It all starts today. The countless millions of dollars spent. The endless hours of preparation. The controversy. The agony. The heartbreak. The dreams dashed and granted. They all climax today as the whole world watches.
Yes, today, Friday, July 27, THE WATCH starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill opens nationwide! Whoo-hoo!
Oh, yeah, the Olympics start, too.
If all that international running, jumping, tumbling and breast-stroking seems pale compared to Ben, Vince and Jonah fighting aliens in the suburbs, it’s because the Olympic Games have, over time, shed some of their most challenging events. Like McDonald’s ignominiously dropping the McPizza from its menu, Pepsico pulling Crystal Pepsi from supermarket shelves or Steve Jobs chucking the Apple Newton as part of his cold, corporate obsession with satisfying the marketplace’s lowest common denominator, the Olympics have sacrificed their most electrifying contests to serve the insatiable gods of TV ratings. And we are all poorer for it.
But gone is not necessarily forgotten. Here are 10 lost Olympic events we can only hope the IOC has the good sense to return to their rightful place on the Olympic roster:
1. Tug-of-War – What game is more universally understood or appreciated than two groups of guys pulling on a rope trying to pull their opponents into a pit of mud? Last seen as an Olympic event in 1920, Tug-of-War is all about brute strength, teamwork and the occasional torn arm or missing finger, which are always crowd-pleasers. Plus it has the added attribute as being a not-so-subtle metaphor for WAR (It’s in the name, for crying out loud), something that the Olympics themselves obviously represent. How can you get more meta than that?
2. Baseball. Now, come on. Who the hell even plays baseball besides the United States, Canada, Japan, Cuba and the Dominican Republic? This should have been a slam-dunk for the USA. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor.) But because the Summer Olympics just happen to take place during the SUMMER when real MLB players are working, we could never put together a team worth watching. And without Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, the IOC sent the whole sport to the penalty box. (There I go again.) It’s time to bring back baseball. And if you have to, move to Summer Olympics to November.
3. Architecture. Yes, dear reader, the Olympic Games originally included arts competitions. From 1912 until 1948, Architecture was an Olympic event. Things got a bit confusing in 1928 when Town Planning was created as a separate category. Would an outdoor shopping mall qualify as Architecture or Town Planning? No wonder the category became controversial. So why was Architecture ultimately banished? 1948 was the first year America had commercial network television, and perhaps it was already obvious architecture made for piss poor TV. As opposed to…
4. Literature. Now here’s an Olympic event audiences could sink their teeth into. The only rules were that works could not be more than 20,000 words, could be written in any language as long as accompanied by an English or French translation, and the subject had to be sports. In 1924 there was only one Literature category, but in 1928 the IOC doubled-down — or should I say tripled-down — and created three Literature categories: Dramatic, Epic and Lyric Poem. (What, no limericks?) Curiously, there was no Gold medal awarded for Dramatic Literature that year, but Italy’s Lauro de Bosios won the Silver for his unforgettable “Icarus.” And there was no bronze. Now I ask you, how can a category’s only winner come in second? No wonder they cancelled the competition.
5. Live Pigeon Shooting. The 1900 Paris Games featured the first the only appearance of Live Pigeon Shooting as an Olympic event. In all, more than 300 of the winged rats were slaughtered in a glorious cavalcade of hot lead and bloody feathers. Animal rights activists were not amused. (Apparently there were animal rights activists in 1900. Go figure.) Now Olympians only shoot skeet. And Paris is overrun with pigeons. Coincidence? I think not!
6. Swimming Obstacle Course. Another wonderful event from the 1900 Paris Games. Along a 200-meter course, swimmers had to 1) Climb a pole sticking out of the water, 2) Clamor over some boats and 3) Swim under a second row of boats while fighting the current. All of this was done in the River Seine that, in the year 1900, was pretty much an open sewer, giving the participants a whole other category of obstacles to avoid, including cholera and dysentery.
7. Dueling Pistols. Contestants were awarded five points for a throat shot, three points for hitting the head or groin, and two points for blowing off a knee cap. No, they didn’t shoot at each other. They shot at plaster dummies. Pity.
8. Chess. Chess has not been an Olympic sport. Yet. In 1924, supporters almost got Chess into the Paris Games, but the IOC realized they couldn’t easily distinguish between amateur chess players and professional chess players. (There are professional chess players?) Good news, chess-heads! In 1999, the IOC officially recognized Chess as an Olympic-level event and has been working tirelessly ever since to find a way to squeeze it in between Synchronized Swimming and Golf.
9. Jeu de Paume. It’s an ancient French game that’s like tennis but without the rackets. You hit the ball with your hand. Or what amounts to a ping-pong paddle. It was an exhibition sport in 1900 and made an official Olympic event in 1908. Because people just like saying “Jeu de Paume.”
10. Roque. This was an Americanized version of croquet. It was played at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis. Because Americans were the only ones who knew the rules, we toasted the competition. The IOC realized the game only existed to boost the USA’s medal count, so they removed it the next year. Which is why we need to bring back Baseball. In November.
Enjoy the XXX Olympics. (Follow them on Olympics.XXX.) And have a great weekend!