I love Harry Shearer. He’s Mr. Burns, after all. And Derek Smalls. But he and I do not see eye to eye when it comes to the Olympics. Last week, in the New York Times‘ “Room for Debate” series, the topic was “What should be eliminated from the Olympics?” Boxing, sailing, and tennis were mentioned as potentially superfluous or unworthy. So was the excessive number of swimming events. (I agree with the latter: multiple distances in each of the various strokes, plus several relays makes it to where someone like Michael Phelps, gifted though he may be, can become the winningest Olympian ever.)
But Shearer proposed elimination of two of my favorite events of the summer games: synchronized swimming, and rhythmic gymnastics. Gah!
I admit that both these events involve a tremendous amount of subjectivity in scoring, which differentiates them from the purer sports like track and field, rowing, weightlifting, and regular swimming. But gymnastics is notoriously subjective, and so is diving, and nobody is proposing eliminating those.
Some say that synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics aren’t as athletic as other sports. Well, perhaps neither is the decathlon or the 100-meter sprint. But rhythmic gymnastics is at least as athletically demanding as platform diving (which I also enjoy), and synchronized swimming requires at least as much from its participants as water polo does.
Though it is hard to imagine today, until the mid-twentieth century, the Olympics awarded medals in categories like architecture, engraving, and poetry. In fact, at the 1932 games in Los Angeles, Joseph Suk won a silver medal for a symphonic march called Into a New Life. This all seems silly today, but also sort of awesome.
If I had to make my own elimination proposals, way before rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming, I’d suggest:
- Equestrian – I am sure it is challenging to train a horse to trot and jump, but this seems very odd as an Olympic sport, and extraordinarily elitist.
- Shooting – I am certain these events are challenging, but in terms of athleticism, 10-meter air pistol makes rhythmic gymnastics look like mountain climbing.
- Trampoline – It’s a trampoline.
- Half of the Swimming Events – If the archers, for instance, could get separate medals for 10-meters, 15-meters, 20-meters, 25-meters, 30-meters, 50-meters, 90-meters, plus pairs and medley, the most decorated Olympian of all time might be a Korean archer instead of an American swimmer.
- Steeplechase – What is this? It’s like jogging and hurdles, and, wait, there’s water, too?
- Basketball – Opening the Olympics to professional athletes made this competition meaningless.
- Sailing – I like sailing, and I respect sailing, but competitive sailing is about as elitist as sports get. Why not just have Formula One racing or competitive investing?
- Snowboarding – I know this is a winter sport, but I hate it that much.
In short, bring back composing, and keep rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Also, for each track and field and swimming event, one lane in each medal round should be reserved for a totally average person so the viewing audience can see just how impossibly fast these athletes are.