[Editor’s Note: You’re about to read Part Three of our ongoing Olympics Preview, where Nkilla and I debate which olympic sport a “normal person” (read: nonathlete) could best compete in. If you’re worried about reading part three before reading parts one and two because you think the chronological order of these posts matters, don’t. But if you do want to catch up on the internet’s most entertaining London Games Preview, here are the links: Part One discusses the ridiculousness known as the Modern Pentathlon, while Part Two focuses on every American’s favorite fake interest: Olmypic Swimming. With part three, Nkilla really did the heavy lifting as you’ll see by the record-setting length of his emails to me. I’m starting to think there is no one more excited for these Summer Olympics than him. Buckle up for a lengthy debate, and as always, enjoy.]
In our previous email exchanges about swimming, you mentioned that swimming and track & field are likely popular spectator sports at the Olympics because most people know how to swim, and everyone knows how to run, so they are events we can personally relate to. That’s a fair point, but obviously we would never try to say that a civilian spectator could just show up the day of an olympic swimming or track event and put up a fight against the world’s top athletes in that sport. That’s insane.
But are there events in the Summer Olympics that we think might be unathletic and random enough that a civilian like you or I could presumably compete with the world’s best in?
Which event or events do you think a lay person could best compete in?
Let’s specifically take the two of us as those example “civilians” and talk about which events we’d best compete in. Keep in mind that in order to compete in these events, we’d actually have to be willing to show up and participate. This means Boxing and Taekwondo are out because I’m pretty sure neither of us would even step into the ring or onto the Taekwondo mat to face an Olympian in these events.
OK, so I think what you are asking is what events could a random civilian not only compete in but actually have a chance of medaling in, or at least a top 10 finish.
I want to go back to boxing first. You realize that olympic boxing requires all competitors to wear helmets, and that the bouts only go three rounds, correct? So in order for a civilian to do well all you have to do is get in the ring, dance around for nine minutes, hope to not get drilled in the head, and then hope the judges like your tactics and make you the winner. And if you don’t think that could happen, remember that in 1988 Roy Jones Jr. lost the gold medal after he dominated the bout because all three judges admitted they did not want the South Korean he was fighting to not get any votes in front of his home crowd. Unfortunately for Roy, the judges decided to conspire separately instead of together and he lost 3-0. I also found three official-looking summaries on the interwebs of the Olympic Boxing Judging Rules, and all three summaries used these words somewhere in their description about the process: controversy, bias, scandal. So maybe we shouldn’t dismiss boxing so quickly.
So the first thing we need to do here is rule out all the events that use any type of weapon. The people that are pros with swords, bow & arrows and guns are pretty accurate. Maybe we get lucky and hit the center of the target once, but not the hundreds of times it would take to advance past the first round. As we know from this we therefore need to eliminate the Modern Pentathlon as well. I think we can safely rule out all the other “fighting” sports as well for a combination of lack of training and getting a serious beat down, so that eliminates Judo, Taekwondo, and Wrestling. Also, I know I hit the gym every once in a while but Weightlifting is out as well.
Certain events we can rule out because we simply physically cannot perform the act required (all gymnastic events), know how to perform the actual movements but would get slaughtered (swimming and diving), or are just stupid (synchronized swimming). As for the nautical events, let’s eliminate anything that requires rowing because we probably do not have the correct development of our rowing muscles to go more than fifty yards. I was wondering if we could hop in a sail boat, point the boat in the right direction, and get the correct wind and luck ourselves into the top ten. Then I looked at the footage of some olympic sailing races…a lot of ropes and throwing body weight around and hanging off of boats, so I think all nautical events are out.
Let’s look at the raquette sports. Tennis is out because if we could compete in olympic tennis, we would have played at Wimbledon earlier this month. Ping Pong is out because world-class ping pong players are insane and hit the ball ridiculously hard and fast. But what about badminton? My instinct was that no matter how hard someone swings, that shuttlecock thing can only go so fast based on what I know about physics. Go to youtube and search for “olympic badminton.” I think this one might be a possibility.
So let’s talk team sports for a bit. I think for this category we have to evaluate if you could actually start on the team and contribute. That eliminates basketball, field hockey and both types of volleyball. I was thinking water polo might be a possibility. I can tread water and swim pretty well, can throw a ball around…so based on visuals and my personal perception, I would think water polo would be in play. The problem is, I know a couple people who played water polo in college and they are extremely adamant that you can not imagine how much swimming you have to do until you actually play. So I’m not sure I could make it five minutes through a match without needing a lifeguard to jump in and save me. That leaves handball. Again, you will have to do some youtube research to see how the game is actually played, but it looks like a bunch of guys pass a ball around, the defense forms sort of a wall 15 feet from the goal, one team tries to throw the ball in the net, and then you repeat down the other end of the court. I feel like I could do that right now.
