Olympic Hit List, Part X

When it comes to the individual Olympic sports, I’m pretty much a traditionalist. Alpine skiing does it for me far more than snowboard stuff does. The latter, in addition to the aggressively care-less attitude of some of the competitors, strikes me as a sport that Americans invented because they weren’t dominating skiing. Sorry for the cynicism. Anyhow, the deep traditions of alpine skiing mean at least a couple of things. One, there is a history to the sport, and great competitors and brilliant events, that give greater lustre to the renewal of a relatively longstanding event. This leads inevitably to a second fact: because of this history, there is also an enormous body of young athletes and experienced coaches and a competitive system that produces greatness.

In so many of the marginal or new-kid-on-the-block sports, on the other hand, I have to wonder, “How many people actually DO this?” Can’t remember who wrote it – Stephen Brunt from the Globe and Mail is a likely candidate – but one retrospective on Canadian performances at the Sydney Olympics argued that the greatest was Kevin Sullivan’s 5th place in the 1500 metres. Given the number of possible countries and athletes vying for this elemental and prestigious track race, an Olympic top 5 is worth any number of synchronized diving medals. Not many Africans (not many anyones) have the facilities, the economic privilege, of even recreational diving.

I can’t help thinking about beach volleyball. (Warning: a severe rant warning has been posted. Too late to say “Don’t get me started!!” Sorry.) No doubt these are good players – I’ll ignore for the moment that over-the-hill Real Volleyball players can then be put out to pasture on the beach – but this should not be an Olympic sport. It exists because of partial female nudity; the men’s competition is tacked on for gender equity reasons. Because it is an Olympic Sport, we get to watch shots of (admittedly quite remarkable) upper and lower female cleavages, salacious views that would normally be intolerable during day- or prime-time viewing. It’s cheesecake. Soft porn with spiking, mud wrestling with sunglasses and some bonus athleticism.

I won’t even go into how repetitive and limited it is compared to the variety and power of the real thing, actual Volleyball. I’ve played a little beach and, though I’m a poor volleyball player, I liked it. I know how good these beach players are, and I’m sure the game makes for great off-season development. If I was a volleyball coach, all my players would be encouraged to play. I was a basketball coach, and I wanted my guys to play all the summer driveway one-on-one, all the half-court 3 on 3 in the park that they could. But that doesn’t mean I’d want Asphalt Basketball in the Olympics. The real game is already there.