What’s a race walk? The story behind obscure Olympic sports
By Jessica Pettengill | BSU at the Games
With many of the most famous Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas having collected their gold medals, the Olympic Games could seem all but over to some.
But many of the lesser known Olympic events occur in the last two days. Race walking and half of the modern pentathlon were scheduled for today and tomorrow. Even if the coverage is minimal, what is it about these sports that keep fans coming back for more?
“It’s just hilarious to watch them,” Jennifer Hearn of London said, a spectator at the women’s race walk. “Hilarious but awesome. I would never be able to do this.”
The liquid-like fluidity of the racers’ strides and the incessant pumping of their arms allow the top contending racewalkers to reach speeds of almost 9 miles per hour.
“Sometimes I don’t know how some sports get into the Olympics,” Hearn added.
Many spectators were unaware of some of the lesser-known sports like modern pentathlon. It is one of the most eclectic events at the Olympic Games. It requires its athletes to compete in fencing, swimming, equestrian riding and a combined event of running and archery.
After researching the event on his iPhone, fellow women’s marathon bystander Nathan Moore said, “How do people even get into these kinds of [sports]?”
Many of these obscure sports have only been included in the Olympic Games for a fraction of what the more popular events have been. The most recently added were BMX, in 2008, and women’s wrestling, the newest addition to the 2012 Olympic Games. Conversely, baseball and softball were the most recently removed sports from the Olympic lineup after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The Olympic Programme Commission (OPC) has official say over which 26 sports fill the Olympic venues each year. Golf and rugby have been approved for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge entrusted the Olympic Programme Commission with the mission to define… a process for reviewing the Olympic programme,” wrote the IOC in a detailed fact sheet released to explain the many changes occurring to the Olympic Games.
“Might as well throw in skateboarding while you’re at it,” Moore said. “Add something that will entertain everyone.”
“Roller sports” actually was one of the sports considered to add to the 2012 Olympic Games. It didn’t get the 2/3 final vote needed, but it could be a strong possibility in a future Olympic venue. The criteria the OPC reviews sports on depends on history and tradition, universality, popularity, image, athletes’ health, development of the International Federations and cost.
“I’d like to watch jump roping or waterskiing or something completely weird,” Hearn said.
Perhaps future Olympic Games will continue to see the addition of “weirder” sports.
Jessica Pettengill is a junior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Jessica and the BSU team at @jmpetty10, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.
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