Olympic dreams: Part 4

Now it’s time for me to give you the ten summer Olympic events I can most easily imagine myself doing, whether that’s because I have some experience with them, because I think they fit my personality, or just because I think they might be fun.


10.  Sailing

I love to watch the sailing competitions.  Boy, do they look like fun.  Cutting through the water on a clear day, leaning out over the side of the small craft to steer it, using your weight to angle the sail and catch the wind just right.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about operating a boat– it’s complex enough keeping track of where you are going in a motorboat, let alone a tiny sail craft that will capsize if you lean too far.  So I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to learn.

I’d have to start out by asking my girlfriend Megan to give me some lessons in how to pilot a boat– she at least has some experience in the area, even if it wasn’t as tiny a boat as the craft they race in the Olympics.  And that sounds like fun.  : )

9.  Modern Pentathlon

The modern pentathlon intrigues me because of its quirkiness.  It was introduced in 1912 by the founder of the modern Olympics as a parallel to the ancient Greek pentathlon, which consisted of running, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin, and the discus.  Those five events were considered to be a test of the skills needed to be the ideal ancient Greek soldier.

Similarly, the modern pentathlon is based on the skills needed by a 19th-century cavalry soldier caught behind enemy lines.  Its five events are

  • 200 meter freestyle swimming
  • fencing
  • equestrian show jumping
  • shooting
  • 3200 meter cross-country run

That’s a really wide range of skills!  The Rio Olympics might have been the first time I got to watch some footage of the modern pentathlon competition.  The most interesting thing is that the final two events are combined, with a target-shooting station for the runners to go to along each lap of the running course.  The guns shoot lasers at sensors in the target, so they don’t make any noise or pose a safety hazard.  (I think it doesn’t make it quite as true a test, though, when the gun has no recoil, or “kick,” to adjust to.)

Most of these events actually rank in the upper half of my list– the one I’d be the least enthusiastic about would be the running, but since you do that last, I think I’d be a little more motivated to finish it if I made it through the first three events.

Overall, I just think the modern pentathlon has an interesting history– it might be the only event that was created specifically for the Olympics.

8.  Shooting

My Dad used to take me to the shooting range to shoot at targets with my rifle.  He patiently helped me hold, aim, and fire the gun properly, and get used to the “kick” it gave me, as well as using ear protection against the noise.

After the gun was empty and the safety engaged, we would go over to the target and see where the bullet holes were clustered.  It was a matter of gradually adjusting the site in order to get the aim centered, and steadying my aim to make the cluster of holes smaller.

I enjoyed spending that time with my Dad.  I could picture myself competing in one of the rifle events.  I think one big challenge would be adopting a different posture– when Dad took me shooting, I think I usually had the rifle resting on a surface about the height of a table, so I wasn’t supporting its entire weight.  In the Olympics, athletes either stand or lie on the ground to shoot.

One event I wish I had gotten to see during this year’s Olympics was the skeet and trap shooting.  That’s something my girlfriend Megan has done in the past.  (The closest I’ve come is playing Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo!)

7.  Track cycling

The moment I saw the indoor cycling track on television, with its angled sides, it made me want to try riding my bike around it.  The track cycling events remind me a bit of rollerskating at a rink, which is another thing I really enjoyed when I was a kid.

There’s so much strategy involved in a race– the shortest path is on the inside of the track, but that’s also the most crowded place to be.  In order to pass, riders have to increase their speed and choose an angle up the incline that will bring them back down in front of the pack.

The events are really clever and exciting, too.  My favorite to watch was the elimination race, which began with 18 riders.  Every other lap, a bell would ring, and then whoever crossed the finish line in last place would have to leave the race.  The field kept narrowing until there were only two riders left.

I know in real life, I wouldn’t handle a crash very well.  (I don’t know if track racing bikes even have brakes!)  But as long as I remained upright, it looks like it would be fun to try.

6.  Table tennis

My family had a ping-pong table set up in the basement when we lived in Pennsylvania.  I had a lot of fun playing games against my Dad and my two younger brothers.

Table tennis (well, we always called it “ping-pong”) is a creative game, in that it doesn’t require very much space, or the ability to run very far or fast just to be competitive on a casual level– it’s more about coordination and reflexes.  I was never great at it, but still, it was a sport I could pick up and play– I even played a little ping-pong during my freshman and sophomore years at Cedarville when there was a table in the basement of my dormitory.

The Olympic athletes are at their own level, though.  I often find it hard to tell which player scored apart from their reactions, because the ball moves too fast for me to keep track of.  It’s particularly impressive when the players end up running all over the room returning shots that go far away from the table.

5.  Equestrian

When I was in elementary school, I went with my best friend Ryan to a Christian camp in Pennsylvania that was located at a ranch with horses.  Even though I have some negative memories of interactions with some of the people there, I absolutely loved two things about going there– one was getting to spend more time with Ryan, and the other was getting to ride the horses.  I would never have gotten to do that if Ryan hadn’t invited me to go along with him.

