymnastics

This is the lone judging-subjective sport on my list, and also therefore, the least purist. How would, say, the rings or pommel horse qualify as historically necessary athletic skills?  The simple answer is, of course, they wouldn’t.  However, due to the sheer difficulty of nearly all of the events in both men and women’s gymnastics, and (dare I say it) the artistic and aesthetic quality of the resulting performances on top of their sheer physical ability, I have allowed gymnastics to remain as my second-favorite Olympic sport, and certainly my favorite to watch.

If you have ever tried to do even one horizontal cross on the rings (let alone launch yourself off them), or swing yourself from bar to bar on the uneven bars, or do flips on a balance beam, or land on your feet after flying at full speed on any event, you know the athletic prowess that gymnastics truly represents, even if a dancing floor routine is not your idea of historical survival skills. 

1. Decathlon

The purest of the pure, the decathlon is the perfect mix of athletic events. A contest smorgasbord of speed, agility, technique, strength, and perseverance.  The events are as follows: 100 meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meter run, 110 meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, 1500 meter run.  They are performed in that order, the first five on one day and the second five on a second day (the only beef I have with the decathlon – why not do it all in one day? How hardcore would that be?!) 

The four running events include a short, medium, and long-distance race and an obstacle race.  The three throwing events include a big heavy rock-like thing, a small shield-like disc, and a spear.  The three jumping events include distance, unassisted height, and assisted height contests.  What more could you possibly want in a combo event?!  

Okay, maybe sharks.

The biggest problem for the decathlon is the watchability – you’d pretty much have to be there to catch your favorite athlete compete, even if they managed to stuff it into a day.  NBC can’t really devote all that time to the hurry-up-and-wait logistics of a ten-contest event.  I propose showing highlights after the fact.  Still, this is the best tribute to the ancient Olympics as any modern sports could be, because they’re the same events! 


PART II: Top five sports that SHOULD NOT be Olympic sports (but are):

Honorable mentions:




Baseball/softball (gone as of 2012)

Water polo

5. BMX cycling.

While cycling itself is a (relatively modern) form of man-powered transportation around the world, and much of that may be over rough terrain, there is absolutely no reason to have freestyle BMX bike tricks as part of the Olympics.  In the X-games, sure, but there is no historical, athletic, survival, warfare, or other skill-related reason to include the sport in the Olympic games.  It is new this year, and I hope not to see it in 2012, especially since baseball and softball are being eliminated for those games.  If baseball and softball aren’t good enough, BMX biking needs to go.

4. Curling.

Invented by the Scots, this was at one time a pure sport, though there was no real-life application of sliding big rocks over frozen lochs.  While that itself might be reason enough NOT to include curling, what the sport has become today is certainly enough.  One person pushes off from a point holding a stone on course, then has to let go whilst his teammates sweep furiously at the ice to make it go one way or the other, faster or slower, etc.  Hello?!  I understand the shoving of rocks part, but whose silly idea was the brooms?  What’s next? The nursing home hosting the Geriatric Olympic sport of shuffleboard?  It’s the same thing, only dumber, and on ice.

3.  Table tennis/ping-pong/whiff-whaff/gossima.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing “ping-pong”.  But I also like playing video games.  I am pretty darn good (for an American) at table tennis.  However, I am in no way an athlete. 

While it is pretty obvious that “whiff-whaff” has never been a survival skill, warfare tactic, or lifestyle necessity, it is also true that being good at “gossima” does not require being stronger, faster, bigger, or more persevering than another player.  While I can certainly break a sweat diving all over for the harmless little whiff-whaff ball, the only aspect of ping-pong that is “athletic” in a sense is the hand-eye coordination and agility while standing and moving.  Nintendo Wii, DDR and Guitar Hero also offer this. 

2. Synchronized swimming

While I respect the amount of skill and strength that synchronized swimming demands of its performers, this is another sport that has been misrepresenting the meaning of the Olympics.  While swimming is inherently Olympic in sport significance, synchronized swimming leaves all that significance behind in favor of water ballet.  I know that dance, drama, and the arts abounded in ancient Greece, but they did not have their place among the sporting events.  And even among the sporting world today, no one calls their friend up on the phone, tells them to flip on the synchro, and says excitedly “if this lady keeps her knee above water on the final spin, she’s golden!” 

