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

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Jake,

It's easy to be cynical about the Olympics. The grandiose opening and closing ceremonies are always ridiculous. (I was there for the Salt Lake City Games; I saw KISS. I was there in Athens; I saw this. Trust me on the ridiculous part.) Despite the best efforts of diligent lab technicians and invasive urine collectors, doping remains as rampant as ever, the chemical cheaters forever two steps ahead of the drug testers. (Just ask Victor Conte, a man I've written about extensively). Oh, and the whole Olympic exercise perpetually reeks of financial corruption, political tone deafness, and Sports Welfare, the latter enriching already-wealthy interests while leaving the general public broke, exhausted and on the hook for a bunch of empty, decaying stadiums.

Of course, the Olympics have always been this way. And like you, Jake, I still I love the Summer Games.

The best thing about the Olympics is that they feature, well, the best. The speediest runners. The strongest weightlifters. The quickest, most powerful ping-pong—excuse me, table tennis—players on the planet. Back in Athens, I attempted to watch 14 different sports in a single day. In person. What struck me the most—beyond a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for the guy who invented the remote control—was realizing that I could go the rest of my life and never see as much excellence again. It's awe-inspiring to watch, say, a random water polo match and know the women in the pool are better at what they do than anybody you know has ever been at anything; it's jaw-dropping to watch Usain Bolt and understand that he's the single fastest human to ever grace the face of the Earth.

As such, I guess I'll be watching for everything. Like the ultra-fast, surprisingly-violent badminton matches that have as much in common with the familiar backyard version of the game as a slingshot does with a ballistic missile. Or the pole vault: Come for the perfectly-proportioned, statuesque physiques, stay for the occasionally spectacular wipeout! Or beach volleyball, always the Games' gold medalist in sheer venue fun. Or the five minutes in the main Olympic stadium before the men's 100 meter final, when the sprinters are stretching and strutting and preparing to uncoil, flashbulbs and cellphones lighting up the night—as far as I'm concerned, there's not a more exciting moment in sports.

Jake, the stories are great. I love stories. But when it comes to the Olympics, at least for me, the games are the thing.

Hampton, what are you looking forward to?

–Patrick

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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