A lot of people want to go to the Olympics, and only so many tickets are available. So to keep everybody happy, you sometimes have to stretch the definition of sport. This, no doubt, is how the Greeks came up with the pole vault. And this year offers a bounty of stupid sports to mollify the masses. Not only did I score you gymnastics tickets, you valuable client you, but they're for this year's newest Olympic sport, trampolining!
And trampolining, if you think about it, isn't even so ridiculous a sport. At least it fulfills the basic requirement of promising very serious injury. Teenage girls jump 20 ft. in the air, do tricks called the double back tuck and the full-in-full-out, and then, if the long history of backyard trampolines is any indication, fall on their faces and cry.
Jennifer Parilla, the 19-year-old who will represent all of America's hopes in Sydney, however, disappoints by saying her sport isn't really dangerous. "I've never had a backyard trampoline. They're so unsafe," she protests. Parilla insists her sport is totally legitimate. "We go over to anywhere in Europe, and our competitions are televised," she says. She obviously is not familiar with the quality of European programming.
The only trampolining televised in the U.S. is on The Man Show, which has a feature called "Girls on Trampolines" that is highly competitive in a very un-Olympic sort of way. Other than The Man Show's hosts, it's not easy to find hard-core tramp fans. Even Robert Null, Parilla's coach, offers a parsed plug. "I think after this Olympics, more kids will want to do it," he says. "I mean, it's one more way to get to the Olympics."
An eerily similar line is spun by Dan Cloppis, executive director of USA Badminton. "I mean, it's a lot easier for my children to make it to the Olympics in badminton than basketball," he says of the game he keeps referring to as "the fastest sport in the world" but that also requires him to say the word shuttlecock.
But really, the ease of getting a gold medal does not a sport make. In fact, the ease the U.S.'s Dream Team will have winning the gold again has actually turned basketball into a nonsport. A sport, after all, has to include competition, and watching Vince Carter throwing it down against the Italians just isn't that gripping.
Synchronized swimming is gripping, because it's really just soaking-wet attractive women flipping in sequined bathing suits. But as has too often been noted, it's not a sport. In fact, the sport has become so defensive since it got its Saturday Night Live lashing in the 1980s that its website, usasynchro.org, has a page titled "What's Up with the Nose Clip, Hair Gel & Makeup?" Syncher Carrie Barton, 24, doesn't flinch at explaining the blue eye shadow. "The makeup enables judges to see expressions on our faces. If we're smiling during a nice piece of music or looking scary during an angry piece, that's all part of the score." Any sport in which facial expressions count seems dubious, yet, as Barton notes, "I don't think people would be so interested if we were ugly and gasping for air." And that's the main point, exemplified by U.S. synchers Kristina Lum and Heather Olson posing half-naked in this month's Maxim.
But the stupidest sport of all, despite the teasing the synchers get, may be race walking. If the event were held at the Sydney Mall and restricted to the over-60 set, it might be fun to watch. But instead it's young people jogging and pretending to walk. And that looks really, really stupid. Even Debbi Lawrence, a world-record holder in the grueling 1,500 m, knows her sport is a little weird. "It looks funny, it feels funny, and it wasn't an Olympic sport when I started doing it," she says. Which was probably at 13 months. She adds, however, "If we stop comparing it with other sports and stop feeling inadequate, respect will come naturally." The first step in ending the comparison would be to take it out of the Olympics.
But why pick on her? There are plenty of nonsports at the Olympics, like table tennis, shooting, rhythmic gymnastics, the new synchronized diving and the modern pentathlon (shoot, fence, swim, run and show jump). And really, anything that you need Romanian judges to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 has got a little too far from the Greek-wrestler ideal.
The horror for those who like to make fun of new dumb sports is that the IOC has eliminated the exhibition-sport category and is planning to cut, not add, new events. That means artistic roller skating probably won't make the cut. Artistic skating is a lot like figure skating, but it's done on '70s-style quad roller skates and to even worse music. How can that not be a sport at an Olympics in which Olivia Newton-John is performing at the opening ceremonies? There is no justice when Mr. Samaranch is in charge.
— Reported by Rachel Dry