If tennis, why not golf?
The debate begins with the anthem. In four days, the greatest event of them all, the Summer Olympics, will open. Someone will run into Sydney with a torch, and before you know it, we'll use it to fire up the old arguments about sports and the Olympics.
Which ones belong?
Which ones don't?
And which ones, frankly, look kind of silly?
It happens all the time, but especially about the Olympics. We see this buffet of events, and suddenly we are debating the merits of rhythmic gymnastics vs. chain saw juggling, arguing how it takes an athlete to perform in this event whereas your Uncle Charlie, the one with soup stains on his socks, could compete in that one.
Take tennis and golf. In the world of sports, you pretty much find the two at the same country club. So ask yourself: Doesn't Tiger Woods deserve the same opportunity to decline the Olympics as Pete Sampras? Shouldn't he, too, get to say no thanks, he's got better things to do and, frankly, it's a heck of a long way from his house?
If synchronized swimming, why not cheerleading?
What is a sport, really? Ah, it's a competition. But so is a spelling bee. Ah, it has a scoreboard. No, gymnastics doesn't. Ah, it has a winner and a loser. A court case has that, too.
That's the problem here. The target is a moving one. Remember this: A pie-eating contest is a sport to a pie eater. Who, frankly, thinks Boston cream should be an Olympic event.
That's how you explain rhythmic gymnastics (or as some call it, "fun with ribbons") and synchronized swimming.
Okay, okay. Both endeavors are very, very difficult. There is a segment of the population (or as some call its members "fun-with-ribbons lovers") that takes great umbrage whenever the legitimacy of its sport is challenged. "Oh, yeah?" the segment members bristle. "Can you do it? It's very hard." And they're right.
Granted, if most of us tried to do synchronized swimming, the entire cast of Baywatch would be needed to drag us out of the pool. Synchronized swimming is very, very hard.
But you know what? So is landing a 757. So is putting out a fire. So is playing Beethoven's Fifth. Difficulty does not make it a sport, even though it should be pointed out that, frankly, synchronized firefighting is a lovely thing.
Put it this way: I have great admiration for ballet dancers. What they do is very athletic, very demanding. But ballet isn't sport. That doesn't make it less. It just makes it different.
If yachts, why not cars?
Dale Jarrett, Olympian. Can you picture it? And why not? If racing a boat is an Olympic endeavor, why isn't driving a car?
You can bet on this. Somewhere there is a NASCAR fan who would love to see Rusty Wallace on the medal podium. Somewhere there is a fan who is dumbfounded no one has thought of it yet.
Fans of every sport want to see their sport in the Olympics. Emmitt Smith once said he'd love it if football were an Olympic sport. If you love bowling or dart throwing or shuffleboard, you'd like to see it in the Olympics, too.
If archery, why not darts? If race walking, why not skateboarding? If high-bar gymnastics, why not trapeze? If platform diving, why not pearl diving? If table tennis, why not billiards? If rifle shooting, why not team laser tag? If ballroom dancing, why not the Peppermint Twist? If trampoline, why not bungee jumping?
In other words, where do you draw the line?
Some say you don't draw it anywhere, that anyone, and anything, should qualify. Those are the people who would invite the rodeo, the jugglers, the mountain climbers, the chess players, the trivia nuts. Hey, NBC has hours to fill!
Me? My line is a little firmer in the dirt.
First, I eliminate the shooting competitions. (I pause so Charlton Heston may spit upon my picture). Yeah, yeah, yeah. Shooting is precise; it takes great skill. Historically, however, the Olympics were a time soldiers put down their weapons. Besides, seeing a 55-year-old man punch out targets isn't my definition of great athleticism.
I move basketball to the Winter Games. I reschedule the sailing. I give the horses some time to rest, except for the pommel. I streamline the Games. Then I duck, because the shooters, the sailors and the riders are going to be irked.
But in the end, I keep rhythmic gymnastics.
I mean, synchronized swimmers have to have something to make fun of.