It’s the bastard child of a legitimate sport, and while it has its place in sports (especially where they overlap with art), it should not have its place in the Olympics.

1. Badminton

Seriously.  What little boy (or girl, for that matter) thinks to himself at age seven, “My dream is to be an Olympic shuttlecocker one day.”  And yet, badminton is going on 20 years at the Olympics.  What part of life does badminton re-create? What important facets does it carry over from our history and culture? Nothing.

This is my theory on how badminton got its start: a bunch of bored duchesses in hoopskirts drank too much sherry one evening, found part of a dead bird lying in the courtyard, and hit it back and forth with tennis racquets until they discovered that it was a dead bird, then ran away screaming.  The next time they were drunk, they did it again, and lo, a sport was birthed!  You can tell me that the shuttlecock travels at 260km/h (about 150mph), but I’ll tell you to get a life.


PART III: Top five sports that SHOULD be Olympic sports (but aren’t):

Honorable mentions:

Chess (the ultimate anti-sport, played by mind-letes),

Team paintball (the modern-day warfare simulation)

Mercy (strength, technique, stamina, and pain tolerance. That’s it.)

King-of-the-hill (ahh, the free-for-all!)

Bloody knuckles (total toughness)

5. Alligator/crocodile wrestling

In a word: bad ass.  Yes, this is the closest a sport comes these days to the dragon-slayers of old.  Every culture has stories of fighting ferocious beasts, and the most amazing heroes do it with their bare hands.  Hardened men of war feared only the monsters of their lore.  Alligator wrestling has all the history of fighting mythical beasties, all the athleticism and stamina of the most difficult sports, and all the coolness of beating up a reptile three times your size. 

Biggest drawback – you’d probably have to play country music in the background.  Oh yeah, and potential death.  Biggest pro: potential death.

4. Broadsword fencing

What’s with the dumbed-down little rapiers used in fencing these days? While sword-fighting is a perfect Olympic sport, why do they dance around with their little hickory switches poking each other?  They ought to have at least a division of fencing that includes more serious swords, whether they be gladiator-like short swords or six-foot swords like Braveheart’s.  Points could come from blood-draws, and pain tolerance could be a major athletic factor near the end of the later rounds.  Biggest drawback: the semi-finalists kill each other, leaving no medalists.

3. Chicken-fighting

No, not cock-fighting like one might do in a back alley.  I’m talking the kind of chicken fights that erupt in a high school pool or at the beach: one guy gets on another’s shoulders, they face off against another pair, and try to knock each other off, no holds barred.  Of course you might have to institute simple rules like in Greco-Roman wrestling, such as no eye-gouging, but it’s a plain and simple sport invented by testosterone-saturated boys meant to be fought for bragging rights alone.  I imagine an aquatic and a non-aquatic version.  Biggest drawback: a tie.

2. Ice Basketball

                Okay, I know basketball has been an Olympic sport since 1936.  But hasn’t basketball always been considered a winter sport?  I think it would be only fair, if basketball truly wants to remain an Olympic sport, to add a little athleticism to the fairly tame game. 

Ice Basketball would simply be the exact game of basketball we have today, but played on ice.  One can imagine, even if it’s a stretch, the contests in ancient Norse and Celtic lands or Tibet, showing off one’s skills upon the sheets of ice, running, jumping, throwing while ignoring the glacier beneath your feet.  Or maybe I’m just wishing for more slipping and falling.  You could award three points for daring a slam-dunk.  Biggest drawback: the IOC would probably adopt special shoes and pads after a little while, negating the coolness of the sport.

1. Tug-of-war

The last four sports were a bit of a joke at the Olympics’ expense, but on this one, I’m serious.  This was a sport in the ancient games, and part of the modern Olympics from 1900 to 1920.  Why they got rid of it, I’ll never know.  What is more Olympic, as far as team sports go, than one team out-pulling another?  It is historical contest and athleticism in its purest form.  No complicated rules, no variations.  Just team vs. team pulling a huge rope.

So there you have it.  Of course there are plenty on each list that were left off, even when you include the honorable mentions.  Still, from a purist standpoint, the Olympics just aren’t what they once were, are they?  What are some sports that you think are perfect for the Olympics? What sports do you loathe?


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