I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics during the afternoons this past week and have found many of the sports to be awesome viewing. Team Handball is pretty exciting and looks like something we should have rec leagues for at every Y in the US. Rugby 7s was intense and awesome….I don’t know how much I’d suggest people play it, but it was really cool to see. I wish I had a cycling track nearby because that looks like something I could really get into personally.
With the running group on Saturday morning, all the talk was about Katie Ledecky and her 800m performance. After a while, though, folks started getting into their opinions about these smaller sports and how they thought they were stupid to have them. After thinking on it for a while, I have come to realize that basically ALL of the Olympic sports are niche sports, with just some major following somewhere in the world. The only real exception to this is soccer, as basketball is still a US thing. I don’t care if a dozen or so European players are in the NBA now.
In the US, we have really good programs run through our school system, for the stuff we’re decent at. Track, swimming, golf, tennis, etc. That doesn’t mean we’re the best at those because of our high school athletics programs, but they certainly help build a few life-long fans here. Even with that, though, those four sports really are niche events. Our main sports are either not in the Olympics or we really do dominate: American football, baseball, and basketball. Aside from every fourth year, I can’t name then US swimming, track, or gymnastics champions. The same is true in the Winter Olympics, where our most popular sport is ice hockey and it gets basically 0 national TV coverage.
With that in mind, I’m glad the Olympics are full of the smaller sports. It gives those athletes (who really are elite athletes at the same levels as Lebron James and JJ Watt) something to aim for. I wouldn’t even mind if the Olympics dropped basketball and soccer from the Games. We already know where the best of the best play regularly and can watch them during their regular seasons. Hell, soccer has the World Cup, which is actually bigger than the Olympics for them anyway. There are people here who probably would turn the dial to something else, but from what I can tell, NBC is primarily showing swimming, gymnastics, and track anyway. I’m not sure the US ratings would really be affected.
Bring on the equestrian, judo, badminton, archery, and team handball. These athletes deserve a chance to shine.