Olympic dreams: Part 1

I love watching the Olympics.  Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by all of the countries and flags, the stats and record-keeping, and the amazing variety of events.  At a time when there’s a lot of negativity and stress in the news, it’s inspiring to see what people all over the world can do when they devote their time and energy to becoming the best at something they love.

It must be an amazing experience to win an Olympic gold medal and realize that all of your hard work has paid off.  Ordinarily I’d say that I have no idea what that’s like, because I’m not athletically gifted at all, but actually, I sort of do in a strange way.  When I was living alone working on my master’s degree in Texas, I watched a lot of the 2006 Torino winter Olympics, and I had an incredible dream one night.

I dreamed that I was being awarded a medal in the Olympics!  The ceremony was just like what I had seen on TV, outdoors in the snow near the Olympic torch.  Usually when I have a dream that’s clear enough to remember, it’s because I become aware that I’m dreaming (and that wakes me up).  But this dream felt real.  I woke up with a smile on my face, because I felt like I had actually experienced winning an Olympic medal.  Strange, I know.

One thing that was never clear in my dream was what event I had competed in.  I think that if I had tried to figure that out, I would have realized I was dreaming, because the impossibility of the scenario would have become too obvious.  😉

I still think of that dream every time the Olympics come around.  During this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been changing channels like crazy, trying to see as many different events as possible.  The morning I started this post, I watched eight different events over the course of three hours.  It gave me the idea for a blog post.

This will be a ranking based on a simple question:  Which Olympic events could I most and least imagine myself doing?  This isn’t an attempt to rank them by how hard I think they are, or how good I think I would be at them– in some cases it’s just a personal opinion about how interesting I find them, or whether I have any experience with them.  I just thought it would be an interesting question to consider, and besides, I love ranking things even if it doesn’t make much sense to.  Also, I’m using the list of events at the Rio Olympics even though my dream was about the winter games.  Maybe I’ll do one for the winter sports in two years.

So, anyway, let’s start with the events I have the hardest time imagining myself ever doing, even in a dream:

41.  Race-walking

Did you know that walking has been an Olympic event since 1932?  (Actually, it made its first appearance in the Olympics in 1912.)  And even though I probably have more experience walking than I do with any other Olympic skill, competitive walking is a very different thing that I just can’t imagine myself wanting to do.  It requires great athletic conditioning in addition to constant self-control, because the goal is to go as fast as possible without breaking into a run!

What’s the difference between running and walking fast?  According to the rules, the walker must keep at least one foot in contact with the ground at all times, and the supporting leg must remain straight until the raised leg passes it.  Try to see how fast you can move without breaking your stride– it’s difficult!  But the best race-walkers are able to travel up to 8 miles per hour (a normal walking pace is about 3 mph; people commonly jog at 5-6 mph).

Walking that fast is not a method of locomotion that comes naturally; it’s an unusual-looking stride– and from what glimpses of race-walking I’ve seen, it looks painful!  There are two race-walking events at the Olympics, the 20k and the 50k.  That last one is longer than a marathon!  (42.195 km)  So you have all the hardships of a long run– out on the road in the hot sun, but with the additional challenge of having judges follow you in order to make sure you don’t commit an infraction by bending your plant leg or having both feet off the ground for a split second.

If a competitor is charged with three infractions, they are disqualified.  This can happen at any point in the race.  In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australian athlete Jane Saville was leading the race and within sight of the finish line (in front of her home fans) when she was charged with her third violation and lost her chance at a gold medal!

So while I think race-walkers deserve a lot more credit than they get for being tough, disciplined athletes, winning the 50k race-walk has never been a part of my Olympic dreams.  : )

40.  Wrestling

Wrestling is a great strategic sport, often exciting and fun to watch.  But as a person who
hates to feel crowded and has a strong sense of personal space, it’s definitely not a good fit with my personality!

39.  Marathon

A marathon is a run 26 miles and 385 yards long, based on a Greek legend in which the messenger Pheidippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to deliver the report that the Greeks had defeated the Persians.  It’s one of the classic events that has been a part of every Olympics from the beginning.

My brother and my Dad have run a marathon, and I’m really proud of them!  It didn’t make me want to give it a try, though.  It makes me think of blistered feet pounding the pavement in the hot sun, thirst, and aching muscles.  Often, marathon paths are planned to go past a city’s most famous landmarks, but from my point of view, the scenery wouldn’t be changing quickly enough.

38.  Swim Marathon

You can probably tell I don’t picture myself as an endurance athlete!  : )  I had a hard time deciding whether I’d rather try to run a marathon or swim 10 kilometers.  I suppose it’s probably more dangerous to get exhausted swimming in open water than on dry land, but I enjoy swimming more than running.  Also, if I were running a marathon, I think most of the time I’d be wishing I could jump into some cold water!

37.  Water Polo

Water polo is a bit like soccer (well, actually closer to handball) played in a swimming pool.
It’s fast-paced and physical.  The thing that amazes me is that the pool is too deep for the players to touch the bottom and keep their heads above water, so they basically have to tread water for the entire duration of four 8-minute periods.

That alone takes a great deal of endurance; now imagine that you have to do it with a defender guarding you like a defensive back in football or a defender in basketball– he’s not allowed to just pull you under the water, but he is allowed to lean on you and get in your way.  I saw a joke that gave funny names to the Olympic event symbols, and the one for water polo was “competitive drowning.”  I actually think that might close to the truth for some matches!

No matter what the sport, not every foul that’s committed gets called, and that goes extra for action that takes place beneath the water’s surface.

36.  Weightlifting

I have bench-pressed some weights before for exercise.  But the weightlifters in the Olympics could lift me along with all my weights and the exercise bench, and that would just be a warm-up!  : )

35.  Boxing

Another strategic, physical sport.  I would only be okay with it if there wasn’t a chance I might get hit.  ; )

34.  Triathlon

You can probably guess that this wouldn’t rank high on my list when the long-distance run and swim have already appeared.  If you’re running and swimming a long distance, why not add a long bike race, and do all three on the same day?  I can certainly understand why they call one of the world’s longest triathlons the Iron Man/Iron Woman event.  Even though an Olympic triathlon isn’t that long, I’m in awe of anyone who completes a triathlon of any length (including my sister-in-law)!

33.  Basketball

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big fan of basketball.  Basketball players are outstanding athletes, to be sure– but I get tired just watching them run back and forth.  Also, I’m short.

32.  Decathlon

The winner of the Olympic decathlon (and the heptathlon in the women’s competition) is one of world’s greatest all-around athletes.  I might enjoy giving some of the events a try just one time (the field events more than the track ones), but I sure can’t picture myself being very successful at them.

31.  Rowing

Olympic rowing is a strange paradox– I find it very peaceful watching the crews and their boats glide so smoothly through the water on a beautiful, clear day.  But for the rowers themselves, it must be nonstop toil.  Either way, it’s an impressive event.


Which Olympic sports look the most and least fun to you?  Check back later for more of my list.

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