Beckwith: Olympic oddity intrigue
February 20, 2018
The sounds and rhythms of the Olympics are different from any other sporting event. The announcers are a blend of golf and Gus Johnson during trick-related disciplines. At the beginning of a vault or dive or halfpipe run, they're reverent of the concentration involved, but once a feat in complete they lose their minds, shouting familiar yet meaningless terms.
"Here comes a double-cork 1280. … Followed by a switch triple 10. … Now can he land the double 1440 — OH MY! WHAT A RUN! Absolutely brilliant run."
Meanwhile, the color guy is just trying to match the analyst's enthusiasm for a bunch of spins and flip he may or may not be able to identify.
Podium presentations are always great for the obscure sports because the amount of tireless dedication for what really amounts to a borderline hobby/part-time job is finally rewarded on the world stage. Your national anthem plays, you get ranked according to platform height and receive a medal; it's the most exposure a Ping Pong player, high diver or water polo participant will likely ever receive.
I'm more of a Summer Olympics fan for NBA-related reasons but also due to the influx of random sporting events.
Winter has its share, including events such as doubles luge, curling, aerial ski jumping, ski long jump and the cross-country skiing assassin's course — because why else would you have a skiing/shooting skill set other than for a side gig as a professional hit man? Haven't you ever seen "For Your Eyes Only"? Come on, people. Also, curling may be losing its novelty because it's so strange that people are attracted to it, kind of like ugly pets.
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I've been weirdly fascinated with ski long jump and ski aerial this year. Long jump has a permanent spot on the obscure list for a couple of reasons. First, there are only seven jumps of its kind operating in the entire U.S., with an abandoned eighth jump in California, which sounds like an excellent setting for a "Scooby Doo" episode. The second reason is it's insane. Participants start their run sitting down on a bench at the top of the jump, and once you drop in there doesn't seem to be a bail out option. You have to commit to soaring over football fields. By the way, the record for the longest jump is 832 feet, which is about 2 1⁄3 football fields.
The aerial competition reminds me of the high dive but on skis. The spins and flips are so tightly wound and timed that there's no room for style a la the halfpipe and slopestyle bros. Also, the crashes are incredible.
As for doubles luge, the only thing comparable that I've done is probably let a friend ride on my bike's handlebars, and that lasted all of a block with a top speed of 5 miles an hour.
However, the Summer Games have the good stuff like badminton, water polo, table tennis, synchronized swimming, handball and trampoline. Canoe slalom was listed as an event and I was super amped until I saw that it's actually kayaks and not canoes. (I pictured a log flume ride but with canoes.)
Professional badminton is fantastic for many reasons, including an abundance of the word shuttlecock. If you've never watched professionals whip that "shuttlecock" at each other, the speed of the game will make your last backyard badminton look like an 8-year-old's basketball game. The same goes for table tennis, which is not Ping Pong. Ping Pong is a brand. You don't call tennis Wilson, do you? And that's my impression of a professional Ping Pong player who takes Ping Pong too seriously.
Handball and water polo might be my favorite summer events outside of basketball and swimming. What I've heard about water polo is it's one of the most physically taxing sports. My dad played (not professionally) and according to him, the underwater battles are ferocious with guys grabbing and pulling whatever they can get a hold of. My uncle Terrell's water polo stint was considerably shorter because he took the submerged battle above water and apparently punching is frowned upon.
I've never played handball but it looks fun. It comes across as soccer or hockey but with the ease of using your hands. Any time there are guys firing orbs at a goalie, I'm intrigued. I'd like to see a mutant mash up of handball and the world's fastest game, Jai-Alai. I could go into what that would look like but that's a subject for another column. (Note to self: Write mutant mash-up sports column.)
Synchronized swimming and trampoline remind me of two very funny movie/TV clips. The first on is the synchronized swimming scene from "Caddyshack," a staple of American cinema. And the other one is "The Simpsons" episode "Bart's Inner Child," where Homer responds to a newspaper ad for a free trampoline and proceeds to injure the entire local children population while charging for bounce time.
Now if only I had spent all that time playing badminton instead of basketball.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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