We got to take the horses for a ride along a trail.  I learned how to tell the horse to start walking with a gentle kick from my heels, and I learned how to guide it with the reins.  I learned my horse’s name, and I talked to it as we moved along the trail.  I witnessed how important repetition is to the training of a horse, when I noticed that it sped up every time it got to a particular section of the trail, simply because someone had told the horse to go fast on that part when it was first learning the path.

Not knowing what additional class to sign up for, I took a course in “vaulting,” which is sort of like gymnastics on horseback.  (Don’t be impressed; the only “trick” they let me do on the horse was riding with my arms outstretched in a “T” shape.)

I really liked getting to watch the equestrian events in the Olympics.  The horse and rider have to both be confident they know what they are doing and communicate clearly in order to navigate a course with a lot of turns and jumps.  Sometimes the rider has to anticipate that the horse isn’t approaching a jump properly and either make a quick correction or steer it away so it won’t hurt itself.

The only really silly part is the eventing competition, where the horse has to do an exaggerated prance along with music; I don’t think the horse realizes how ridiculous it looks when it does that.

4.  Bicycle motocross

The name of this event is a bit confusing, but as I understand it, motocross was originally a competition for motorcycles, hence the “moto” part of the name.  It features a lot of jumps over hills and ramps.

Bicycle motocross (or BMX) is the same sort of competition, but with ordinary bicycles.  Riders first race around the course one at a time on their own, and that determines how they are seeded for the elimination rounds, in which they race eight at a time and the best four advance to the next round.

Just like with the indoor racetrack, the BMX course looks like it would a huge amount of fun to ride on.  The big challenge is that you will spend only about half the time with your wheels touching the ground.  The rest of the time, you and your bike will be flying through the air, so you had better plan your angle of takeoff carefully, because there’s no way to change where you will go once you’re airborne.  Then you also have to deal with what the other bikers do and try to avoid collisions.

It would take a lot of practice to learn a good approach to the course, but it really looks fun to me.

3.  Badminton

I used to play badminton with my brothers and some of our neighbors when we went to our cabin beside Penn’s Creek.  I found it easier to make contact with the racquet than in tennis, but harder than in ping-pong.

The thing I really liked about badminton, though, was that it wasn’t all about power or speed.  If you hit the birdie as hard as you can, you’ll find that it usually does a nosedive and doesn’t make it to the net, because the air rushes through the little holes between the feathers.  It will actually travel farther if you hit it in a gentle, slower arc.

This complexity makes it an interesting puzzle to figure out how to make a shot that lands in the opponent’s court while misleading them about where it’s headed.  I think it also makes the sport more accessible, since it isn’t just about pure strength.

I would need to work a lot more on actually hitting the birdie in the first place before I would be able to use any sort of strategy, but I could really picture myself enjoying badminton a lot if I learned to do that.

2.  Slalom kayaking

I didn’t include sprint canoeing/kayaking in my list because I forgot it was a different event from rowing.  But I would rank it about the same.

The slalom, on the other hand, looks like it would be really neat to participate in, especially the single-person kayak event.

Another thing I used to do with my Dad and brothers at Penn’s Creek was kayak down the creek.  Mom would drop us off a couple of miles upstream, and we would paddle back to our cabin.  It was a lot of fun!  The creek presented a lot of natural obstacles, and places where the speed of the current increased sharply as the water flowed between rocks.  It wasn’t whitewater kayaking, but it held a lot of variety as we learned to paddle both with and against the current.

That’s what the slalom event at the Olympics is about, too.  You have to control the kayak along a course of rushing water and maneuver between poles.  You have to pass through the green gates while going downstream, and the red gates while going upstream.  And the goal is to make it through all the gates in the fastest time.

This event would definitely be a workout, but it would be really fun to be able to do a course like that.

1.  Archery

And my number one choice, the event I feel like I could most easily imagine myself doing, is archery.  When we lived in Pennsylvania, we had a set of archery targets in the woods of our backyard pinned to some bales of hay under a small shelter to keep them dry, with stakes in the ground from one end of the woods to the other to mark the number of yards away from the target.

I had a simple red plastic bow, and Dad showed me how to string it, and how to aim and release arrows.  I loved the brightly colored plastic tips and feathers.  In fact, I brought my bow to camp with me when Ryan invited me, and archery was one of the other events I participated in.

The archery competitions are very interesting to watch– they pit pairs of archers against each other head-to-head in a bracket of 64 competitors.  The difference between advancing and being eliminated often comes down to scoring a 10 instead of a 9 with a single arrow.  It’s exciting.

What the cameras can’t really convey is how far away the athletes are from the targets.  They are 70 meters away!  The farthest marker we had in our backyard was 50 yards, and only my Dad ever shot from there.  I think 70 meters would have put us across the street.

So I’m definitely not saying that I think I could compete with the best archers in the world.  But I enjoyed archery enough that it’s fun to dream about.  : )


Anyway, thanks for reading this series of posts.  It was fun dreaming about receiving an Olympic medal, and it was fun putting together this list.  I’m actually surprised to look back and see all of the various sports I have a bit of experience with, and even several I really enjoyed, despite never considering myself athletic in any way.

How about you, readers?  Do you ever imagine what it would be like to compete in an Olympic event?  Which ones would be at the top of your list?

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