Column: Reimagining the Olympics

And a modest proposal to save synchronized diving – with fisticuffs!
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The London Olympics features 26 summer sports, with 39 disciplines, and 302 separate competitions, in a desperate attempt to get everyone to watch.

As a result, the International Olympic Committee feels they now have something for everyone. So, we’ve got the Ancient Sports, or the Events No One Watches Anymore, like horse riding, rifle range, and archery – also known as, Things You Did in Summer Camp, But Stopped Doing After You Learned How To Drive and Talk To Girls. Why not include making moccasins and leather key fobs?

The Modern Penthathlon has got the complete collection of outdated events: fencing, horse jumping, shooting, a 3-K run and a 200-meter swim – or, The Full MacGyver. Introduced in 1912, the Modern Pentathlon is one of the least modern things about the modern games.

A truly Modern Pentathlon would include: (1) Aerobics – which is not as silly as rhythmic gymnastics; (2) Running Brain Dead On A Treadmill; (3) Bikram Yoga, for some reason; (4) Sitting On The Weight Machine I Want To Use For Five Minutes, While Admiring Yourself In The Mirror; and (5) Programming Your New Television.

The smallest category is The Things You Actually Want to Watch: swimming, track, gymnastics and basketball. Everything else is filler. Oh, and Tae Kwon Do, of course. Why? Because my editor likes it. That’s why.

At the other extreme, you’ve got Fake Sports the IOC Recently Jammed Into the Games in A Failed Attempt To Get Your Teenager To Stop Playing Video Games For Ten Minutes And Watch Through At Least One Commercial Break, which occur every 38 seconds. These sports include:

Mountain biking, wake boarding, trampoline, and beach volleyball.

Well, okay – lots of teenage boys will watch beach volleyball, because they have Discovered Girls.

If the IOC really wants to appeal to today’s kids, they should add:

  • The 100-Meter Dash, With Your Pants Halfway Down Your Butt;
  • Texting While Walking;
  • Texting While Doing Everything Else; and
  • Beer Pong.

The problem is, the table tennis snobs get upset when you call their sport Ping Pong, so perhaps we should call it Beer Tennis. Which, come to think of it, would be a pretty good sport, too.

The last category of sports includes rowing, cycling, weightlifting and distance running. Or, as most of us call it: Exercise.

But the silliest sport I have ever seen in the Olympics, without question, is Synchronized Diving. This involves two people jumping off the platform at the same time, and doing the same dive. Get it?

Of course, once they start doing the same dive, it’s kind of hard to speed it up or slow it down. And they’re pretty much guaranteed to fall at the same speed – which, last I checked, is the speed of gravity. So the only thing they really have to synchronize is when to start their dive – which they do by saying, “Ready?”




In other words, the exact same system kids use to play rock, paper, scissors. Synchronized bowling would actually be trickier.

But all is not lost. We can save this sport – and here’s how:

Start with two divers on the platform, but from different nations, and have them duke it out on the platform. First one to get tossed in the water, loses. I’d watch that – and you would, too. Even your sullen teenager with the baggy pants might stop texting for 38 seconds to watch that.

I know, I know. All these events are difficult in some way. But just because something is difficult, does not make it Olympian. Pushing the garage door button, then launching your body under the door before it cuts you in half is difficult – as my adolescence will attest – but it didn’t make me an Olympian.

Folding a fitted sheet? That’s hard, too. I’ve never seen anybody do it very well. But, you won’t get a medal for it.

At least, not yet.

About the author: John U. Bacon is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.” He also co-authored “A Legacy of Champions,” and provided commentary for “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game,” which has been airing on various stations in Michigan and nationally.

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  1. By a2eastsider
    August 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    Ok John, I really don’t remember seeing you at arts and crafts very often at Michigania, so if I were you I wouldn’t lobby for the key fob or moccasins events. Then again, perhaps you feel you have already aged out of those events. Also, you forgot to mention Capture the Flag. Now that could get ugly. Thanks for the chuckle, but I still like watching the Olympics, just perhaps not on NBC next time. (I hope, I hope)

  2. August 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    Call me when the IOC adds four-square and tetherball.

  3. By Leah Gunn
    August 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm | permalink

    Now John – one does not fold fitted sheets. You beat them into submission.

  4. By Walter Cramer
    August 4, 2012 at 4:08 am | permalink

    The Olympics are mostly about nationalism and money, and sports probably aren’t in 3rd place, either.

    But isn’t that pretty much true of all mass-media sports these days?

  5. By ScratchingmyHead
    August 4, 2012 at 11:31 am | permalink

    I’m still trying to figure what this Olympics is about?