Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guide to Unfamiliar / Interesting Olympic Sports

John's Guide to Unfamiliar / Interesting Olympic Sports
People have told me that has been a while since I updated my blog. I guess I hadn’t noticed since I was so busy watching the Olympics. Any way since I’m sure I have been watching way more Olympics than you have I will be happy to fill you in on what I have learned.

1) Dressage
Do you like horses, riding horses, and watching horses prancing around in circles. Then this is the sport for you. Basically a horse rides around in a particular pattern prancing and walking at different times. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes and then another horse goes. I am not sure how many horses there are or if there are multiple rounds, but this goes on for several days. Fortunately, it is mostly relegated to the Oxygen channel “the lowliest of Olympic networks”. At the end medals are given out to the riders, and presumable some delicious horse treat is given to the horse.

You may think this seems incredibly boring and is not really worthy of being called a sport. You are correct. However, it is somewhat hypnotizing. After watching 3 or 4 hopefully your spouse will snap you out of it, and you can go back to beach volley ball.

And the Dressage Gold goes to: Some lady on a horse

2) Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball is the 2 person cousin of court volley ball. The big difference is bikinis, and ratings. Now the network feels obligated to also show a fair amount of men’s beach volley ball, but if you look at the schedule, when they want to reel in the viewers they always go for the girls jumping in bikinis. Fortunately, for NBC this is a lengthy tournament so they can put in on in prime time for at least 30 min a night.

Like most of the other sports invented in the US, the US is always in the running for the Gold, but apparently in some attempt to prevent the US from sweeping the volleyball medals every year Brazil has some sort of death match round robin tourney to produce some teams of their own. Anyway it has all come down to the final match in Women’s beach volley ball. It is the US vs. Brazil. The radar calls for rain in the afternoon, and you have to choose between the red bikini or the white bikini. This could have meant the game, but fortunately the US made the right choice w/ the white bikini.

And the Beach volleyball / wet T-shirt gold goes to: Walsh/May-Treanor

3) Trampoline

Hey remember when you were a kid and you went over to your friends huose with the trampoline with the exposed springs and the jagged lawn chair just within jumping distance. Well it turns out all of that pinched skin in rusty springs and canvas burns were all part of the buildup to the big event… Olympic Trampoline.

I know, I know, ever since I was a toddler being crushed by kids 5 times my size I knew I had a gift on the trampoline, and now it turns out I could be an Olympic champion. Well, It turns out that the Olympic trampoliners are much better than I ever imagined anyone could be. But on the other hand it still seems like a pretty standard trampoline, and with some practice and dedication, how hard could it be.

And the Trampoline Gold goes to: He Wenna?
Come on! How could some American kid not win this? It is like the American dream.

4) Trap Shooting
Ok, so this one only made it because I went trap shooting last week and thought I was doing pretty well for not having been in a couple years. This was a completely different sport.

When I went you would launch a couple of pigeons (clay, calm down) to see where they were going to go. Then you would point your gun there, tell one of your friends to launch another and shoot at it. It usually hangs in the air for a couple of seconds while you aim it up and pull the trigger. If you like shooting stuff, but not cleaning small animals I highly recommend it. So, it sounds pretty easy, but even with my skills I only got less than half of them.
Olympic trap shooting is nothing like that. First the pigeons always shoot out in some random direction, Second, they go fast. If you blink it is gone. Also they kind of explode when you hit them. I assume that is something the Chinese added (they love fireworks). Oh and the other big difference is that these guys are good. For instance the winner only missed 4 out of 125.

And the gold medal goes to David Kostelecky from the Czech Rep.
Surprisingly off all the shooting the US only got 1 Silver in air rifle (I did not see that one, but I assume it is like a bb gun, in which case I would be awesome). I assume this is the result of gun control laws, which clearly they do not have in Czech.

5) Sync Swimming / Diving
Ok the networks are calling for more sports with people in form fitting swimsuits. What are you going to do? The answer is clear. Take some of the swimsuit sports that you already have, add another person and call it Synchronized. It seems like that is pretty much the only difference in the diving. Now there is an extra person jumping off the high dive, and they get some extra points for looking the same (advantage China). Unfortunately, this made up a large bulk of the middle of the Olympic coverage. At some point you have to say, this is all very interesting and for some strange reason I am becoming an expert in judging diving, but isn’t there something else going on, and there is.

Unfortunately, it is Synchronized Swimming. This is pretty much just water ballet, but if they call it swimming so they can get medals for it. It is really one of the least interesting sports in the Olympics (right after Dressage), and like all the Olympic pseudo sports it is judged. So the results are entirely subjective (see rant below).

And the Gold medal for Sync Diving goes to: China
In fact China won all of the gold medals for diving except 1 (eat that Michael Phelps)
Sync Swimming surprisingly went to Russia [shrug]

So all in all it was a very informative Olympics. I learned a lot about new and interesting sports, and even felt compelled to prove myself on the badminton court recently. It is certainly an investment in time, particularly, with the broadcasts running live every night until 11:30 or 12. At one point Bob Costas was giving out “Olympic Hangover” tips, including drink lots of fluids and wear sunglasses to hide bloodshot eyes.

A few more observations before this gets long (tooooooooooo late)

If you have any of the Olympics taped you should defiantly go back and watch the men’s gymnastics again, only this time put “That’s what she said” after everything the announcers say.
“Oh, this next one is going to be really hard.”
“Now be sure to watch his hip angle on this insertion.”
“Wow, he really stuck it right in the mat.”
It goes on and on. (thats what she said)

We need to do something about these subjective sports. I think it is clear that as these sports become more and more competitive, that the margins of victory become slimmer and slimmer. Michael Phelps won one of his races by .01sec. Just to put that in perspective, for his 100m in 60 seconds that is about 1.6cm or 0.01%. How can we expect gymnastics or diving to be able to determine the winners and losers when even a margin of error of 5% (it is probably more) is 300 times as much as the potential difference in abilities.

Right: What diving scores should look like based on ability and fair judging.
Left: What diving scores actually look like
The typical data set for the smallest of surveys or statistical analysis is 100 data points. The typical data set for a diving or gymnastics score is 5-7. It is a statistical certainty that with 5-7 datum that over 100 or so contestants that at least one median score will fall outside of the first standard deviation. Even when you drop the extremes, It is a definite that some of the athletes got screwed and some were unfairly elevated. And that is just the math assuming that there is no bias by the judges (there is). Perhaps we should have hundreds of preselected judges around the world watching the events on their TVs and voting from home. 121M people elect the president, 1B elect the American Idol, why do only 5 elect the gymnastics champion.

On a sad note it seems like this may be the last year for softball and baseball., two sports that have been received very well in other countries. I am not sure why they IOC choose to remove these, but it seems foolish to take out a popular team sport, in favor of any of those listed above. It seems like unless you are wearing a swimsuit your sport will not receive much coverage. Maybe if women’s softball was played in bikinis it would have held a better chance of holding on as an Olympic sport.