Working as a bartender this summer, I found the Olympics paradoxical. While being one of my major selling points, the games were also the bane of my existence. As the slow hours of August’s oppressive heat dragged on, my bar often sat empty, filled only by the sounds of Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Pandora radio and the images of Turkey’s National Women’s Rifle team aiming decked out rifles at seemingly imaginary targets simulated on the bottom right of the TV screens. I’m still not sure the rifles actually shot anything at all. I’m even less sure of why I was watching the random competitions in the first place. But while the heaps of mind numbing games may have bored me to near death, they always provided the one thing that any successful bartender needs: conversation.
My patrons and I were able to come to a consensus about the Olympics: it is a collection of irrelevant sports.
In no way were we trying to demean the accomplishments of the athletes. We all understand how hard it is to be an Olympic competitor. Its just that most of the Olympic sports feel arbitrary. If sports are supposed to entertain us, and the Olympics is the epitome of sports, why is most of it so freaking boring?
Consider the following:
Upon watching a couple minutes of a Judo match, one of my favorite regulars said, “It must be hard for these guys. They look like they want to punch the other one in the face, but all they can do is hug and try to trip each other.”
At one point the regional manager for a local desert shop and I watched part of a fencing match. Neither of us had any clue how any of it worked, but an American was competing so we pretended to be engaged. Finally, after about seven or so minutes, the guy blurted out, “Both of them fist pump in celebration after every point like they won! If they can’t even tell who won the point, how are we supposed to have any clue what the heck is going on?”
The Olympics seem to make even the sports that most people find interesting dull. Basketball, both on the Men’s and Women’s side, is completely dominated by the United States. The other teams are playing for second, a certainty which undermines the intensity of any competition. That being said, a sport that could flourish, like soccer, is impeded by ridiculous age limits, forcing all competitors to be under 23 years of age with the exception of three players per nation. Thankfully, the women aren’t stunted by this rule. It is ludicrous and backward that the most competitive sport in the world, soccer, is hurt by arbitrary Olympic age restrictions, while basketball, a sport in which there will always be one clear winner, has no restrictions whatsoever.
While not all the sports are unbearable to watch (there absolutely should be professional volleyball and both swimming and track are exhilarating), it would not take much to spice up the boring ones a bit. So, throughout the course of the games, my patrons and I came up with just a couple of modifications that would make the Olympics every bit worth watching:
The first modification applies to basketball (men’s and women’s). The rule should be this this: the U.S. will send the teams that win the NCAA Championship in the year of the Olympics to compete for their country. This idea has absolutely zero downside. It works on every level. It would make the Olympic basketball tournaments so much more competitive and interesting. Imagine the Men’s Villanova basketball team competing for gold as hard as they competed for the national championship. Imagine Kris Jenkins hitting a three at the buzzer in the championship game all over again, but this time to win gold. Imagine coaches fighting to get the chance to extend their dreams on such a prestigious level. They would have a chance in the Olympics, but they would be underdogs, and nothing is more interesting in the U.S. than an underdog story. Also, other countries would get interested in basketball because they would have a chance to actually win gold! (Note: UConn’s Women’s team would probably still destroy everyone though.)
And not only would this make the Olympic basketball tournament more interesting, but every four years March Madness would be even more crazy! It would be like the Triwizard Tournament of college basketball. Players would stay in college longer to get the chance to play in the tournament during the Olympic year. The stakes would be higher. College basketball is already the most intense sport in America. This would make it even more intense, which might expedite Gregg Marshall’s impending heart attack, but surely he can take one for the team (USA!).
The other modification is a bit more abstract, but has the chance to provide even more entertainment. For the really boring sports, I’m talking the ones where we sit and watch someone take aim for a minute and a half and then let go of a string, a little bit of story telling would go a long way. The suggestion is this: let the television networks that air the competitions also hire comedians or professional story tellers to create narratives for the lives of the athletes leading up to the moment that they release their projectile. Imagine Aziz telling the story of the Indian archer posed to take gold if she can hit one last bullseye. We would finally become invested in the outcome! Imagine Dave Chappelle narrating the life events of the distance runner in position to win the marathon. Shoot, imagine Manny Fresh hyping the Danish rifle-shooter shooting at a tiny target 10m away. We already watch stuff like this anyway, think of the Ozzy Man Reviews commentating on Youtube. Why not make this real life television? Pretend you would not watch more of the Olympics if this was the case.
These suggestions are just a humble group of people’s proposed modifications. I firmly believe that if we could implement them as new rules, the Olympics would have the chance to become the cultural event that it deserves to be.
(That being said, I know they are long shots. So in the meantime, how about just replaying the last five seconds of a fencing point in slow motion so we can see what the hell is going on and how they actually win the point?)