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Power Ranking The Olympic Sports, From Most Olympic To Least
There are 35 Olympic events in total, but which of them is the most Olympic? From an American perspective, there are a few factors that determine Olympic-ness. How does it reflect the Olympic spirit of excellence? How is its profile raised by the Olympics? How Olympic does it feel?
The triathlon embraces the Olympic spirit more than any other event. The goal of the Olympics is to push competitors to their athletics limits, and the triathlon does so in the simplest, most grueling way possible. It combines three other Olympic sports and then makes competitors do them all sequentially. That’s insane. It’s a sport that everyone is familiar with but no one ever pays attention to. Sure, you’ve heard of the Ironman, but have you ever actually watched it? The Olympics are the only time the triathlon matters.
America consistently loses its shit over gymnastics. It has next to no traction for 206 weeks, and then it dominates TV for 3 weeks during the Olympics. Four years ago, we fell so in love with Shawn Johnson that we awarded her the Dancing With The Stars mirror ball trophy while she was on the medal stand. You’re going to pay exponentially more attention to gymnastics than you did a week ago, and you’re going to pay considerably more attention to it than almost every other sport. That’s just the way it is.
Between Michael Phelps vs. himself, Michael Phelps vs. water, and Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, there are a number of exciting matchups to look forward to. It should be the only sport that competes with gymnastics for overall viewership. Much like we only care about Olympic gymnastics, we only care about Olympic swimming. They hold similar places in the zeitgeist, even if swimmers have no chance of being America’s sweetheart (Ok, Missy Franklin has a chance).
Track gets ratings. Among Olympic events, it is the simplest, most powerful display of athleticism. You can name multiple competitors. Usain Bolt is an international superstar. Need I say more?
The amount of movement divers are able to incorporate as they hurtle towards the Earth is nothing short of amazing. Even better, the razor-thin margin for error makes casual viewers feel like experts, “Paulino was 3 degrees too over-rotated. DEDUCT.”
Every 8-14 months there will be an article about how handball is the biggest sport Americans have never heard of. It’s basically hockey with hands, a ball, and no ice, which sounds amazing. No sport has more to gain from this increased profile.
7. Water Polo
Let’s take handball and put it in water! This sport is unfathomable to me. Have you seen water polo players? They are the pinnacle of fitness. Most people couldn’t even stay in the pool long enough for a full match, let alone compete. Whenever I see a water polo player I think, “that person is related to Zeus.” They are truly astounding athletes, even compared to other Olympians.
Few sports are as old as wrestling. It hearkens back to the ancient Olympics and the Olympics are the only time when the real thing supersedes the nonsense in WWE.
9. Track Cycling
The accepted recklessness of this event is fascinating. The bikes can’t stop and the racers can’t get out of the bikes. Who though that was a good idea? Regardless, it’s fast, it’s exciting, it’s weird, and it’s incredibly difficult. Were it inexplicably removed from the Olympics, its absence would make an impression.
10. Canoe Slalom
This is also called whitewater slalom, which instantly makes it exciting. Sports don’t have enough unpredictable thrashing.
In theory, this should be right next to track. Both are forms of exercise that exist as sports in their own right. Weightlifting isn’t interesting the way track is though, and no one can convince me otherwise.
This is a similarly one-note sport. It’s impressive and absolutely should be in the Olympics, but it’s not exciting. Sue me, Winklevi.
13. Modern Pentathlon
Were this judged solely on name, the pentathlon would be first hands down. As it is, combining fencing, swimming, horse riding, running, and shooting makes it a good Olympic sport, but since no one understands the scoring system or is moved to care, it’s not a great one.
It’s a fun sport to watch, but it can get tedious. It also doesn’t wow with athleticism like many of the sports on this list.
15. Synchronized Swimming
There’s no denying that synchronized swimming is beautiful. It leans more towards art than most sports though, and it is nigh impossible to emphasize the physical strain when water polo is a sport that also exists.
