Where to Get Your Weird-Sports Fix, Even Without the Olympics

Obscure competitions like table tennis and fencing are part of the joy of the Games. Here's how to keep the spirit going now.

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AP Images

The joys of Olympics-watching include, but are not limited to, judging the aesthetics of team uniforms, criticizing the host country's opening and closing ceremonies, and, of course, rooting for the athletes themselves. And while the standard fare of basketball and swimming is all well and good, half of the fun of the games is the delightful obscurities we're able to spectate. The massive popularity of curling, in the winter games, and archery, this summer, shows that sports often considered mere curiosities can have mass appeal. Would the Olympics be the same without the race walk, table tennis, or fencing? Of course not.

If the rules of these sports confound (who knew ping pong "racquets" must be at least 85 percent wood, or that the ribbon used in rhythmic gymnastics is 7 meters long?), the stories they produce are among the most compelling in the games. From shirt-shredding celebrations to gut-wrenching tears, the agony and ecstasy of the games is perhaps most clearly visible in these types of events.

So now that London 2012 has concluded, (and since Stars Earn Stripes is probably not the answer), where can fans turn to ease their withdrawal symptoms?

Starting August 20th, the World MTB Orienteering Championships is what happens when mountain biking is combined with Hunger Games-esque disorientation. Held in Veszprém, Hungary (the Hungarian "city of queens"), the competition will combine intense biking with navigation challenges (think maps and compasses). A disclaimer on the event website cautions, "Stones and thorns are abundant. Puncture protection is strongly recommended." Teams from China, Chinese Taipei, Romania, New Zealand, Turkey, and the U.S. plan to compete. However, because the event is unlikely to end up on ESPN, interested parties should check the orienteering website for coverage options.

If you're looking for something a bit more dangerous, Gaelic football might be the perfect remedy for your Olympics hangover. The game is based on caid, which is centuries old, and massively popular in Ireland. (London and New York have clubs as well.) It's a bit like soccer, a bit like rugby. To score teams kick the ball past a goalkeeper into a net, or kick or punch it over a crossbar. The All-Ireland Final is just around the corner in late-September, and 40,000 - 60,000 spectators typically turn out to watch cup games of the more popular squads. In the semi-final round Cork will play Donegal while defending champion Dublin faces off against Mayo.

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David Wescott is on the editorial staff at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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