Olympics Trolling

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2012

It’s that happy time when I whine about American television coverage of the Olympics. This year’s whining has a new twist—beyond the usual complaints about sentimental crap and tape-delay—given the lack of decent streaming options absent a pre-existing subscription to some cable channels. But it’s also the time when I’m reminded of my existing personal prejudices about sports, when I may discover new ones (as new events are added), and when I try to figure out whether there’s any defensible rationale to my preferences. Reflecting on my sports bigotry, I think the simplest model is a two-dimensional space that, I think you will agree, is both easy to understand and wholly objective.

The x-axis captures the intuition that some sports belong in the Olympics and some do not. The y-axis captures the intuition that some sports are terrific (not always for the same reasons) and some sports are terrible. Sports are plotted in this space, in a Bourdieuian fashion, according to their subjectively objective characteristics. Sports in green are already Olympic events, whether they deserve to be or not. Sports or activities in red are not Olympic events. I have separated out some sports (for clarity) and left others bundled (for convenience). For example, Eventing and Show Jumping are pretty good sports that nevertheless do not belong at the Olympics. Dressage, meanwhile, is a terrible sport that still doesn’t belong at the Olympics. Meanwhile, “Swimming” is clearly an Olympics-worthy sport, but the figure here leaves certain key questions about it unanswered, most obviously the preposterous number of events it contains (distances x strokes x medleys x individual/team) by comparison to track events.

In general, sports in the upper-left quadrant are those with international federations or true professional leagues of their own (Rugby), or high quality but strictly local interest (Hurling), together with a couple of semi-interesting sports that dilute the Olympic brand and really belong in the lower left corner except for the fact that I sort of like them (Mountain Biking).

Sports in the upper-right quadrant, meanwhile, are securely Olympian, by and large, although some of them are a little suspect (e.g., hammer, shot putt) whereas others (Tug-of-War) clearly meet quality and Olympishness criteria but are excluded for no good reason. Most of them are the sort of niche, perhaps borderline absurd events that you don’t think about at all for four years but then find yourself completely fascinated by when you accidentally catch the final on TV—e.g., rowing, weightlifting, table tennis, or archery. In many ways these are the purest Olympic sports.

The bottom right quadrant is the interesting space of successful failures—sports that seem to belong in the Olympics, and which ought to be excellent niche events, yet are not. They are the sporting equivalent of Calvin Trillin’s “New Yorker Trap”–the out-of-the-way, unassuming little restaurant in Brooklyn that no-one knows about, and which serves shitty food. As for the non-included cases in this quadrant, this is the sphere of technically correct failures–events like Ballroom Dancing, which seem to meet all the formal criteria for inclusion as Olympic events, but which must be excluded on the grounds that inclusion would just make everyone look ridiculous.

Finally, the lower left quadrant is the sphere of bad-faith success: class warfare sports (Dressage, Sailing), accidentally effective social movements (Trampoline), things that should have been eliminated back in the 1920s instead of Dueling (the Walk), and bullshit California weekend activities that can’t believe their freaking luck (beach volleyball, BMX, probably Ultimate Frisbee soon, and Quidditch eventually as well).

I trust that clears things up. All that remains is for you to agree with me, and enjoy the rest of the games.



John Holbo 07.29.12 at 3:09 am

I misread the title as ‘olympic trolling’. Lower left quadrant is the place for that. (Or IS it?)

Maybe trolling is more of a winter sport. Like curling.


Ken_L 07.29.12 at 3:11 am

The whole exercise has become an excuse to extort vast sums of public money to indulge a pampered elite, while pandering to the worst kind of jingoism. Bah humbug I say.


Jared 07.29.12 at 3:12 am

high quality but strictly local interest (Hurling)

Also basketball.

borderline absurd events that you don’t think about at all for four years but then find yourself completely fascinated by when you accidentally catch the final on TV

This is precisely why curling wins the Winter Olympics.


John Holbo 07.29.12 at 3:13 am

Maybe it could be like biathlon. Ski, type a vile comment, ski, type a vile comment.


Jonathan 07.29.12 at 3:21 am

I thought this was mildly amusing until your unfortunate remark about ultimate frisbee. Look at the sportsmanship and grace on display in this recent world championship match between Canada and Japan and tell me this shouldn’t be an Olympic event:


faustusnotes 07.29.12 at 3:32 am

Also I’m fascinated to hear the objective criteria that rate boxing as mildly bad, but TKD (no head shots! weird judging!) as objectively good. Or fencing, the sport where the competitors can kill each other simultaneously but the guy who yelled loudest wins. And by those tokens, where would you put Kendo and kickboxing on your objective plane?

Come to think of it, wasn’t kung fu in as a demonstration sport in Beijing? It should surely be official now, or didn’t the wushu association pay someone enough?


Salient 07.29.12 at 3:33 am

I take it you put Beach Volleyball in the lower left-hand corner because you want to host an unprecedentedly long 3000+ comment thread arguing with exasperated volleyballers, to test a new behind-the-scenes logfile caching routine or something. *cracks knuckles*

Beach Volleyball is the Zen Chess of the Modern Olympics, to which it brings unprecedented grace. And, since each beach volleyball player does the three times the physical work and easily more than times the mental work of a regular volleyball player, beach volleyball belongs upward-rightward of the point (x, 3y), where (x, y) is the placement of volleyball. And also it’s more fun to play, less standing around, far fewer collisions. And requires less pestering random people in your dorm’s hallway to put a team together. QED.


faustusnotes 07.29.12 at 3:38 am

Salient they do more physical work, but the volleyball teams make up for it with all the yelling and hand slappling. They have to do a geometrically larger number of high fives.


Michael Pollak 07.29.12 at 3:41 am

Kieran, you don’t actually have to be a cable subscriber. You just have to borrow the password from someone who is. They allow several feeds per household, and most households usually only using one, esp. if there’s only one person in it. That’s what tv-less me did. And I must say it’s glorious to escape the American announcing and editing. This will be the first Olympics I’ve ever enjoyed in the States, where our patriotic narrative procrustianism always seems to chop the head off its joyfully chaotic cosmopolitan jumble.


American 07.29.12 at 3:42 am

I’m a real american. I can tell because until I read this I didn’t know what “dressage” was. THEN I found out that Mitt Romney is like 1 degree removed from a dressager(?). I think we should all be asking to see Mr. Romney’s birth certificate at this point. Just look at this shit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKQgTiqhPbw


Omega Centauri 07.29.12 at 3:45 am

Opinions on the value of sports are surely going to differ. Hey water-polo was the only sport I played (barely) in college, I thought it was a great sport (as did Johnathan Archer, the fictional captain of the first Enterprise). I’m not even interested in watching the Olympics this go around. I don’t know how much of this is that now now old enough I only excercise for health and not enjoyment of the activity anymore -or if I’ve just been jaded by the whole Olympics things, including especially the massive increase in the number of sports -many of which I can’t take seriously. I also learning to have white-hot hatred for the coverage, as any sport I was actively interested in (Water-polo, and later X country skiing) would receive virtually zero coverage in favor of complete fluff sorts.
If I ever get picked to run the Olympics, I’d be massively unpopular, as I’d chuck out at least 90percent of the sports and only allow a few classics. This thing has gotten obscenely out of hand.


bph 07.29.12 at 3:48 am

Olympic trolling would have to more than a biathlon, you have to hit each of the logical fallacies. And that is really tricky in XC skiing gloves.


Guest 07.29.12 at 3:55 am

rhythmic gymnastics is a kick-ass sport, and as olympic as they come.

also, you forgot chess.


Russell Arben Fox 07.29.12 at 3:56 am

Olympic level Quidditch would be utterly freaking awesome. Great idea, Kieran! Accio, right now, I say.


Substance McGravitas 07.29.12 at 4:00 am

In many ways these are the purest Olympic sports.

Perhaps a bar graph indicating Ways-Per-Sport would help.


maidhc 07.29.12 at 4:12 am

Back in the old days the Olympics used to have target shooting. While I’m not sure that shooting should really be an Olympic sport, I did like the fact that the oldest person ever to compete in the Olympics was a shooter. (I think this record has fallen recently.) There should be more sports that older people can compete in. Maybe billiards or bocce?