We know most of the track and field events are out, but did you know “race walking” is an event? That’s right, “who can walk the fastest” is an actual olympic event. We can walk, right? We can walk fast when we need to, right? So we could probably compete in this one, right? Wrong. The men’s race is 12.4 miles. The time needed just to qualify for the medal round in 2008 was 1 hour 23 minutes. That is a 6:40 pace. Could you even go and run a 6:40 mile right now?
Now on to “events with bikes.” The triathlon, road cycling events, and BMX events are not options. Sorry to keep saying “check this out on youtube”, but check out Olympic Track Cycling. If the race is four times around the track, it seems like the object is to barely move for the first 3.8 laps so you are not in the front, then sprint the last 30 yards and try to win. Is there any reason we could win a couple of short sprints or get lucky and have our opponent fall? Or am I completely wrong on this and once our opponent sized us up they would spring their entire race against us and destroy us?
I want to discuss trampoline for a minute because I think this would be a lot of people’s first answer. In fact, many people (myself included) would question why trampolining is even considered a sport. So naturally I went to watch some olympic style trampolining on youtube. Unfortunately I have to admit I could not show up without any training to compete in this. Remember that we are trying to decide if we could make the top ten. There is no way I could do so many flips with such perfect form on a single jump. I’m not arguing whether or not trampolining should be an Olympic sport. That is an entirely different conversation. I’m saying there is no way I could do what I saw on youtube.
One final option: Equestrian. Again, not arguing that this should even be in the Olympics as the horse does 98% of the work, but that is a good argument for why I could show up at the ranch on medal day and possibly pull off the upset, right? As long as I can get the horse to follow the designated route, he will do the rest. If this horse made the horsey olympic team then I assume that as long as I have him running towards a gate he is going to jump it whether or not I give the right command. I would hope he is not going to plow right through it just because I don’t shout “ole” and flex my left calf at the correct time.
So to summarize, in no particular order yet, here are the events I think an average mobile person could compete in during the Olympics and have a reasonable showing with the right tactics:
Wow, that was a very comprehensive reply to my question…It seemed like the answer of a guy who is awake more hours than usual and couldn’t find anything better to do with his time.
First of all, I love how easy you make it sound to just jump into a boxing ring (18 feet x 18 feet) and “dance around for nine minutes” while a skilled boxer chases after you. Sounds really simple.
Are you sure you wanna rule out synchronized swimming? You remember me, you & Pueto (our middle brother, for the uninitiated) pulling off some pretty amazing synchronized moves in grandma & grandpa’s pool back in the day, right? It may be a stupid sport, but all I care about in this case is what we can admirably compete in. This might be one to go for. We have previous “training.”
I took your advice and watched some Olympic Badminton highlights…I couldn’t disagree with you more. Sure, it’s not like the “pro’s” are gonna hit the cock harder than you can, it only goes so fast. But I have a feeling that they place the cock exactly where they want on the court every time. Meaning you’d be diving for their shot by the 2nd time they send it over your way, and even if you luckily return it, they’d simply place it where you’re not. No chance.
But wow, you might be 100% right with handball. How is this an olympic sport? There are a lot of things about the olympics that make it seem like a sham, but including handball as a sport might be the most egregious of them. If the highlights I watched are equivalent to how all handball is played, then you’re right. We could get a team of seven from our group of friends and possibly medal in this event. It looks like there is absolutely no contact allowed between players, and if that’s the case, there’s really no difference between those olympians and us. I’m moving this to my top nominee for our question for now.
Regarding your question around Track Cycling, I’ll make it easy: I doubt either of us could stay upright on the bike if we had to ride it on one of those curved, sloped tracks. Moving on…
With the Trampolining event, I’d only think I had a chance if the Olympic Committee allowed a slight rule tweak. I would need another person (specifically Eamon Moran) on the trampoline with me so that he could “double bounce” me. If I got the perfect double bounce with Eamon sending me twice as high as I could normally jump, then I give myself a chance. Not a good chance, but a chance.
And for the Equestrian option you threw out there…we should probably consult with someone who’s at least ridden a horse once because I know neither of us have, and maybe there’s more to it than just lining the horse up on the course and letting him go at it. But I think this is worth a shot, and the bonus is if you do poorly at this event, you can say, “I guess old JohnnyComeLately didn’t have it in him today.”
