Come hell or contaminated water, the 2016 Summer Olympics officially begin tomorrow night. Women’s soccer actually started yesterday, but less than 24 hours from now, the world will turn its eyes to Rio for some good, old-fashioned international sports competition. I freely admit that I’m an Olympics nut. Football and basketball dominate the sports landscape 24/7, 365 days a year, and because of that, I have a job that I love; however, for the next 17 days, the secondary sports will steal the spotlight, and there’s something really cool about that.
Between the games and the chaos in Rio, this will be the most “covered” Olympics in history. NBC is planning 6,700 hours of coverage, 1,200 more than the London Summer Olympics in 2012. Between 11 TV networks and a variety of streaming options, you’ll be able to watch just about any event you want to, in real time or on delay. That can be overwhelming, so I’m here to help with my ranking of the top ten Summer Olympic sports to watch. Considering these are my fingers typing these words, yes, this is a totally biased take, so feel free to share yours in the comments section.
Everyone has a soft spot for the sport they played growing up, and after a childhood in the pool, there’s no question swimming is at the top of my list. Not only is swimming one of the most exciting sports to watch on TV period, it features the Olympics’ biggest star: Michael Phelps. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 22 medals over three separate summer games. Phelps’ domination of the sport got a little old in London, but after his “retirement” and career reboot, I can’t wait to watch him compete next week. No matter your opinion of him, Phelps may be the best example we have of an athlete born to play their sport, and when he’s on his game, he’s unstoppable.
Phelps aside, there’s no sport more thrilling than swimming in the last fifteen meters, when the difference between gold, silver and bronze can be a thousandth of a second. Shoutout to UK senior Sean Gunn, who will represent Zimbabwe in the 100 meter freestyle on Tuesday. I’ll be riveted to each start, flip turn, and finish, probably to the point I’ll dig up my old cap and goggles and find the nearest lap pool.
2. Track and field
I love watching track and field for many of the same reasons I love watching swimming: when it comes down to the final stretch, there’s nothing more thrilling. The track events are obviously the most exciting, but I love watching field events like shot put, high jump, and discus, too. Although Kendra Harrison (100-meter hurdles) didn’t qualify for the Olympics, six current and former Cats will represent their countries in track and field:
- Andrew Evans, USA: Discus
- Leah Nugent, Jamaica: 400-meter hurdles
- Rondel Sorrillo, Trinidad and Tobago: Men’s 4×100 meter relay, men’s 200-meters and men’s 100-meters
- Mikel Thomas, Trinidad and Tobago: 110-meter hurdles
- Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, Puerto Rico: 100-meter hurdles
- Luis Orta, Venezuela: Marathon
3. Women’s Gymnastics
How can I tell if a man’s comfortable in his masculinity? If he freely admits he loves watching women’s gymnastics. Every four years, a pack of pint-sized women capture the hearts of America. I became a fan in 1992 after watching Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller in Barcelona, followed by the Magnificent Seven in Atlanta in 1996. Little Kerri Strug nailing that vault on an injured ankle to help her team win gold was an unforgettable moment, one that showed the sport’s haters that, even though gymnasts are small and more often than not covered in glitter, they’re tough as nails.
This year, we’ve got another spunky group to cheer for, spearheaded by Simone Biles, as dominant and magnetic a star as the sport’s ever seen, and that’s saying something.
4. Men’s Gymnastics
Whereas women’s gymnastics can often be about finesse and precision, men’s gymnastics is about pure strength. As someone who is still struggling to complete her first pull-up, I have the utmost respect for those that make it look easy. The men’s gymnastics events are probably the event in which I’ll say, “wow,” “that’s impressive,” “no way,” “never in a million lifetimes,” etc. the most.
A lot of you will probably hate on me for leaving basketball out of the top three, especially since our own DeMarcus Cousins is playing. That’s fine. I love basketball, but it’s on television eight months out of the year. Basketball may be the best example of a sport that doesn’t need the Olympics. Like tennis and golf, which have majors, there’s already a way to determine the best of the best in basketball: the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Playoffs. Being able to represent your country is a huge, huge honor, but let’s be honest: the Olympics need basketball more than basketball needs the Olympics.
Plus, Boogie aside, this year’s “Dream Team” is kind of underwhelming. Sure, they’ll dominate, but not having the sport’s biggest stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, etc. participating kind of dulls the shine a bit; however, it gives Boogie a bigger spot in the international spotlight, so rock on.
Now, here’s a sport in which I can’t name a single star, but will find myself totally mesmerized by. As someone with little coordination and grace, I am fascinated by diving, whether it be platform, springboard, synchronized, or individual. Unlike a lot of the Olympic events that are “judged,” I feel like I can tell whether or not a dive is good, too. Big splash? Uh oh. Vertical upon entry? Well done.
7. Beach Volleyball
Normally, this sport would annoy me because it seems like an excuse to have women wear as little as possible and flail around in the sand; but, even I’ll admit that beach volleyball is pretty awesome. Having a star like Kerri Walsh Jennings helps, especially since the home country of Brazil is expected to be a formidable foe.
Plus, you never know when a human body part will wash up next to the arena.
8. Women’s Soccer
Finally, some soccer the US can dominate on the international stage. Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, and the rest of Team USA already cruised by New Zealand in their opener on Wednesday, and are the heavy favorite to win their fourth consecutive gold medal. Go get ’em, girls.
9. Track Cycling
This is where I get into the oddball events, aka, “It’s the middle of the day/night and I don’t want to work/sleep, so hey, what’s this?”. Indoor cycling caught my eye four years ago because it’s batshit crazy. Why? People fly around a sloped track at 20 mph on bikes with no breaks. NO BREAKS! And sometimes in teams! How is this safe?! (It’s not)
Basically, what would happen if you picked up a soccer ball. Too simple? Okay, if soccer, basketball, dodgeball and lacrosse got together and had an orgy, handball would be the result. It’s fast-paced, fun, and the US has never medaled in it. Therefore, we will watch, starting with this clip:
Your turn. What events will you be watching during the Olympics?