I don’t think of sailing as being an elite sport, at least not sailing a small boat of a standardized type. My parents used to send me to sailing camp when I was young, and we were far from wealthy. Very few of the other kids came from rich families either. I even made it to the national championships for my age group one year.


maidhc 07.29.12 at 4:15 am

Now you made me think of the Monty Python sketch about the world hide-and-seek championship.


MPAVictoria 07.29.12 at 4:26 am

I always thought paintball would be a fun sport to add to the olympics.
/Probably just me though.


MPAVictoria 07.29.12 at 4:27 am

Why is tennis not suitable but table tennis is?


JSE 07.29.12 at 4:28 am

Tug of War, of course, is a traditional Olympic sport, which was unjustly discontinued after the 1920 games.

Somewhere in the lower right is apnea, the sport of holding your breath at the bottom of the pool for as long as you can, which has <a href = "http://www.aidainternational.org/"an international federation but which hasn’t yet attained even demonstration status at the Olympics.


JSE 07.29.12 at 4:28 am

Correct apnea federation link here.


Scott Lemieux 07.29.12 at 4:34 am

The failure to but hockey at the top of the the upper right-hand quadrant clearly invalidates the otherwise quite plausible exercise. Where was Berube to edit out this glaring error?


Peter Macy 07.29.12 at 4:35 am

Regarding dressage, it is (a) one of the few sports that older people (in their 40s and 50s and even 60s) can compete in and (b) one of the few sports where men and women compete against one another (the others are also equestrian events).


rsj 07.29.12 at 4:47 am

You omitted my favorite dark horse candidate:
the sports-spectacle.

Candidate teams can compete in opening ceremonies or the half time show.

Each team is given a number of tickets. A fair is held with aging crooners, jazz dancers, rolling pianos, and painted infants — all on sale for tickets. Teams purchase carnival resources with their tickets and then put on the show in front of an MPAA style ratings board prior to or during intermissions of other events. The winner gets to host the next Olympics.


Britta 07.29.12 at 5:20 am

Looking at the Italian team marching in I assumed Bocce had been added, otherwise how would you account for the seemingly dozens of elderly Armani-clad men?

I am a winter Olympics fan, and ski jumping is my favorite sport. Perhaps there should be a winter olympics edition?


John Quiggin 07.29.12 at 6:13 am

Can I add my improvement to the triathlon (not really suitable for Olympics). It’s the quadrathlon, consisting of
* 1.5 km swim,
* 40 km cycle,
* 10 k run,
* 1 k walk back to the car bitching about your partner couldn’t find a closer parking spot.


Chris Bertram 07.29.12 at 6:15 am

No Darts? No Snooker? For that matter, no Conkers?


Chris Bertram 07.29.12 at 6:36 am

The Much Wenlock Olympian Games (a forerunner) included the blindfolded wheelbarrow race and the “old woman’s race for a pound of tea”. Kieran should surely agitate for the latter to be reinstated on grounds of patriotic hope.


Neville Morley 07.29.12 at 7:25 am

The thing about biathlon is that the skiing makes the shooting much harder. So for Olympic Trolling people would need to intersperse the fallacies and absurd historical analogies with, say, reading some elementary logic, or to interrupt every vile comment with cuddling some kittens or enjoying the love of a good woman/man/whatever.


Neville Morley 07.29.12 at 7:28 am

Given that both are judged using an ill-defined combination of technical and aesthetic criteria, I’m struggling to grasp the claim that ballroom dancing is better suited to the Olympics than synchronised swimming – and I actually like ballroom dancing.


Belle Waring 07.29.12 at 7:36 am

Kieran, Kieran, Kieran. My man. I hate to do this to you, but this is straight up 16 kinds of wrong. Rhythmic Gymnastic is the bomb and totally belongs, WTF? Do you see that shit those girls can do with those long-ass ribbons? That’s fucking awesome! Beach Volleyball likewise. Get all that California shit up in there. Ultimate with mandatory post-game bonfires and nude beach celebrations of life! I think some of this is because you’re from a country that values being totally bummed out way too highly. For a while, OK, sure, but then y’all get over y’all’s selves. Maybe drink more. No, drink less, probably, it doesn’t seem like it’s helping.

Dressage–dressage is great! It’s soooo hard. You have to know your horse so well, and practice with just that particular horse for an astounding period of time; you teach him to dance, essentially, while picking up his hooves in a particular perfect way. And how the hell is sailing not Olympian? If rowing can get in there, how not? Ain’t like it’s not hard. I bet some crazy carbon steel and polymer oars get your rowing gear costs up in the area of the coat of that little ketch or whatever they’re sailing in. Sails aren’t made of platinum. And Ballroom Dancing belongs in failures that don’t remotely seem to meet any attributes. All in all, well played. I’ll be seeing you in the Winter Olympics for the Olympic Trolling Biathlon: Skeet Shooting with a 12-gauge plus trolling the reddit MRA board. Upvotes and responses are both counted. Shit be hard.


liberal japonicus 07.29.12 at 8:51 am

Are you updating your chart to include others? Cause I’m curious where folks would putpole dancing.

As far as kung fu in the Olympics, I believe it was wu shu, which covers a lot more martial forms, which was iirc one of the problems, the number of events derived from various facets would have been like adding noy just one event, but a whole raft of events.


Tim Worstall 07.29.12 at 9:04 am

“The failure to but hockey at the top of the the upper right-hand quadrant clearly invalidates the otherwise quite plausible exercise. Where was Berube to edit out this glaring error?”

Field hockey……the one the Canadians like is at the Winter Games….


P O'Neill 07.29.12 at 9:09 am

Kieran has left a similar ambiguity with the use of the term football.


garymar 07.29.12 at 9:36 am

Quidditch is a “California weekend activity”?? Maybe when Owsley was dealing.


Belle Waring 07.29.12 at 10:28 am

You’re just not getting any of the really good shit, garymar.


Jacob Hartog 07.29.12 at 11:02 am

I think the underlying aesthetic criteria Kieran is employing are as follows:
Olympic sports should be…
A. Old, as in hundreds of years old
B. Not have a high profile alternative venue. (No tennis or football)
C. Be the kind of thing that, by dint of luck, talent, and ambition, but without gadzooks of dough, someone from practically any country could conceivably become the best at the world at.


Kieran Healy 07.29.12 at 11:23 am

No Darts? No Snooker? For that matter, no Conkers?

Snooker is there if you look, and Darts would be in the same place.

It’s soooo hard.

I don’t care how hard it is—at the Olympic level, everything’s unbelievably hard, requiring dedication and skill and all the rest of it. This is true even of the stupid stuff like Frisbee and Rhythmic gymnastics. Still, no Olympic medal for you.

Cause I’m curious where folks would putpole dancing.

Lower left, obviously.


chris y 07.29.12 at 11:29 am

I’m unclear why Kieran seems to think that Rugby and baseball are less Olympian than football and cricket. I would instinctively place them all in an equal stack at the extreme left. But the general principle is right.

Belle is, I’m afraid plain wrong about horse dancing. It’s wonderful, but it belongs in purpose build 18th century ballrooms in Vienna, not at the Olympics.

The most awesome Olympic sport of all, totally top right hand corner, but as far as I know never included since 1896 (which is more than can be said for cricket), would be Pankration.

I’d also like to see single-stick, in Robin Hood costumes.


chris y 07.29.12 at 11:35 am

Cause I’m curious where folks would putpole dancing.

Lower left, obviously.

Nah, middle right. It should just be subsumed into general gymnastics.


Bill Benzon 07.29.12 at 11:43 am


dsquared 07.29.12 at 11:54 am

They already have three wrestling codes (judo, wrestling and Greco-Roman), but you can never have too many wrestling events and Shin Kicking is surprisingly entertaining, much more so than fencing.


Jamie 07.29.12 at 12:06 pm

Heh. “Shot putt.”
Really, really big putter.

“Back in the old days the Olympics used to have target shooting.”

These are the good old days. But not really, because they used to shoot pigeons.