I want to throw one more event out to you before I give my ranking: Canoe Slalom.
I would never dare to think that we could compete in the Canoe Sprint, which seems like you actually need to be athletic and skilled for. But the Slalom doesn’t seem that much more difficult than some of the rafting we’ve done on weekend trips in the Bay Area over the years. The river’s doing a lot of the work for you. I feel like you could just throw the paddle away and get lucky with the river taking you down without a problem. Those one-person kayaks/canoes are super easy to control and again, I’ll reiterate, nine times out of 10, you can screw up and take the wrong line through a rapid, and the river will still guide you to the bottom. Check it out and let me know if you agree:
So here’s my current ranking from toughest to easiest of which events a civilian could compete in reasonably well at the London Olympics:
5). Trampoline (with my proposed “Eamon Moran” addendum to the current rules)
3). Synchronized Swimming
2). Canoe Slalom
Agree? Disagree? Are your rankings different than mine?
I stand by my boxing position. The heavyweight division is for anyone between 179 and 200 pounds. I would be on the “spry” side of that weight class so I really think I could dance around some of the slower, huskier gentlemen. I also really think the helmet helps. I might be able to absorb two good punches before I go down. I just think that with the history of olympic boxing corruptness, it makes sense to put yourself in a situation where a well paid Ukrainian can help you win an undeserved medal.
I remember you and Pueto doing synchronized swimming routines, but I am pretty sure I just watched and made fun of you. Especially if this is going up on a public internet site, then for sure I just watched. Also, I do not want it in my search history (unless it is this exact video) so I did not do it, but you should go youtube some olympic synchronized swimming. Yes, it is completely lame, but there is a lot of breath holding and keeping of legs completely straight for long periods of time. How about this: if you go to a pool and do a handstand in the shallow end for 30 seconds while keeping your legs compeltely straight, we can re-open the synchronoized swimming discussion. After you fail at that, also remember that touching the bottom of the pool with any part of your body during synchronized swimming is either a serious point decuation or complete disqualification (I do not even care enough about the sport to see which of those options is correct, but I know one of them is).
I went back and watched some badminton a little more carefully. Seems like the strategy is to hit lobs to the back corner, and if you don’t, your opponent is either going to unleash a volleyball style spike or do a little drop shot. You are probably right, too much skill and too much moving to just show up for this one.
I talked to a friend who is very into cycling. We would not fall off the curved track; they are not very steep. The other gentlemen in the competition though, they can get their speed up to 52mph in less than a quarter of a lap. Probably safe to rule track cycling out now based on that. Also, no rule tweaks allowed with your trampoline theory. I could make a case for winning twenty or so different events with a single rule tweak (probably an entire separate conversation) so you can not have Eamon the “double bouncer” help you in trampoline.
As for canoe slalom, you are out of your mind. First of all, those are probably class IV rapids they are canoeing in. Secondly, in the first 36 seconds of the video you referenced, the competitor stops on a dime and does significant paddling against the current. I couldn’t find anything remotely close on youtube, but I really wish there was a video of someone just “letting the river do the work” on one of these courses. I would probably pay up to $20 for that footage if it existed.
So after all this I think my rankings are:
4. Trampoline (even without the rule change, at least you wouldn’t hurt yourself).
Seems like we have come to a consensus. Do we need to look for any proof that handball might be harder than we are seeing? Or should we just assume we could medal with a competent team around us?
The canoe slalom argument is very timely because I’m going canoeing on a river in Rumsey, California, this weekend. I believe there is a single Class III rapid. Even though Julie will be with me, I will go ahead and throw both of our paddles out of the canoe right as we approach this rapid and see if the river “does the work for us,” as I suspect it will. And if I can handle a Class III without a paddle, liquored up, with a cooler and an extra person on board, then I think it’s safe to say I could finish top 10 in the olympic canoe slalom.
Also, a few years from now when we both have more money than we know how to spend, let’s organize this experiment: you step into a boxing ring against an olympic boxer and try to last three rounds, and I’ll hop on a canoe and go through a series of Class IV rapids by myself. We’ll see who comes out of that in better shape.
My biggest problem with attempting Equestrian is what happened to Michelle Tanner on that Full House Episode when she got thrown from her horse and lost her memory. I don’t need that.
So I guess the only consensus we can come to is that Handball is ridiculously easy, and Trampoline is a low-risk option. Let’s hold tryouts for our Handball team in the Fall.