Originally published in the Batesville Daily Guard:
August 10, 2016
It’s time for the Olympics again and thank goodness they’re in the western hemisphere this time. Unlike Beijing, London and Athens, those of us in the States can actually see these games live instead of at 3 a.m. in the morning or on a taped replay.
Sure, most of the sports aren’t necessarily the sort that appeal to “fans.” After all, I don’t know of any country where archery or fencing are sports that millions, or even thousands, of people tune into or fill up stadiums to watch, aside from the parents of the participants.
Now, there are several sports that have rather large fan bases like basketball, soccer and boxing. But two out of three of those sports lack the pros that draw the eyeballs to the screen.
And while baseball makes a return in 2020 during the Tokyo games, it will be rather limited and probably not have the presence of the professional players either.
Soccer, which is the most popular sport in the world, is restricted to having all but three players on a team be 23 or younger. This only allows spots for a few pros, the rest being filled by amateurs.
The lack of professional players isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve seen stars rise from the Olympic ranks before. Arkansas’ rather troubled son, Jermaine Taylor, is an example of someone who made their name at the Olympics and would go on to success as a pro boxer.
Of course, baseball and soccer already have their own global events, the World Classic and FIFA World Cup.
As far as basketball goes, this is its world event and Team USA shines every time. From the “Dream Team” first forming when the door was open for professional players in 1992 to accumulating five gold medals out of the last six Olympics. This year it looks like they’re well on their way to getting six out of seven.
But I digress, this is about the Olympics. This is sports for everybody.
It’s full of sports that we would probably never watch. Examples of this include handball, water polo and field hockey. Others are just kind of odd, like walking, trampolining and the equestrian events, which I’m still not sure how they actually fit in as an olympic sport (but they do make for some interesting pageantry). A few of them are games that many of us play in our basements, if we have them, and during family get-togethers, like table tennis and badminton.
Of course, there’s also some big names people are tuning in to see. You got the NBA players not only representing the US, but also the teams of their home countries. You got probably the most famous figure in American women’s team sports, Hope Solo, playing for the U.S. women’s soccer team. You also have Gabby Douglas, the teen gymnast who stole America’s hearts in 2012, returning to capture more gold now finding herself out of contention for a medal because of the “two per country” rule.
But, probably most of all, people are tuning in to see swimmer Michael Phelps, the winningest Olympian ever. Millions probably tuned into the opening ceremonies just to see him carrying the American flag. It was the first time he’s taken part in the opening ceremonies and it is also his last Olympics. As of the time of this writing, he’s collected his 18th gold medal and is probably on his way to winning more. It’s hard to imagine that 31 is retiring age, but for an athlete at that level he’s already a senior citizen.
But the special thing about the Olympics is that from air gun shooting to the triathlon, we care about them all.
With this week and next, we can expect new faces to capture our hearts. That’s part of the appeal of the Olympics. While professional sports fans may dismiss it, the rest of us tune in, cheering on our countrymen on a larger stage. A stage where unlike politics, economics and sociologically, we can actually prove we’re the best at something — on a level playing field to boot.