Tom Hurka 07.29.12 at 12:07 pm

This thread is worth it for the poledancing video. Poledancing shouldn’t be in the Olympics. It should have a World Cup of Poledancing that is bigger than the Olympics.


OlympicTroll 07.29.12 at 12:07 pm

That chart is rubbish, and the reasons are so obvious I will not deign to explain them. (How’s that for Olympic trolling?)


Kieran Healy 07.29.12 at 12:11 pm

Quidditch is a “California weekend activity”??

I give you the USC Quidditch team.


phosphorious 07.29.12 at 12:36 pm

“Nah, middle right. It should just be subsumed into general gymnastics.”

Agreed. If the bar is horizontal, it’s sport, but if it’s vertical, it’s not? That’s an unacceptable application of Euclid’s Parallel Postulate.


marcel 07.29.12 at 12:43 pm

1) If 1 problem is the proliferation of events, then combining those currently in the Games might help, especially since the result would likely score higher in both dimensions then either (any?) of the events alone. For example, combining Archery (a moderately good sport that barely belongs in the Olympics) with Shooting Triple Jump (a mildly bad sport that is neutral with respect to BitO) results in Archery Shooting Triple Jump. I am not clear whether this would involve the jumpers trying to hit a target with an arrow while jumping or of shooters trying to hit the jumpers while they are in the act, but either way the result would rank very high in both dimensions.

2) Following up on D-squared’s carefully considered assertions perhaps we could have a three-ring set of events, with mud wrestling, jello wrestling and pole dancing taking place simultaneously, side by side. These competitions would be only for the ladies, to bring the games more into Title 9 compliance (so much with concern for proliferation of events).


Barry Freed 07.29.12 at 12:49 pm

There’s a lot of leg sweeping but not much real proper shin kicking in that video. Also too much use of the arms to wrestle the opponent to the ground.


Barry Freed 07.29.12 at 12:52 pm

And speaking of equestrian events, how does everyone feel about buzkashi?


Kadin 07.29.12 at 12:52 pm

Does rugby include sevens?


Uncle Kvetch 07.29.12 at 1:38 pm


R. Porrofatto 07.29.12 at 2:00 pm

Poledancing shouldn’t be in the Olympics. It should have a World Cup of Poledancing that is bigger than the Olympics.

I agree. However, synchronized poledancing would be right up the Olympics’ alley. I’m also in favor of introducing animals other than horses to the Games. Might dolphins adapt to chlorinated pools? And the 15000m three-legged wildebeest relay would be awesome.


chris y 07.29.12 at 2:17 pm

I would certainly support adding Buzkashi to the Olympics. Also Pato. And yak racing.


marcel 07.29.12 at 2:18 pm

And the 15000m three-legged wildebeest relay would be awesome.

Especially if the spectators get to barbecue and feast on the 4th leg of the competitors while the event is in progress.


Barry Freed 07.29.12 at 2:23 pm

Damn marcel, I thought your link was going to be a Youtube video of an awesome 15000m three-legged wildebeest relay race instead of to R. Porrofatto’s comment suggesting same.


chris y 07.29.12 at 2:29 pm

I note that the International Quidditch Association has a commitment to amateurism which would warm the withered heart of Avery Brundage:

No team or club of any kind which is part of the IQA may earn a personal profit from their activities. Teams may engage in fundraisers, but all of the money earned must be directed entirely toward supporting and sustaining their team or donated to nonprofit or charitable organizations. Teams that do not comply with these rules are not considered to be part of the IQA and may be subject to litigation for their actions.


Britta 07.29.12 at 2:29 pm

Neville @29:

Edit a wikipedia entry, troll blog comment section, edit wikipedia entry, troll blog comment section…


PJW 07.29.12 at 2:55 pm

Foosball. Sadly, Asteroids and Donkey Kong helped kill it off during Reagan’s first term.


Kenny Easwaran 07.29.12 at 2:56 pm

I agree with Belle – rhythmic gymnastics is one of the best and most olympic sports. But trampoline is even better (though perhaps not quite as olympic). Frisbee also belongs upper right, though not as high as either of those.

And I think Britta has the right trolling biathlon – there’s real difficulty in not trolling wikipedia.

Kieran is right about tug of war though.

Shouldn’t skydiving and BASE jumping and tightrope walking be somewhere on the chart though, even if they’d be very red?


Dave Maier 07.29.12 at 2:57 pm

Parkour. Miniature golf. Pac-Man. Competitive eating. Evangelical preaching. Air guitar. Fasting. Iron chef. Mountain climbing. Oyster shucking. Tax evasion.


phosphorious 07.29.12 at 3:02 pm

“Tax evasion”

But what flag would they play under? They can’t *all* be Independent Olympic Athletes.


JohnO 07.29.12 at 3:07 pm

I am 58 years old and never ever heard of ‘handball’ before, even though I have watched the Olympics on TV many times. It has a Wikipedia entry, though.


Barry Freed 07.29.12 at 3:16 pm

Definitely parkour. As for Tax evasion I wonder if Romney would have a horse, so to speak, in that event too.


chris y 07.29.12 at 3:24 pm

But what flag would they play under?

Cayman Islands.


Cannoneo 07.29.12 at 3:26 pm

White people who go out of their way to announce they don’t like basketball should know that some people will place them in their “possibly racist” mental category until they prove they don’t belong there.


phosphorious 07.29.12 at 3:53 pm

“White people who go out of their way to announce they don’t like basketball should know that some people will place them in their “possibly racist” mental category until they prove they don’t belong there.”

Cannoneo. . . going for the gold in Olympic Concern Trolling. . . AND HE STICKS THE LANDING!!!!!


Scott Lemieux 07.29.12 at 4:19 pm

Cannoneo. . . going for the gold in Olympic Concern Trolling. . . AND HE STICKS THE LANDING!!

Hmm, I can only give it a 7.8. The execution was perfect, but the degree of difficulty and originality of “liberals are the REAL RACISTS” is just too low.


tomslee 07.29.12 at 4:21 pm

Jacob Hartog #37

Olympic sports should …
D. Not be something you have to smile while doing.

I know synchronized swimming is really difficult, but it’s still not a sport.


Harold 07.29.12 at 4:27 pm


Harold 07.29.12 at 4:29 pm

Excerpt: “The mainstream press began to focus on a specific playing style of New York schools based on constant motion, quick passing, and deliberate cuts to the basket. Both Jewish and non-Jewish commentators connected this style to the mental acuity and lack of size of Jews. This style challenged Western teams who played with the more open, fast-breaking style. The doubleheaders became testing grounds for regional supremacy.” (My maternal grandfather was a Jewish player coach in the teens and twenties).


donquijoterocket 07.29.12 at 4:52 pm

@ JohnHolbo- I think your trolling biathlon comparison would work only if they typed the vile comment by shooting at a keyboard suspended a standard distance from a line. You could include a time limitation and/or a character limitation as with Twitter but who judges the quality of vile.


Jon H 07.29.12 at 5:09 pm

“And speaking of equestrian events, how does everyone feel about buzkashi?”

Beat me to it. The Olympics need more goat carcasses.

Olympic flash mobbing? Could be dangerous: if a bunch of Pakistanis appear on the high street in Chipping Norton, and start acting oddly and in concert, it might not be handled correctly by local authorities.


TheSophist 07.29.12 at 5:16 pm

A little-known fact: The first draft of a moderately well-known poem read as follows:

Three rings for the elven kings under the sky
Five for Olympians, and olympic trolls
Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone
Nine for mortal men doomed to die
And one for the dark lord on his dark throne.

The editing error that removed the second line explains why the ring sequence goes 1-3-7-9, rather than the much more elegant 1-3-5-7-9, and also now we understand the apparent exclusion of the trolls from the largesse.


MattF 07.29.12 at 5:26 pm


phosphorious 07.29.12 at 5:35 pm

Scott Lemieux@67:

“Hmm, I can only give it a 7.8. The execution was perfect, but the degree of difficulty and originality of “liberals are the REAL RACISTS” is just too low.”

