During a conversation about going to Sydney for the 2000 Summer Olympics, a friend said he didn't understand what all the fuss was about with the games.
It's essentially a swim meet one week and a track meet the next, with some gymnastics and basketball thrown in. Who cares about the rest of it?
Well, lots of people do. A whole lot. Into the millions, maybe the billions. Maybe for some Americans, the Olympics are nothing but swimming and track with some basketball and gymnastics thrown in. For the rest of the world? There's that and so much more.
The variety of sports, the exceptionally high level at which they're contested and the passion of the fans who don't call the USA home are part of what makes the Olympics so much fun. You see stuff you don't see every day, and you see it performed as well as it can be performed.
Sure, the swimming and basketball and track and field and gymnastics are fun, too. There's nothing wrong with watching those sports played by the best in the world, and there's nothing wrong with rooting for the home country.
But if that's the entirety of your Olympic view, do yourself a favor during the London Games and expand your worldview, even if you have to surf some of the secondary channels to find the other sports.
There are 26 sports that will be contested in London. The average person probably can't name half. Check some of them out.
About 90 percent of my coverage in Sydney centered on the aforementioned Big Four. That is, after all, what most of the readership was interested in. But the highlight of the trip was taking some time to watch a few of the other sports.
The venues in Sydney were laid out well, and most were close together. You could get to multiple events easily. A popular "game" played by some reporters was the "media decathlon." The goal was to see at least 10 events in the same day.
It was a long day. It was a fun day. It started early with swimming preliminaries. Don't hate. I couldn't totally ignore the Big Four. It ended with the 100-meter dashes, always a highlight of an Olympics (and, yes, another Big Four).
In between? That's where it got fun.
There was tennis, one set of a doubles match featuring Venus and Serena Williams. I can't begin to remember the opponents. The Williams sisters were so much fun to watch. There I go being all American again.
How about team handball? Can't be rah-rah USA there because Team USA hasn't qualified since Atlanta in 1996 when it had to be in because it was the host country. I'm not totally sure which team I saw or what I saw. There's a team handball explainer elsewhere in this section. I didn't understand the game, but the fans there sure did, and they were into it big time. A small building in what would qualify as a weak auxiliary gym in the states became a building that was as loud as any I'd ever heard.
Of course, that lasted about a half-hour. The next stop was for table tennis. A men's match was in progress between a player from Sweden and one from China. Trust me, you've never seen anything quite like it.
The points were long and grab-your-seat intense. Yes, you can work up a sweat playing table tennis. The building, which held about 5,000, was packed. When the Swedish player won a point, it was like a party in the stands complete with horns, chants and flag-waving. When the Chinese player won a point, the other side celebrated just as hard and was just as loud. When the match finally ended, with the Swedish player pulling out the victory, I felt like I needed a nap.
No time to rest. A men's field hockey match between India and Pakistan awaited. Yes, men do play field hockey. Yes, they play it pretty well. Especially in India and Pakistan, two countries that don't like each other very much. The crowd, faces contorted with a wide variety of emotion as the ball flew to and fro on the pitch, was as much fun to watch as the game.
Other events in the "media decathlon" included synchronized diving, baseball and gymnastics. I learned some physics while watching synchronized diving. Regardless of their weight, two divers will fall at the same speed. It was much more fun than standard diving. Competitors were judged not only on how well they dove, but on how well they dove in sync with their partner.
I did not see shooting. Not sure how much you can actually "see" with that anyway, but I wanted to try. The competitors each take 150 shots at moving targets in skeet shooting, and a U.S. entrant told me in Atlanta it usually took a perfect score of 150 to get into a "shoot-off" for a medal. Seriously? You can't miss once?
These people are good, no matter what the sport. Take advantage of the opportunity to see them. You won't be disappointed.
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