Sunday, July 29, 2012

6 Awesome Olympic/Paralympic Events You’ve Never Bothered Watching

I love the Olympics, and what with these summer games in London being the last Olympics ever (tick-tock tick-tock Mayan calendar and December 21st 2012), I thought I’d share some of my favorite under-appreciated events.  Most viewers focus on the big ticket summer events-gymnastics, 100 meter dash, beach volleyball, Michael Phelps, etc.  But there are some real gems of sports hidden away that you've probably never seen and maybe never even heard of.  There are seriously exciting, and inspiring events that you'll be shocked don't get more coverage.  Well, I’m here to let you in on the best-kept Olympic secret: here are 6 Awesome Olympic Events you’ve Never Bothered Watching.

1 Modern Pentathlon

The idea for this event came from the story of a soldier during wartime, behind enemy lines, who is attempting to deliver a crucial message.  His horse is shot at some point; he fights off the enemy with his sword and pistol, races towards his destination (btw, he swims a river) and delivers the message safely.  So, the five events are, fencing, swimming, jumping (equestrian style), running and shooting.  
Running is my personal strong suit.

 The sport has changed a lot over the years, changing from a five day, men-only event, to a one day, men and women event that uses laser pistols.  Again, why don’t people watch this?  

Fun Fact: In the very first Modern Pentathlon, a little known guy, George S. Patton competed.   

In the pentathlon, the athletes have to be highly trained in these five VERY different skills, most of which are very popular with viewers, especially running and swimming.  Somehow, when you add them all together, suddenly no one cares anymore!

The first event is fencing.   The athletes get in a formation that allows them to all fight one other opponent at a time and then rotate to the next opponent quickly.  They fight each other for one minute, and then rotate.  They get points for stabbing the other person without getting stabbed in return.  (Finally, a sport I can understand!  Suck it, cricket.)

Next, they swim.  They swim 200 meters.  They try to swim very quickly.  Moving on. 

They ride!  You usually can’t bring your favorite pony to war, nor would you want to, right?  It’s the same here.  The Olympic organizers will provide unfamiliar horses and athletes draw lots to pick their horse.   They then have only 20 minutes to get to know their horse.

Yes. Exactly like that.

Then they ride and jump over at least 12 obstacles, losing points for being too slow, knocking down fence rails, falling off, or the horse refusing to jump.

Finally, the climax of the competition! It’s the combined event of Running and Shooting.  Competitors have to run 3000 meters (Almost 15 that not a helpful conversion?) and shoot 15 targets. They have unlimited ammo during this event and can shoot as many times as they want…it helps that they're shooting lasers now.   They shoot right away and then stop again at 1000 meters and 2000 meters to shoot 5 targets.  They can continue running once they’ve hit all the targets or 70 seconds passes.  The person with the most points from fencing, swimming, and riding gets to start first, and the person with the fewest points starts last.  This means that the winner of the entire competition is the person who crosses the finish line first!  

Is THAT how a race works?

2-Wheelchair Rugby

This is played during the less popular, but equally exciting Paralympics (August 29-Sept 9--watch them!).  It's played on a basketball court and the players must have a disability which affects both their legs and arms.  Wheelchair "contact" is allowed (meaning they ram each other's wheelchairs so hard that tipping over is common), and it's one of the very few Olympic/Paralympic sports where men and women compete together.  

"What?  What?"

3 – Handball

Handball is a mix of the best of soccer and basketball.  There are often 50 goals scored per 60 minute game, (didn’t get THAT from soccer) and handballplayers are allowed an unlimited number of "faults", which are considered good defense and disruptive to the attacking team's rhythm.  Another way to score a fault?  “Playing too passively.”  

Also, it seems to be one of the oldest sports, even making an appearance in Homer’s Odyssey, so you can feel smart as you watch it and point that out to the people you call your friends.

4-Athletic Steeplechase.  

This is a 3000 meter race with all sorts of barriers that you have run over or through.   Over the course of a full race, you'll jump over 28 "normal" barriers and 7 water jumps.  A water jump means that you have to jump into and run through water, not simply hop over a puddle.  A "normal" barrier is a 30-36 inch tall solid hurdle.  The barriers don't fall over like a hurdle would, in fact, you can step or jump on them if you want.  Because of the seven water jumps, everyone is soaking wet once the race finishes!  

This sport started with people racing from town to town, so of course they had to jump over things like stone fences, creeks, slow-moving sheep, and so forth.  

I feel like it's less like an Olympic event and more like an obstacle course you'd set up for your 12 year old sister's birthday party and then secretly want to play on yourself.  Is that just me?

5 – Paralympic Judo 

Judo is a sport for those viewers with short attention spans.  Each bout starts and ends within five minutes or less (except when they go into a 3 minute overtime).   These paralympic athletes have some level of visual impairment (there are three levels, one of which means completely blind) or are deaf.   The competitors begin the match with a grip on each other, so there's no time wasted as they circle and try to grab their opponents shirt.

The mats have different textures to help contestants keep track of where they are.  It’s fast, exciting, and powerful.  Also, I feel like I’m learning things I can use as I walk home at midnight.....when there's no moon and all the street lights are burned out.  

6 – Paralympic football 5-a-side  

5-a-side is one of the events in the upcoming Paralympic Games and it's based on soccer.  But wait!  It’s WAY more exciting than that, although, god  knows, it’s not hard to be more exciting than soccer.   This is soccer played on a smaller field with all athletes being visually impaired.   That’s right, no one can see each other, the ball, the goal or the boundaries.   How can it possibly be more exciting than soccer?

Although   and I cannot stress this enough—anything is more exciting than soccer.  

Are...are they playing now?

First of all, there aren’t any pauses when the ball goes out of bounds, because there are walls around the pitch, ergo, the ball doesn't go out of bounds. That means the action never stops!  
The ball makes noise as it moves, so the players can hear where it is and there is a sighted person behind the goal who can shout directions to the players.   Although, I suppose they COULD shout anything they wanted...  Oops, I lied earlier, not everyone playing is blind, the goalies can see, which means that making a goal is slightly harder than it would be otherwise. 

All the players wear blackout masks to ensure that no one gets an advantage by being slightly less visually impaired than their opponents.  This makes the game fair.  Although no one is doing anything about making the REST of life fair....

Once you get over the irony of watching people with visual impairments play a game they can’t see themselves, it’s a super exciting game. (Is that technically irony?)

No one knows anymore.

1 comment:

Vance Abby Jane said...

Interesting! My favorite is the guy being strangled in hand ball