Olympic basketball takes a more disdainful attitude towards effort than any other Olympic sport. The amount of energy required to win a medal is greater than any other event. A team like Tunisia isn’t going to win anything, but every member of that team is certain to exert more effort over the course of the Olympics than every competitor in every other event except for soccer. On top of that, the NBA is immeasurably more important than the Olympics.
Soccer is in the same boat as basketball, although it means less than Olympic basketball because the World Cup is even more important than the NBA. Being a souped-up U-23 tournament doesn’t helped matters either.
Tennis is in a similar position as well. The professional game is so much more important than the Olympics that medals almost don’t matter. It is cool to see a second Wimbledon tournament in under a month though.
Boxing isn’t in quite the same position as the above three because the entire sport is such a mess and has shrunk its fan base so much. It doesn’t matter to most people, which is what determines its ranking. Unlike most events, there won’t be any casual viewers of Olympic boxing.
Judo is a Japanese martial art where the goal is to subdue the opponent without striking them with hands or feet. Taekwondo, meanwhile, is a Korean martial that encourages hand and foot combat. Someone could make the argument that the discipline you prefer says a lot about you. Most people don’t know the difference though, which is why they’re grouped together. Judo first appeared in the Olympics in 1964, while taekwondo didn’t appear until 1988, giving judo a slight edge.
This is a peculiar sport, but there’s a certain honor to defeating someone else with a blade. With that, the mock fighting portion of the rankings is over.
23. Road Cycling
This does not supersede the Tour de France, and the best way to describe interest in that is, “piqued apathy.” It’s a tough competition, but no one cares.
Everyone who went to summer camp participated in archery. Very few did so willingly, and it was always a black hole on the schedule. No one wants to watch it, although it is an impressive skill to master.
25. Field Hockey
It’s a fine sport with fine competitors, but isn’t field hockey redundant? It combines hockey and lacrosse to create a sport that’s less interesting than either of them. It’s just not necessary. If you want another unique field-based stick sport, check out Hurling.
26. Beach Volleyball
It’s only been in the Olympics since 1996, and the vast majority of non-Olympic participants only play it casually. It’s a fun thing to do at the beach, but it rarely matches the intensity of pick-up basketball or soccer games. Does that sound like an Olympic description to you?
27. Table Tennis
Although it is mesmerizing to watch, it’s still the game you played in your luckiest friend’s basement when you were twelve. It seems like a mistake that table tennis is an official Olympic event.
This is in the same category as table tennis. The competitors are amazing, and I don’t doubt their prowess, but it’s tough to take this sport seriously.
This isn’t the X Games—who cares about Olympic BMX?
30. Mountain Biking
There’s no doubt that competitive mountain biking is difficult, but what makes it an Olympic sport? Why do there need to be bike competitions on every type of terrain?
It’s just like archery, except the propulsive mechanism is mechanized. What exactly do competitors do to train? Eye exercises? Strengthen one shoulder to handle kickback? Search for better guns? I understand that being a marksperson is a legitimate skill, but is it really an Olympic skill? Why not just incorporate the top snipers from each country’s military?
Here’s another event in which the competitors need to rely on something besides another human competitor. Sure, they work with the horses beforehand, but they’re still relying on animals to win a gold medal.
This is the same situation with wind. Does that mean the winners are the best at charting courses? Han Solo could chart the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, but that didn’t make him the best athlete in the galaxy. I’m sure sailors need to be reasonably strong to run a boat, but are they in Olympic shape? Worse, this event was known as yachting until 1996.
The last two events are gymnastic derivatives, which are apparently getting out of control. I fear we’re heading down a dark path, “next from Istanbul 2020, TeamGym!” What does performing on a trampoline add? Everyone can jump on a trampoline, it’s just a prop to make this seem like a different sport.
35. Rhythmic Gymnastics
I am unclear on why this event exists. It’s about two degrees away from interpretive dance, but because “gymnastics” is in the name, it’s treated like a real sport.
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