No, it’s clearly a 10. It’s the attention to detail that makes this work. Assumptions kept tucked in (who even said they don’t like basketball? Is Jared@3 even white?) , the passive aggressive “White people should know that some people might think. . . ” is the most passive and most aggressive I’ve ever seen, and the blatant non-sequitur of it all just staggers.

Cannoneo has re-invented a classic, made us all see it with fresh eyes. This move will be called “The Cannoneo” from now on.


joel hanes 07.29.12 at 5:36 pm

A fine first effort from Healy, here on the second day of the trolling competition.
The scores are going up:


Bill Benzon 07.29.12 at 5:41 pm


Cannoneo 07.29.12 at 5:41 pm

I accept this medal on behalf of all the pioneering concern trolls who toiled in those dark days when our sport was not even recognized as such by the IOTC.

But honestly, I didn’t mean it as prick-ish as it came off. In my U.S. experience, basketball hating is prominent in racist signaling, that’s all. Probably no more relevant to this thread than the fact that homophobes mock ice dancing. Consider me trolled.


CJColucci 07.29.12 at 5:42 pm

I want chessboxing in the Olympics! More seriously, if a decathlete put up a world record performance in each individual event, what would his score be? And how long before he put on spandex and kevlar and started fighting evil?


John David Galt 07.29.12 at 5:48 pm

It’s because there are fuddy-duddies like you on the IOC that the market created the X Games.


Uncle Ebeneezer 07.29.12 at 5:52 pm

For sports like my favorite, tennis, that are old, undeniably “sports”, and have well established professional leagues etc., wouldn’t the better idea be to include the sport but only allow amateurs to compete?

Otherwise, I’m hesitant to comment on this on post until Bob Costas drops by to explain the deeper meaning of it all.


Philip 07.29.12 at 6:06 pm

Kabaddi should be an Olympic sport, but I won’t hold my breath.


vladimir 07.29.12 at 6:21 pm

“How about mule dressage?”

That could be impossibly hard

What about the egg-and-spoon race? That’d be good for Anglos, wouldn’t it?


Jon H 07.29.12 at 6:25 pm

Cheese rolling?


Jon H 07.29.12 at 6:26 pm

“Eventing” sounds like an Olympic meta-event.


JP Stormcrow 07.29.12 at 6:56 pm

Kabaddi should be an Olympic sport, but I won’t hold my breath.

I was about to mention that. The ‘K’ sports are under-represented. A case could be made for Kho kho or Korfball as well.


Mike 07.29.12 at 7:02 pm

Bring back dueling! With paint, clearly.

Also, rugby is a “great sport” insofar that brain damage and prohibiting forward passes is great.


otolaro 07.29.12 at 7:29 pm

if kabbadi were made a sport, perhaps pakistan could win a medal!


Enda H 07.29.12 at 8:06 pm

Rugby higher than hurling? After that finish in Semple Stadium today?


JP Stormcrow 07.29.12 at 8:44 pm

I assume polo itself would be upper left with the other non-dressage horsery?


JP Stormcrow 07.29.12 at 8:47 pm

“Eventing” sounds like an Olympic meta-event.

I think it is were well-connected rich folk attempt to selectively use sponsor tickets only for the “coolest” events of the day, leaving fair chunks of empty seats at other venues.


novakant 07.29.12 at 8:54 pm

I’m that this is all tongue in cheek, but I hate to see the myth perpetuated that sailing is an upper-class sport – it’s simply not true, especially for the dinghy/small keel boat classes featured in the Olympics, which most people sail for recreation or club racing.


novakant 07.29.12 at 8:59 pm

Btw, does anybody know why they ditched the Tornado class? It doesn’t make any sense to me, especially since they are comparatively exciting to look at.


Chaz 07.29.12 at 10:01 pm

Quidditch is a bullshit English prep school sport, like rugby and football.

By the way, when I was new to Crooked Timber one of the editors asked me not to use mildly obscene words, because it triggered school filters and such. I am glad to see that policy is no longer in effect.


Aulus Gellius 07.29.12 at 10:07 pm

But you didn’t even mention THE SPORT OF KINGS:


Bernard Yomtov 07.29.12 at 10:47 pm

All right.

I’ll bite.

The failure to give baseball the highest y-coordinate of all clearly disqualifies you from talking about which sports are great or not great.

And by the way: tennis, table tennis, volleyball, badminton, handball? How many versions of “Let’s hit something back and forth until someone misses,” can anyone stand?


TK421 07.29.12 at 10:57 pm

You lost me at beach volleyball.


Steve Williams 07.29.12 at 11:40 pm

Delighted to see walking right down there. In addition to the horrendous way the athletes bend their legs, which always looks like they’re about to break with bits of bone poking through, and makes me want to hurl, dude, if you need to get there quickly, just run.


novakant 07.29.12 at 11:54 pm


it’s not US handball, it’s European handball and it’s huge in many countries over here


Josh K-sky 07.30.12 at 12:08 am

If we can’t get Tug-of-War back into the Olympics, maybe we should shoot for getting Battle of the Network Stars back on TV.


Tom Hurka 07.30.12 at 12:09 am

Re Vladimir @ 84 on the egg-and-spoon race:

See the SCTV movie parody Chariots of Eggs (with Daryl Hall and John Oates guesting):



Bernard Yomtov 07.30.12 at 12:55 am


OK. So it seems to be a sort of anti-soccer. An improvement over soccer, anyway.


Texas Aggie 07.30.12 at 1:31 am

I think hurling would be one of those sports that Americans would dominate. If you’ve ever been to a fraternity party, you would realize that our university students are world experts at the sport.

What?? That isn’t the kind of hurling you’re talking about. Oh, sorry.


faustusnotes 07.30.12 at 1:51 am

I would guess that making a class issue of any sport in the Olympics is a dead end, since one country’s elite sport is another country’s workhorse. e.g. skiing &c are elitist in Australia, rugby is working class in NZ but not Oz, horse-riding is pretty ordinary activity in Mongolia, etc.


Jeffrey Davis 07.30.12 at 1:57 am

No Dainty?

Whack a small block of wood on the ground with a bigger stick. When the small block pops up, you whack the small block again. The block of wood that goes furthest wins.


John Mashey 07.30.12 at 2:48 am

Beach volleyball: if you didn’t see Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh (US) win 21-18, 21-19 against No. 22 Natalie Cook and Tamsin Henchley of Australia in London, you missed an amazing match. Both teams were simply superb, and the last point was incredible. Hopefully that shows up on YouTube or somewhere. I’d never seen Natalie Cook before, and at 37, she was impressive for any age.


Watson Ladd 07.30.12 at 3:00 am

Dressage should be an Olympic sport. But only if done right to avoid the need for a horse like so.


dilbert dogbert 07.30.12 at 3:02 am

“Btw, does anybody know why they ditched the Tornado class?”

Good question. I would like to see something like the Sidney Harbour 18’s only at a fragility level that it would be more of a demolition derby type sport. Now that I think of it why isn’t demo derby a Oly sport. Sure is a cheap sport.


bad Jim 07.30.12 at 3:28 am

I just saw a bit of synchronized diving, and it seemed somewhat unnecessary. Almost any sort of activity could be synchronized, but who would want to watch synchronized boxing, for example, and would how it be scored?


ajay 07.30.12 at 4:13 am

I would support Olympic Walking if it were done with a 55lb load over hills, because the result would be vast amounts of Olympic r & d into better rucksacks, walking boots etc which would benefit the millions of Brits who like hillwalking.


faustusnotes 07.30.12 at 5:17 am

bad Jim, that would be a tavern brawl, wouldn’t it? Could be a cool sport to watch.

Speaking of synchronization … Dance, Dance Revolution would be an excellent addition to the games, although it would be another event that China and Japan would sweep, I guess.

In fact, quite a few computer games would make a cool addition to the olympics. Those ragin’ rabbits from Wii, for example.


xaaronx 07.30.12 at 6:02 am

Clearly, Calvinball should be placed at the very top right.

Well, at least the way I play it.


Pete Mack 07.30.12 at 6:27 am

I call foul! Small boat sailing is vastly less expensive than rowing, yet it ends up deep in the lower left, while rowing ends up in the upper right.

