The Olympics, near and dear to my heart, already seem like a pleasant memory. I’ve compiled here a list of ten of my favorite events from the Summer Games. In truth I’d be hard pressed to come up with ten Olympic sports I don’t enjoy, so plenty of my favorites (Handball, Water Polo) have been left off.
I love tennis, post about it frequently, but it wasn’t that popular at the Olympics until 2004, dropping it to last on this week’s top 10. However in 2008 when Rafael Nadal, the absolute dominant player on tour, won gold (as well as Federer winning gold in doubles) tennis was suddenly a very legitimate Olympic contest. The 2012 Games upped the ante big time with Andy Murray winning gold (and silver) in front of his home crowd, one of the most magical moments of this year’s Olympics.
9. Team Archery.
An event that lasts only half a day, this year’s Men’s Team Archery final saw a young, overachieving American squad fall one point short of a gold in a thrilling showdown with a veteran Italian team. In London, it seemed, there was always something amazing happening at one storied venue or another, and if you blinked, Archery might have slipped your gaze.
Fencing has the most dramatic stage of all the Games, a narrow catwalk shrouded in darkness (called a piste) where combatants have nowhere to face except forward. With the stakes so high, fencing is a sport that (perhaps surprisingly) embraces excessive gamesmanship, as contestants thrust their fist, screaming in ecstasy after after score. How can you not love fencing?
This year’s edition of badminton at the Summer Olympics was clouded by the “scandal” in women’s doubles, which saw half the quarterfinal field disqualified. The event as a whole was as delirious as ever, as underground a sport as you get in American culture. The quickest of all racket sports, badminton will always have a place in my heart. A fascinating, cerebral game where power, speed, accuracy and tactics are all paramount to winning a single point.
6. Rhythmic Gymnastics.
My knowledge of rhythmic gymnastics, until these 2012 Games, extended as far as the Lizzie McGuire episode I saw as a child in which Hillary Duff takes up ribbons. Not the best of impressions. This year, as the high from all the swimming finals cooled, I could not take my eyes off the screen as these girls (is there a boys competition?) are flexible as the human mind can imagine. More impressive than the contortionism, though, is the extreme timing these girls have perfected: gymnasts will hurl a rubber ball or a hoop forty feet in the air, back flip and writhe around on the mat, before springing to their feet at the perfect momentum, if not working the prop’s landing seamlessly into the routine. Jaw dropping stuff.
I have few words to describe track cycling, other than that the British crowd ate it up, and my best attempts at sussing out the “spirit” of the sport: contestants take a leisurely lap or two, “gauging” each other as they seem to have barely enough momentum to stay balanced, before bursting to Cheetah speeds in a final lap lasting about ten seconds or less. As an outsider, it’s hard to understand what’s going on there, so for intrigue alone Track Cycling lands the five spot.
The elite 4 kicks off with a splash. The medal rounds in swimming always seem come down to the touch, and if not it’s because someone shattered a world record, leaving the field in the dust. Either way you win.
Watching someone run a 4-minute mile lap after already running several miles shows exactly how finely tuned a human body can be.
2. Team Gymnastics.
If I have to choose, I’ll go with the vault (Maroney broke my heart), but it’s the women’s gymnastics team event that is rightfully one of the most popular events at the Summer Games. The amount of pressure heaped on the youngest athletes at the Olympics is immense, and to see routines executed to perfection is exhilarating, the very spirit of the Games.
1. Team Volleyball.
For raw athleticism, look no further. Epic comebacks? Got ’em. Some–er–nifty outfits? Yes m’am.
Indoor team volleyball is THE event to watch at the Summer Games. I am counting the days to the 2016 event, and might even consider watching some non-Olympic volleyball….