The Washington Times - January 20, 2009, 04:41PM

So I spent some of the morning watched Barack Obama become our next president, and pondered whether the whole Inauguration Day festivities lived up to the hype. I’d say it was a mixed bag, in the sense that the crowds and enthusias was as big, if not larger, than anticipated, but his speech was not quite a home run. If I had to compare it to a sporting event, I’d say it was like one of the better Super Bowls of recent memory, in that it came pretty close to living up to an unreasonable amount of hype. Not quite like last year’s Super Bowl between the Pats and Giants, but close.

Anyway, since my mind often works backwards, I got to wondering about some of the more underrated and under-hyped sporting events out there. And I created this rough list, which you readers can feel free to debate. Basically, I sought events that may be more meaningful and significant than we give them credit for. If you’re looking for a presidential comparison, I’d go with James K. Polk. (Look him up. Not a bad list of accomplishments for a one-term guy.)

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Ok, so here’s my short list of the most underrated sporting events, in no real particular order:

Australian Open- It’s hard to get people excited about a tennis tournament in Melbourne in January. And it wasn’t until recently that most of the top players even bothered to show up. But this Grand Slam counts just as much as the others and pays out just the same, if not more. Plus, the Aussie Open is a huge deal Down Under, where last year it drew more than 600,000 specators and set a single-day Grand Slam mark of more than 60,000 in a single day.

 

Olympic Cross Country Skiing - Americans could care less about a bunch of guys running around the countryside on skis. But among some European nations, this is where the most intense rivalries lie. Over last four Olympics, Norway and Italy have each won two gold medals in the long relay event, and from 1994 through 2002, the total difference in time was less than a second. Norway failed to medal in the 2006 Olympics, and it was viewed as a national embarrasment. This article from the Christian Science Monitor, written prior to the 2006 Games, sums up the rivarly nicely.

Baseball’s All-Star Game - Yes, it always seems like there’s some amount of controversy, and people still haven’t bought into the whole notion that it counts. But the players do seem to take it seriously, and last year’s 15-inning game was one of the more entertaining sporting events of the year. I think of this game kind of like Derek Jeter’s defense. At first, everyone thought he was gret defensively. Then some folks spoke up and said he was actually not that good, and it became fashionable to bash him. In reality, he’s probably somewhere in the middle. So baseball’s all-star game is like that, not quite as good as supporters want you to think it is, but not nearly as bad as many people make it out to be. And let’s face it, it’s always more interesting than the other major all-star games.

Decathalon - How many of you readers know who Bryan Clay is? I’ll save you the trip to Wikipedia by telling you that he’s the world’s greatest athlete. While the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing may have been dominated by attention to Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Clay went on to win the decathalon, a grueling, 10-event competition requiring an uncanny mix of speed, strength and agility. True story: I was at a dinner party recently, and someone saw Bruce Jenner on TV. Immediately, they said “hey, it’s Kim Kardashian’s mom’s second husband.” Yep, the 1976 Gold Medalist in the decathalon, known now as a sidekick in a trashy reality show.

Tour De France- This event has been brutalized by cheaters in recent years, but it could be moving into a new era of clean (or cleaner) racing. So perhaps we can go back to recognizing the amazing level of strength and endurance required to ride in this 2,174 mile race, much of which requires steep mountain climbs.

Pro Bull Riding - Among rodeo devotees, the professional bull riding circuit is a very big deal. PBR event in Baltimore recently saw its highest attendance figure in five years. And the PBR recently signed a marketing deal with Fenway Sports Group. If you’re thinking this is silly, ask yourself how many sports have television rights deals on both network (NBC) and cable (Versus.)