It is certainly a more appealing–and active–sport than archery.


John Quiggin 07.30.12 at 7:18 am

I did a double-take rereading this and seeing mention of “tape delay”. Next time I’m in the US, let me tell you about this Intertubes thing we have here which might help you avoid this.

Not that we needed the Intertubes – Australians routinely stay up until 2am to watch the qualifying heats in the Slovenian handball championships and other such vital sporting events, and the results are common currency first thing next morning, so there’s no point in tape delay.


Jordan DeLange 07.30.12 at 7:44 am

Ok, I’m just confused. Why is ballroom dancing all the way to the right, while rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming are on the left? Was ballroom dancing some sort of 1920s era fad olympic sport? Because otherwise, the gymnastics and the swimming have better contemporary olympic pedigrees and (to someone who has absolutely no clue about any of this) seem to have higher athletic requirements. What is the possible olympic-worthy variable that counts ballroom dancing as a yes and the others as a no?


Peter T 07.30.12 at 8:16 am

re 110, the ancient and traditional sport of synchronised boxing is otherwise known as Irish stand down. The scoring is very simple – it’s always 1-nil.


sanbikinoraion 07.30.12 at 9:49 am

Definitely on-board with chess-boxing as an Olympic sport. And a backdoor to getting chess itself – and thence town planning! – back in.


Guido Nius 07.30.12 at 10:34 am

ballroom dancing is better for gender equality.


praisegod barebones 07.30.12 at 11:12 am

Mornington Crescent?


RSA 07.30.12 at 1:23 pm

I once tried to figure out why I thought some sports were “real” and others were not and came up with this pseudo-theory:

Sports are structured activities that act as metaphorical substitutes for fighting, racing, or hunting. The “core” sports are thus boxing, wrestling, and most kinds of track and field; more elaborate sports like soccer, football, tennis, and basketball are variations on fighting and racing; even baseball relies on the hunting skills of hitting and throwing.

But there’s a simpler rule–if a sport requires a panel of expert judges to decide whether one competitor is better than another, then it’s closer to artistic performance (dance is the closest analogy) than sport.

YMMV, of course. It’s not quite a match for Kieran’s scatter plot, except maybe for a tight line from lower left to upper right.


Neville Morley 07.30.12 at 1:52 pm

Clearly this also explains the rowing/sailing divide, questioned above: in the classical era, rowing was about WAR, seeking as much speed as possible to ram or outrun your enemy, whereas sailing was for wimpy traders.


tomslee 07.30.12 at 1:59 pm

Unfortunately for the RSA theory, I think it classifies darts as a sport.


GiT 07.30.12 at 2:10 pm

The line between judgment and refereeing gets fuzzy, however. See especially boxing and fencing.

I went through the same thought experiment at one point. For me the distinguishing factor was competitive, physical interference in the designs of one’s opponent. So everything which I’d consider something along the lines of “competitive measurement” – much of track and field, gymnastics, &etc – is a pseudo-sport. Simultaneity and psychological interference aren’t enough (e.g. swimming and sprinting). You need physical interference (e.g. cycling, speed skating, motor racing) to be a sport. So the Olympics is composed of both “real” sports and record setting competitions/competitive measurement.


SamChevre 07.30.12 at 2:16 pm

My criteria for a proper Olympic sport are three, and simple:

1) No sports that need judges.
2) No team sports. (Time-trials are in, mass-start cycling is RIGHT OUT.)
3) No sports where the equipment can’t be standardized. (Gets rid of the equestrian sports.)


RSA 07.30.12 at 2:28 pm

tomslee @123: Right, darts is a problem for my theory, even chess and Go.

GiT @124: I agree about referees. Even in racing a judge (electronic) is sometimes needed to tell who won. (Maybe close races should end with a fight.) But you have a nice alternative theory. Hmm…


GiT 07.30.12 at 2:49 pm

Hm, darts makes me think that bowling sports create a difficulty for my theory.

Bowling would definitely be out, but bocce, lawn bowling, and pool would all be in. Perhaps a way to get them out would be to qualify physical interference as *active*. This would seem to lead to the disqualification of any game where a static piece does the job of physically interfering for you – where on one’s own turn, the opponent cannot do anything to modify the field of play.

So for all sports where possession switches, the real sports are ones where a lack of possession does not lead to a lack of any way to modify the field of play. If you can’t do anything when you don’t have possession, you’re playing a pseudo sport. If what you’re doing has only a psychological effect on what your opponent is doing, you’re playing a pseudo sport.


Katherine 07.30.12 at 2:56 pm

@#125, so basically, any form of single race (with standardized equipment), plus field athletics, archery and shooting? And maybe tennis, but only singles not doubles. Ooh, actually that would allow in golf, snooker and perhaps croquet? Are umpires allowed, or are they a bit too much like judges?

Perhaps you should go the whole hog and aim for Ancient Greek purity. Although they did add boxing, wrestling and pankration later on, so they were clearly getting far too slack by that point.


Heron 07.30.12 at 3:06 pm

I would make three changes. First, Kendo should be included on the right side of the graph as it is essentially fencing, but with slashing swords instead of piercing ones. Second, the positions of volleyball and beach volleyball should be changed, as beach volleyball is clearly the superior sport in regards to athleticism, strategy, and “summerness”. Third, given the Olympic dedication to “legacy games” like the track and field events, wrestling, soccer and the like, I would include Lacrosse on the right side as well, given its history as the traditional game of North American Natives. It might be worth considering including Ulama as well for similar reasons.


Neville Morley 07.30.12 at 3:12 pm

Why no chariot racing, which has impeccable classical credentials?


Heron 07.30.12 at 3:13 pm

I gotta disagree with those punting for Pankration. Pankration isn’t even a sport, really; it’s a bar-fight in a ring. MMA fights already have a tendency to get out of hand; do we really want to increase that temptation by throwing in gold medals, global fame, the possibility of million-dollar endorsement deals, and nationalism?


Katherine 07.30.12 at 3:37 pm

Horses. This is seen as a huge problem for some (see numerous comments above).


Uncle Ebeneezer 07.30.12 at 4:05 pm

Bernard, I would guess that alot of people enjoy the back and forth action of seeing two athletes strike a ball at high velocity, spin and crazy angles for lengthy rallies. It’s fairly constant action. Unlike baseball, where hitless innings, base on balls, strike outs etc., often results in long periods of non-action*.

*I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate here, as I actually love baseball BECAUSE of the quirky rhythm of the game. But I understand why alot of people think baseball snooze-worthy, even though I don’t share the sentiment personally.


trail 07.30.12 at 4:07 pm

I’m fum the south and I’d like to see competitive cheerleading added. Also baton-twirling. Also grappling for catfish. And maybe delete hammer discus and decathlon – sound foreign.


nick s 07.30.12 at 4:34 pm

No sports that need judges.

It’s a continuum, not a clear divide, between “judge” and “referee”.

If you can’t do anything when you don’t have possession, you’re playing a pseudo sport.

On a related note, proper volleyball and badminton both switched from “you can only score points when serving” over the past 20 years, which has vastly improved them as spectator sports and changed the strategy required to win.


chris y 07.30.12 at 5:16 pm

Why no chariot racing, which has impeccable classical credentials?

Because of the solid precedents.

If you had chariot racing at the Olympics, Alcibiades Romney would sponsor a team which would be so spectacular that on the strength of it he would persuade the Assembly win the Election and lead his country to invade Syracuse bomb Iran. With disastrous results.


Bernard Yomtov 07.30.12 at 6:02 pm

Uncle Ebeneezer,

I would guess that alot of people enjoy the back and forth action of seeing two athletes strike a ball at high velocity, spin and crazy angles for lengthy rallies. It’s fairly constant action..

No doubt they do. I don’t. In any case your description seems to apply only to tennis and table tennis.

Unlike baseball, where hitless innings, base on balls, strike outs etc., often results in long periods of non-action*.

Action, in the sense of demanding physical activity, is not all there is to sports. Hitless innings, walks, and strikeouts all have fascinations. Indeed, walks and strikeouts in particular are often the culmination of very interesting pitcher-batter struggles. At other times a strikeout can be a brilliant performance by a pitcher under pressure, while a walk carries with it portents of disaster that stimulate the attentive viewer rather than boring him.

