All Archery, All the Time

Like many Americans, I caught Olympic fever over the weekend. Admittedly, in my case, I already had the fever because of a head cold, and there wasn't much on television except the Olympics. Still, it was exciting, especially the American swimming victory over the French in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Short of defeating Al Qaeda for the gold medal, a come-from-behind victory over France is about the most exciting thing that can happen in the Olympics for Americans.
Mostly, though, I've watched the Olympics online, where NBC is showing the majority of its planned 3,300 hours of coverage. That massive amount of coverage is worrying. As this is almost 200 hours per day, there could conceivably be several hours of Olympic coverage that go entirely unwatched.  That's just wrong, and so, while you were probably watching Bob Costas, I did my part by watching the most obscure events I could find.

That's how I found myself watching the women's team archery finals late Saturday night. There were no Americans in this event, so I decided to root for Great Britain. I figured Britain would be a strong archery force, as this is the closest Olympic sport there is to darts. Also, they have that whole Robin Hood thing going for them.

Britain beat Japan in the first match I saw, and I was planning to follow them onto the finals -- that is, until I realized that the finals would be taking place at 6:10 a.m. I then decided merely to wish good archery thoughts upon the British before going to sleep, but sadly they fell just short of a medal.

However, the real fun is taking place this week with the Men's and Women's Individual Tournament of 64. (If you're running an archery office pool, you can download your brackets here.) August Archery Madness runs all week, concluding with the men's gold medal match at 5:37 a.m. this Saturday. I know you'll all be there -- well, at least in spirit. 

While all sorts of events are shown live, most are televised without announcers. This is a shame because I would really love to know which archery superstar grew up in a foster home and overcame a broken back in order to compete. I never thought I would say this, but I actually missed the announcers, especially while watching women's handball. Without announcers, I had to resort to Wikipedia just to figure out what the hell was going on.

Handball, incidentally, may be the most exciting Olympic sport that you've never watched. It's basically a cross between soccer and basketball. Like soccer, there's a net, and the point is to get the ball into the net past the goalkeeper. Like basketball, you use your hands and advance the ball by passing or dribbling, although handball players are allowed to take three steps per dribble (you know, just like the NBA).

Each goal is surrounded by a six-meter semi-circle that offensive players can't enter. This means that players run up to this semi-circle, jump in the air, flail about, and hurl the ball at the net. In the match I saw between Sweden and Hungary, the players all looked like they were trying to do their best Michael Jordan impression (without the actual dunking) as they jumped high across the line and flung the ball at high speeds towards the net.

My girlfriend Jody actually remembers playing what was known as "European handball" in gym class. That alone would qualify her to represent many countries in Olympic handball. The version she played was a little different. Unlike Olympic handball, you had to bounce the ball into the net, and also there was a hippie gym teacher running the show.

Handball lasts throughout the Olympics, and things really heat up next week when beach handball starts. Beach handball is just like regular handball except there's sand and all the women wear bikinis.*

Don't worry. I haven't completely abandoned television. It's nice that NBC has coerced Olympic officials into starting many of the marquee events in the morning, so that they can be shown in prime time here. This was done to increase U.S. television ratings. When NBC manages to convince them to let the U.S. win all the events, I'm sure the ratings will go even higher.

I've enjoyed the swimming, though, to be honest, I could do without the gymnastics. What they do is all very impressive, but I just don't enjoy sports in which the results are determined by judges alone.

I've always thought the Olympics would be a lot more interesting if Olympic judges were chosen by jury duty. Think about it. You'd get to travel to Beijing, read a book all day, and wait to see if you're called in to judge diving, synchronized swimming, trampoline, or possibly even beach trampoline.

Sure, there might be problems, having regular people as judges, though probably no more problems than the current judges cause. You would occasionally have gymnastic judges awarding bonus points for "good tumbling" and diving judges giving perfect tens to anyone who does a cannonball. But so what? It would add an extra level of unpredictability and excitement that would make the Games that much better.

Besides, if jury duty is good enough for our legal justice system, then I say it's good enough for the Olympics.

* Note: Beach handball is just a figment of my active imagination, in which the Swedes do particularly well.

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