Badminton! Dressage! Fencing! In Praise of Weird Olympic Sports

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What's the best part of the Games? The obscure sports that get the spotlight only every four years.

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about the London Games.


Hey, guys,

You can argue ad nauseum about what the best sporting event in the world is. The World Series, March Madness, the Super Bowl, the World Cup—they all have their arguments. For me, though, everything pales in comparison to the oldest, grandest spectacle in sports: the Summer Olympics.

The Games of the 30th Olympiad kick off today in London with what is certain to be a gaudy opening ceremony. Once the pageantry is out of the way, sporting events few think about outside of the Olympics become global storylines and we get flooded with a veritable orgy of sport. Like big-name headlines? There's Michael Phelps looking to pad his record of 14 gold medals, with Ryan Lochte poised to replace him as the Best Swimmer in the World Today. Usain Bolt and his gazelle-like stride are back too, with Bolt looking to defend his crown in the 100- and 200-meter dash (and maybe break a world record or two along the way).

The team sports are equally enticing, with the U.S. men's and women's hoops teams favored to repeat as gold medal winners. And who could forget tennis, which will be played on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon and feature Andy Murray trying to win gold for the host country.

Me, I like the sports and athletes that come upon us all at once every four years, produce a lifelong memory or two, and fade back into relative obscurity just as quickly. Take long-distance swimmer Alex Meyer, who will compete in the most grueling event you've never heard of, the 10K swim marathon. The American lost his friend and training partner, Fran Crippen, in 2010 when Crippen drowned near the end of an even more ridiculous 25K swim race. Meyer is a legitimate threat to medal in the 10K event and will be swimming for his fallen friend as well as himself. It's those stories—dozens of which emerge every Games—that make the Olympics a joy to behold.

What will you be watching for in London, Patrick?

–Jake

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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