I could go on in this vein, but I suspect it gets tedious.


Jeff R. 07.30.12 at 6:25 pm

I personally hold to the “can you do it while holding a beer” dividing line between sports and non-sports. That’ll keep darts right out.

(And I’m pro-both Tug-of-War and Ultimate Frisbee, but draw the line at Frisbee golf. Also, Caber Tossing needs to get into the games, soonest.)


Michael Bérubé 07.30.12 at 6:49 pm

I’ll watch the Olympics when they finally include 43-man squamish.


eye5600 07.30.12 at 6:59 pm

“wimpy traders”

Wrong. Go to your room and read a biography of Horatio Lord Nelson.


Art Grymes 07.30.12 at 7:03 pm

high quality but strictly local interest (Hurling)

Also basketball.

how’re the 70s treatin’ you?


t.gracchus 07.30.12 at 7:15 pm

2 points:
Dodgeball has lots of ball throwing and sometimes blood, so a perfect sport.
There in fact is a championship competition for female strippers in the US. There is a movie about it somewhere, so there is a basis for pole dancing getting in.


Antonio Conselheiro 07.30.12 at 8:56 pm

Ferret legging.


John 07.30.12 at 8:57 pm

I expected to be outraged by the layout of the chart. Surprisingly, I agree with most of it.

I’m happy to see that those sports which involve far more subjective measurements in determining victory are towards the middle and bottom of the chart. Anything that requires judges to assign points, as opposed to timing or other more objective criteria, is far too subject to error to warrant classification as a “great sport or game.”


Antonio Conselheiro 07.30.12 at 8:57 pm

Also, the clean and jerk and the snatch should be renamed in order to make the sport appropriate for HS kids.


deiseach 07.30.12 at 9:08 pm

Hurling is the last truly Olympian sport, which is why it has no place in the modern Olympics


Neville Morley 07.30.12 at 9:20 pm

“If you had chariot racing at the Olympics, -Alcibiades- Romney would sponsor a team which would be so spectacular that on the strength of it he would -persuade the Assembly- win the Election and lead his country to -invade Syracuse- bomb Iran. With disastrous results.”

I can think of all sorts of ways in which that analogy doesn’t really work, but as a specialist in the modern reception of Thucydides I absolutely love it.


Uncle Ebeneezer 07.30.12 at 9:41 pm

Bernard, agreed. I love a great pitcher’s duel. But I know alot of the people who do hate baseball cite some variation of “not enough action” as their justification.

I think my description covers volleyball as well though with more players.

A person could make a similar argument to yours, saying “How many variations of put ball-into-some-scoring-container/or-some-kind-of-end-zone” do we need (soccer, football, water polo, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, hockey, curling) or “how many variations of let’s-see-who-can-get-from-point-A-to-point-B fastest” do we need (track, swimming, cycling, skiing etc.)


Bart 07.30.12 at 9:52 pm

What ever happened to that walking sport where people go along jerkily needing to always have part of one foot on the ground?


GiT 07.30.12 at 10:19 pm


Sabre is also essentially fencing that involves slashing rather than piercing actions. It also is fencing. Not necessarily to rule Kendo out. It’s just involving slashing doesn’t really do the trick.


Bernard Yomtov 07.30.12 at 10:31 pm

Uncle Ebeneezer,

Indeed, someone could make those arguments.


Bill Jones 07.30.12 at 10:54 pm

Just for a split second I read “Mountain Biking” as “Mountain Bikini-ing” I would certainly include it.


Tom Hurka 07.30.12 at 10:59 pm

Putting bikinis on mountains?


Bill Jones 07.30.12 at 11:07 pm

Putting on Bikinis while on Mountains? Or, preferably, the reverse.

btw. Any “sport” which requires judges rather than referees, should be excluded.


faustusnotes 07.31.12 at 1:11 am

For those who want pole dancing in and may be unaware of it, the international pole dancing federation <a href="http://www.ipdfa.com/events/2010-events/2012-2/"held a contest before the olympics this year, at least partly as a demonstration of the sport for entry into the olympics.


faustusnotes 07.31.12 at 1:12 am

Link fixed here. oops.


Jackmormon 07.31.12 at 1:43 am

If rhythm gymnastics are allowed, then so should be exhibition fencing, pirate movie-style. One event with stray halyards, one event with candelabras, one event with out-sized capes. Points for technical difficulty, touching the opponent, and of course panache. I would watch the heck out of that.


EastWender 07.31.12 at 5:30 am

Continuing the themes of Olympic sport mashups and of events that aren’t sports because they involve too much judging I’ve always thought that one way to resolve judging controversies in, for example, figure skating would be to give the contestants a firearm, probably a pistol given the physical constraints of figure skating. They then could in the course of their routines use their weapons to attempt to eliminate up to, say, two judges from the scoring panel.

This would effectively discourage biased judging. Things like the Salé and Pelletier scandals would be resolvable by self help rather than subsequent regulatory action. (This should make the libertarians happy.) And the involvement of firearms would combat figure skating’s image as far too fey and also encourage competitors from less-advantaged rural parts of the world to participate. Just think how well Tonya Harding could have done under these rules!

I suppose the weapons would have to be paintball guns or laser designators or something non-lethal in lesser competitiongs, but perhaps in the Olympics or the World Championships an exception could be made and live ammo used.


EastWender 07.31.12 at 5:33 am

@ 154

I have long planned to establish a commercial bikini curling league. Given the camera angles usually used in presenting the sport, I think it potentially enormous mass appeal, at least within a certain demographic.


faustusnotes 07.31.12 at 6:12 am

No Jackmormon, I don’t think you’re aiming high enough. There should be an international pirate olympics, held on speak-like-a-pirate day, with the full range of pirate sports. Walking the plank, keel-hauling, fencing, drinking, carousing, wenching (for both genders, of course – though I don’t think there’s a romantic term for when women do it), and of course stunt sailing. And bonus prizes for the best talking parrot.


Katherine 07.31.12 at 8:50 am

Anything that requires judges to assign points, as opposed to timing or other more objective criteria

There’s the potential for a false dichotomy here. The existence of judges doesn’t necessarily make a sport or event subjective, either wholly or partially. It might just mean it needs experts to assess the objective measure.

Gymnastics is a perfect example of this. No one could seriously argue that the judging of gymnastics is wholly subjective and there is no objective element at all. There is of course going to be some measure of subjectivity, but there are all sorts of measures put into place to try to minimise that. Changes in scoring method mean that the techinical difficult of a routine is scored alongside the judgement of the how good the performance of it is. Using a panel of judges rather than a single one smooths out the subjective element of things, and most events using a panel also chop off the highest and lowest score (or some variation of that method) to get rid of outliers.


MQ 07.31.12 at 11:04 am

As Cannoneo saw, Kieran massively underrated basketball here. But it’s just because he’s at Duke. Knowledgeable sports fans love and appreciate basketball the sport but hate Duke basketball — the guy just got confused.


Nababov 07.31.12 at 12:11 pm

Let’s go total old school here. Any sport can be accepted into the Olympics – provided they’re willing to compete naked. With perhaps an exception for the weightlifters.


marcel 07.31.12 at 3:03 pm

Tom Hurka wrote:

Putting bikinis on mountains?

Only The Grand Tetons.


tomslee 07.31.12 at 3:38 pm

Now under way: #RejectedOlympicEvents : https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23RejectedOlympicEvents


rea 07.31.12 at 5:10 pm

Chess would like to be in, but IOC insists on a drug testing regime, and the grandmasters don’t like that. Thge IOC’s positon would be more appealing if anyone could think of a drug (other than caffine) that actually helps you play chess.


chris y 07.31.12 at 5:48 pm

I don’t know – do the nootropics like these help chess players?


eddie 07.31.12 at 5:52 pm

The correct graph would, of course, have football even more over to top-left than it is here, with everything else crowded at the extreme bottom-right.


dsquared 07.31.12 at 6:22 pm

Gymnastics is a perfect example of this. No one could seriously argue that the judging of gymnastics is wholly subjective and there is no objective element at all.

