Rather than doing a big bulbous Olympic preview that most of you will ignore, let me instead approach the Olympics this way. I want you, the great readers of Fighting Talker, to watch a sport that you have never watched before. Here are some sports that I think are underrated and appeal to American sensibilities.
I tend to approach convincing people to watch the Olympics rather like I try to introduce my friends to all the Asian culinary delicacies I enjoy so much (such as this, this, and this). What I say is, “Well, if you like X, then you’ll surely like Y,” with X equaling some normal American food and Y being the exotic goodie I am prodding them towards. In that vein, here are some sports I think you might enjoy, introduced by the sports you already enjoy.
If you like basketball – watch the Team Handball. I’ve actually played a bit of this in Israel and it is a boatload of fun. It’s a really interesting mix of basketball and soccer where the jerseys, goals and positioning resemble soccer but the tactics (picks, kick-outs, leaping) and scoring resemble basketball. After a few minutes you’ll catch on it and wonder how this has never managed to grab a foothold at all in North America. Unfortunately for those inclined for history or fair-play (or the fair play of history, one might say) the Germans and Serbs are awfully good at this sport.
If you like motor racing, especially F1 racing, give Track Cycling a shot – there are multiple formats of these furious races around the high-banked velodrome, but almost all of them involve a few minutes of tedious, tactical boredom followed by absolutely furious sprinting to the finish and the occasional wreck. In other words, it’s just like F1! I would recommend all of the events but the time trial and pursuit, which don’t feature any passing. Plus, some of the guys on the track are well known to followers of the Tour de France like Mark Cavendish, who won a remarkable four stages of the TdF last month.
If you used to like professional boxing, but found that it has become an incomprehensible, corrupt mess, try watching boxing. (Amazing, I know). Olympic boxing features, quick four-round, 8 minute matches, live scoring, and has gone a long way to eliminate the corruption that spoiled amateur boxing for so many years. While you might not have heard of the boxers now, odds are you’ll be hearing about some of them once they turn pro. Here is a quick list of former US Olympic boxing team members; Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael & Leon Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones, Ray Mercer, Riddick Bowe, Oscar De La Hoya, Vernon Forrest, Chris Byrd, Floyd Mayweather, and many other guys who became top pros.
If you like soccer, hockey or total, utter brutality, try watching the Water Polo. The advent of HD and underwater cameras only now truly show how physically brutal this sport is. Just remember, what you are seeing above the water is only the half of it. Plus, these are some of the most underrated athletes at these games. Remember, they are elevating themselves that high in the water without touching the bottom while treading water throughout the entire game.
If you like tennis, ignore the always-overrated Olympic tennis tournament and instead watch the Table Tennis and Badminton. These are not the games we play in our basements and backyards. Plus, table tennis is China’s national sport, and nothing less than a sweep is acceptable. On top of that, some of their main rivals are from Taiwan, setting up matchups with enough political intrigue to rival any soccer match.
Let me know if you discover any other sporting gems from these games. Great matches and stories are out there, you just have to open your mind up enough to watch. Plus, wouldn’t you rather a Chinese guy and a Taiwanese guy battle global politics over a ping-pong table rather than listen to another Brett Favre story?