If someone falls off the beam, that’s pretty objective. Similarly, if I can do two flying somersaults and you can only do one, I am objectively better at flying somersaults. In fact nearly all the judging in gymnastics is against objective criteria – it takes skill to be able to judge those given the speed at which gymnasts move, but no more so than boxing.


Frank in midtown 07.31.12 at 6:52 pm

Judging is the Olympic sport. We need a judgmental event where a nation’s abject poor parade in front of a panel of that nation’s super-rich for judging. It has something for everyone!! I have no doubt that the Brazilian’s “shrimpheads” judgment, as powerful as it is, will get quite a run from the U.S.’s Team Protestant’s “idlers.”


JP Stormcrow 07.31.12 at 6:53 pm

So you’re reinforcing Katherine’s point. Correct?


JP Stormcrow 07.31.12 at 6:54 pm

My 6;53 to dsquared’s 6:22.


Josh G. 07.31.12 at 6:59 pm

Maybe they should bring back plunge for distance as an Olympic sport.


JP Stormcrow 07.31.12 at 7:10 pm

Yes, one of the sports featured in this Guardian piece (along with tug-of-war, swimming obstacle course, running deer, mail coach and rope climbing).


praisegod barebones 07.31.12 at 7:16 pm

How about tossing the caber and throwing a fifty-six pound weight over a bar? Also, the plunge for distance (or as we called it, the ‘long plunge’) was something we did as a competitive sport when I was at school.


RSA 07.31.12 at 7:35 pm

Josh G. @173: Planking for annoyance would soon follow.


LFC 07.31.12 at 7:43 pm

Bernard Y @97
How many versions of “Let’s hit something back and forth until someone misses,” can anyone stand?

Tennis is more like “let’s hit something back and forth with great speed, skill, guile, precision, and also while strategically thinking ahead….”


marcel 07.31.12 at 8:15 pm


I think a more worthy activity for the Olympics would be plonking (the one referred to here or here — for those with access to JSTOR, not the activity described here).

I cannot find it now, but I recall a comment above that in which the commenter asserted that any activity that had other very high-profile competionis that were or bordered on championship events (e.g., tennis with the Grand Slams, soccer with the world cup, etc.) should not be in the Olympics. In that case, the existence of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics would be an argument against including plonking in the Olympics.


JP Stormcrow 07.31.12 at 8:26 pm

One person’s “with great speed, skill, guile, precision, and also while strategically thinking ahead….” is many other people’s “until someone misses.”


Bernard Yomtov 07.31.12 at 8:40 pm


Actually, bridge suffered a drug testing controversy at the World Championships about 10 years ago. Atthe time there was hope that the game could be included in the Olympic, so the tournament organizers established drug-testing rules matching those of the IOC.

Why they, or the IOC, thought that steroids or the like would enhance performance is a mystery, but the rule led to an embarrassing incident when one contestant was deprived of her silver medal for refusing the pointless test.


ChrisTS 07.31.12 at 11:50 pm

@Bill #41:

That dressage video is amazing.

@Jackmormon #157:

Yes, yes: pirates, please!


marcel 08.01.12 at 1:21 am

If any CT members are reading this, I submitted a comment several hours ago that said it was being moderated, and I do not see it yet. Is it stuck, or has it been struck?


Uncle Ebeneezer 08.01.12 at 1:36 am

LFC, I assume you have read David Foster Wallace’s essay String Theory. If not, make sure you do. There’s a pretty awesome passage in it detailing how difficult the sport is.

I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is 35 and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that weird mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Given a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) fixed positions, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables — i.e., a shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racket, height of backswing and angle of racket face, as well as the 3-D coordinates through which the racket face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings. The tree of variables and determinants branches out and out, on and on, and then on much further when the opponent’s own position and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in 36. No silicon-based RAM yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange; smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then it can really be done only unconsciously, i.e., by fusing talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.

If you’ve played tennis at least a little, you probably have some idea how hard a game is to play really well. I submit to you that you really have no idea at all. I know I didn’t. And television doesn’t really allow you to appreciate what real top-level players can do — how hard they’re actually hitting the ball, and with what control and tactical imagination and artistry. I got to watch Michael Joyce practice several times right up close, like six feet and a chain-link fence away. This is a man who, at full run, can hit a fast-moving tennis ball into a one-foot square area seventy-eight feet away over a net, hard. He can do this something like more than 90 percent of the time. And this is the world’s seventy-ninth-best player, one who has to play the Montreal qualies.

One thing that he failed to mention is how difficult it is to return a serve. We often hear about how trying to hit a baseball is the most complex task in sports because of the two rounded surfaces, relative lack of surface area of the bat and ball, and the speed and movement (spin) of the ball. But the batter only has to protect a small area (strike zone) and knows that the pitcher has to get the ball in there. In tennis, the returner has to cover a huge amount of area, and on either side of the body, at any height. The ball is coming at up to 150 mph, flat or with heavy spin and can be anywhere from knee high to 9 feet up (Isner serve), aimed at the body, or completely out of reach. If the returner manages to put the ball back in play, he now has, likely, another ball coming back again at 90+ mph, and he/she must now cover twice as much court laterally, and all the way up to the net in case of a drop shot. Not to mention, if the ball goes from one side of the body to the other, the player often has to change their grip on the racquet handle all while running to get in position to try and track down the 90 mph ball. And that’s before we even get into strategy…


Uncle Ebeneezer 08.01.12 at 1:37 am

Whoops. Paragraph beginning “If you’ve played” was supposed to be in block quote.


John Quiggin 08.01.12 at 2:13 am

One of the few sports I actually go to watch with any regularity is wood-chopping (a routine event at agricultural shows here in Oz). It’s definitely a candidate for top right, I think.


Gene O'Grady 08.01.12 at 2:18 am

A propos of Mr. Quiggin’s comment, when I was a kid I used to keep a discrete distance and watch the octogenarian Raymond Spruance (victor of the battle of Midway) chopping wood. Guess it was his way to stay in shape.

Interestingly, even chopping wood Spruance looked crisp and dignified, in sharp contrast to the affectation of the messy lumberjack style I associate with Victor Hansen when I knew him in graduate school.


NoFoto! 08.01.12 at 4:23 am



js. 08.01.12 at 4:28 am

What’s up with snooker in the top right quadrant? I’d have put it in the botton I’m thinking. But then again, I don’t exactly know what snooker is. (Is that the one with no holes in the table or is that billiards?)

(Also, basketball needs to be where cricket is, football needs to move way left, and show jumping(!) is clearly in the wrong place–though I have no idea what the right place is.)


js. 08.01.12 at 4:29 am

Oops. I’d have put snooker in bottom right.


js. 08.01.12 at 5:30 am

JPS @174:

That Guardian piece is amazing! Is there any way to bring back Swimming Obstacle Race? Because, umm, this is already my favorite Olympic sport, and I’ve never seen it.


bad Jim 08.01.12 at 6:36 am

Road rage was in the news at about the same time as the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, so it seemed reasonable to propose, as the summer biathlon, driving and shooting. This is not quite as idiotic as it sounds when you consider that the course for the Long Beach Grand Prix is a deliciously curvaceous public roadway, and one wouldn’t necessarily be shooting at the other drivers.


Lilypod 08.01.12 at 11:12 am

This graph has left me thinking (far too much) about the potential for a new game called Guess Where, which would be a blend of Guess Who, Battleship and stereotyping. If I see football, hurling and rugby in someone’s upper left quadrant, I can reasonably calculate the player’s attitudes to other sports and their Olympic eligibility based on a tangled variety of factors, including bitter experience. For example, if my distribution revealed diving as the fourth sport from the top in the upper right quadrant, I would expect someone to reliably guess at least two of my higher placed sports (which would also be distributed further right). Add in player cards that reveal gender, nationality, past and current participation in sports, hours of sports watched per week, channels accessible in formative years (NBC, Channel 9, BBC, RTE, Eurosport), and you have a better chance of plotting opponents’ distributions. You would start off by calling for the reveal of a sport in a particular part of the quadrant, with the more extreme parts revealing more and requiring the exchange of more player cards. If you correctly guess a sport’s location, more reveals are required from your opponent. Guess incorrectly and you have to reveal locations. Player to reveal opponent’s entire graph wins. Am off to pitch it to Hasbro.


garymar 08.01.12 at 11:58 am

Red Ruffansore said it all back in ’76: “by sports I mean teams, a ball, physical contact, and some real money changing hands.”


bianca steele 08.01.12 at 1:58 pm

State fair events in the Olympics: wood chopping, tree cutting, and surrey races?


LFC 08.01.12 at 3:58 pm

Uncle Ebenezeer @183
Thanks. I knew Wallace was a v. good tennis player and had written about tennis and worked it into Infinite Jest (which I couldn’t get into past the first few pages), but I had not read the essay ‘String Theory’.


EastWender 08.01.12 at 4:45 pm


I always liked the sledge pull. Not with tractors. The horse kind.

Perhaps add it as a fourth phase in eventing? Dressage, jumping, cross country and sledge pull. Only true, all around horses need apply.


CJColucci 08.01.12 at 8:14 pm

Let’s go total old school here. Any sport can be accepted into the Olympics – provided they’re willing to compete naked. With perhaps an exception for the weightlifters.

Until you get to the superheavyweight class, there’s no need to exempt the weighlifters. In the classes with weight limits, they are generally impressively and athletically built. There are even a few superheavies that would look good naked. Not many, but a few.


Alex 08.01.12 at 9:56 pm

Some omissions – you have Walking, but not Silly Walking, and you have Table Tennis but not Pong?

Some other suggestions:



Mime artistry.


World of Warcraft.


Macroeconomic rapping.


rita 08.02.12 at 12:37 am

Dressage does belong in the Olympics. It used to be the riding taught to the military before the advent of tanks, etc. Alexander the Great trained his horse in the art of dressage. The horse had to be able to do all sorts of movements on his own as the rider used both hands to fight. It’s a very complex art as you can imagine. Horses were used up until World War 1. Dogs used in war also have special training and they’re still out there.


DaveL 08.02.12 at 12:46 am

I am told by my daughter, who plays it, that “Ultimate Frisbee” is more properly called “Disc.” Sounds more Olympian to me, not dissimilar to “Discus.”


Jeff R. 08.02.12 at 6:34 pm

See, “Disc” sounds like an entire field of endeavor, with competitions for distance and accuracy alongside the team sport of Ultimate.


veblen's dog 08.02.12 at 7:56 pm

Olympic Broadsword.


ajay 08.04.12 at 7:22 pm

Given that the ancient Olympics were designed to show off military skills – the javelin, for example, was thrown for accuracy rather than distance, a bit like a giant version of darts – this theme should be followed through in the modern games. Close-order drill, assault course and armoured steeplechase.


engels 08.05.12 at 12:33 am


JP Stormcrow 08.05.12 at 2:03 am


parsimon 08.05.12 at 2:08 am

I’m sort of adoring the Tiddlywinks suggestion. It’s not easy, people! Let’s just see how good you are at it!


parsimon 08.05.12 at 2:10 am

I have no doubt that a person should wear special gloves a special glove for it. For example. So there are commercial endorsement possibilities there.


parsimon 08.05.12 at 2:12 am

Apparently the shortest form of a strikethrough html tag does not work here.


Barry Freed 08.05.12 at 2:52 am

Given that the ancient Olympics were designed to show off military skills… this theme should be followed through in the modern games

Global Thermonuclear War.


TheSophist 08.05.12 at 3:16 am

Better yet….Eschaton.

(No, not the blog, the game played in Infinite Jest and in the video for Calamity Song.


Salient 08.05.12 at 5:15 am

Given that the ancient Olympics were designed to show off military skills – the javelin, for example, was thrown for accuracy rather than distance, a bit like a giant version of darts – this theme should be followed through in the modern games. / … / Global Thermonuclear War.

Gold medal automatically awarded to all countries who do not field a team, because the only winning move is not to play. (Which almost turned out to be true for badminton, too.)


JP Stormcrow 08.05.12 at 12:34 pm

Gold medal automatically awarded before the competition to all countries who do not field a team, because the only winning move is not to play.


Bernard Yomtov 08.05.12 at 2:37 pm

LFC and Uncle Ebeneezer,

May I stipulate that tennis is indeed a difficult game to play well, and that the top players are exceptional athletes? Still, I do find it boring to watch, in large part, probably, because I don’t grasp its subtleties. Forgive me, but the post is entitled “Olympic Trolling.”

As to Wallace’s description, I think it’s over the top. There are an awful lot of things that athletes do that, when described in the same physical terms as his description of returning a serve, will sound equally impressive. Similarly, his comparison with hitting a baseball understates the relative difficulty of that task by overlooking or misstating the demands it places on the batter, not the least of which is self-protection.

Just yesterday Felix Hernandez of the Mariners threw a two-hit complete game shutout against the Yankees. That was an exceptional performance by a great pitcher, but it illustrates the point. Hernandez faced 30 batters, of whom four reached base, and only one got as far as second. I’m not sure what the tennis equivalent of that would be.

One point Foster makes about tennis is equally true of baseball. Watching in person conveys a much stronger sense of the difficulty of aspects of the game than watching on TV. What looks, on the screen, like a routine grounder to the shortstop is often in fact a nasty, hard-hit, erratically bouncing ball that the fielder must pick up cleanly, transfer to his throwing hand, and throw accurately and quickly 100-120 feet to get the runner out. Not easy.


Glen Tomkins 08.05.12 at 9:32 pm

The exclusion of golf from the Olympics is proof positive that the upper middle class white anglo male just can’t catch a break in this cold, cruel world of ours.


Salient 08.05.12 at 10:53 pm

As to Wallace’s description, I think it’s over the top.

I like to think he wrote the whole article specifically so that someone could make this pun at his expense. “In tennis, every serve is over the top!” Though I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t choose to contrast tennis with softball, so that we could also call the comparison ‘underhanded.’


JP Stormcrow 08.06.12 at 12:16 am

I guess the golfer is only the the Jew of modern Olympics Fascism, since Jews were the Jews of classic Olympics Fascism.


parsimon 08.06.12 at 2:10 am

Salient at 215: I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t choose to contrast tennis with softball, so that we could also call the comparison ‘underhanded.’

This made me laugh.


Jeff R. 08.06.12 at 5:05 pm

Isn’t golf coming in 2016? Our long international nightmare may soon be over…


j 08.06.12 at 5:54 pm

Gymnast or swimming training: Starts at age five (give or take)… continues with daily, dedicated, hours of training until reaching the skills, strength, precision and capabilities to achieve the chance to be an Olympian. Beach volleyball training: Begins, probably in late teens after days of keggers on the beach. Then “hey let’s play off our drunk with a pickup volleyball game”. Then, “hey, let’s become Olympians”. There is a marked difference between real Olympic sports and lower right and left quadrant sports such as Beach Volleyball. Anyone can play beach volleyball… no most likely not as well, yet most adults can hit the ball over the net-even when drunk. A select group of people around the world can do an exercise on the balance beam or uneven paralells. The rest of us can’t… even badly…. let alone at the skill level that the Olympic teams do.

Another big issue I have with tv coverage… camerawork. Extreme close ups, that last forever, well into a gymnast’s or diver’s event, so that you end up looking at their eyes, nose and lips (yes, that close) rather than seeing their entire form prepare for their routine, vault, dive or whatever. Winter games are the same, with ice skating the biggest offender. Note to cameraman/director: 99.9% of the time there is NEVER any reason to have extreme close ups …or any close ups… during an athlete’s performance. When the camera work insinuates itself into the actual event, then you end up wondering why you’re not being allowed to watch the event. Instead, you’re watching some camera guy or director’s idea of creativity. What they’re doing is putting their own egos above the material they’re supposed to be shooting, and most likely are totally clueless to what they’re doing. They just don’t get that it’s not about what they think is artistic… it’s about what the audience wants to see.


Fred 08.07.12 at 12:34 am

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