Why be part of a breakaway in the Tour de France?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why do cyclists in the Tour de France bother going out on breakaways? They always get caught!! What is the point?


Dear Lester,

It’s one of the most common and most heartbreaking sights of the Tour de France — a small group of riders, or even a single rider, have led the race for fifty miles or more, over mountains and through valleys, across bridges and through forests. Then, with the finish line metaphorically or sometimes even literally in sight, they are caught by the big pack of riders called the peloton. How does the peloton always seem to catch them at just the right time? Why can they go faster than the breakaway? And, as you put it, why bother going out on breakaways if you’re always going to get caught?

First they physics of it —  the peloton is always able to go faster than a single rider or small group of riders because they have more riders to rotate through the painful position of being at the head of the pack. The person in front “breaks the wind” for all the riders behind them. This is an exhausting position, and even the superhuman (implication intended) athletes of the Tour de France can only do it at full effort for so long. In a solo breakaway, a rider must always fight the wind, in a small breakaway, even when the riders cooperate, each person’s share of the effort is bigger than in the peloton. Race radios, allowing team coaches to communicate with the riders on the course, help the peloton time its effort so that it catches the breakaway at just the right moment.

Luckily for viewers of the Tour, there are still a bunch of legitimate reasons for cyclists to go out on breakaways. A tour with nothing but a single pack of riders would make for boring viewing!

Like in many European sports, there is more than just one prize to shoot for in the Tour. Aside from the yellow jersey, which goes to the rider that completes the stage and eventually the race in the least amount of time, there are two other cumulative jerseys to race for. The green jersey goes to the best sprinter in the race and the red polka-dot jersey on a white background goes to the King of the Mountains. In order to win either of these jerseys (and the money that comes along with the prestige) you have to accrue the largest number of mountain or sprint points during the tour. Although many of the biggest sprints (and a few of the biggest mountain summits) are at the end of stages, most of them are intermediate or during the race. A rider in a breakaway has a good shot at winning an intermediate sprint or being the first over a summit. This helps if they are in contention for the green jersey or the King of the Mountain competition or it can help a teammate of theirs if it denies someone on another team those points. And, these intermediate sprints and summits come with cash prizes.

A third, less visible secondary prize may even be more directly affected by participating in a valiant but eventually unsuccessful breakaway — the Combativity Award. Unlike all the other competitions we’ve discussed before, this award is subjective. A panel of judges watches and votes on the rider for each stage and for the tour as a whole (the one for the tour as a whole is called the “super-combativity award… I’m guessing there may be some slight transliteration issues here…) who is most aggressive. Although this award does not come with a jersey, it does come with cash and some amount of notice in the cycling world.

If you’ve been watching the Tour, you no doubt noticed that each rider wears a jersey with their team’s sponsor emblazoned all over it. The brand name of the sponsor IS the team name. It’s not the “Amazon Bowstrings,” it’s just “Amazon.” Although this may feel foreign to American sports fans who quiver just at the thought of putting an advertisement on their favorite team’s jersey, it’s an integral part of cycling. A rider who can make it into a small group at the head of the race and stay there for three or four hours has successfully captured free advertising for their sponsor for the same amount of time on television. And that rider knows the team sponsor will notice it and remember when the time comes to renew contracts.

So far we’ve been describing only rationales for taking part in a breakaway that don’t have to do with winning the race, either that day or the whole tour. Well, here’s a tactical reason that does have to do with winning. A team that has a rider in contention for winning the whole race (called general classification or GC) may sometimes want to hide one or two of that rider’s teammates in a doomed breakaway. That way, if the GC rider feels like they have an edge on some of their GC competitors and is able to break away from the peleton, they will have teammates ahead of them who can fall back and help their GC teammate extend his lead over the other GC riders.

If all of these reasons are still not good enough, there is this: sometimes it does work. Sometimes the peloton, even with the advantage of physics and race radios, mis-times their charge and can’t catch up in time. Or, sometimes the team tacticians may decide it’s simply not worth expending the energy to catch the breakaway. Cycling is a relatively predictable sport after the first five to ten riders. If no one in the breakaway group is in the top ten, they probably pose no threat to the GC riders who feel they have a chance at winning the whole race. So, those GC riders and their teams may decide it’s more important to save their energy or try to make a late move on another GC rider than to organize the peloton for a long chase.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Why are there two bronze medals given out at the Olympics in Judo?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are there two bronze medals given out at the Olympics in Judo?


Dear Meredith,

Whoa! I didn’t know about that. I knew that there could be two bronze medals given out (or two or even more gold or silvers) in the case of ties, but I didn’t realize that an event could choose to always give out two bronze medals. Judo does just that. I’m not sure I can tell you why this is, but I can tell you how it works, and then venture a guess about why.

I wrote about repechages at the Olympics the other day. A repechage is a competition that gives athletes who have already lost a second chance to advance to the next round in an event. Judo uses something very similar. The first few rounds of the judo tournament are normal single elimination. Lose, and you’re out. Once the quarterfinals begin, however, things get a little funny.

The four winners of the quarterfinals go onto the semifinals. They compete against each other and the two winners move to the finals. Meanwhile, the four quarterfinal losers go to a repechage-like round where they fight each other. The two winners of that advance to play against the two semifinal losers. This results in two matches, each of which pit one semifinal loser against one quarterfinal loser who then went on to win the repechage. Since these are parallel bouts in all ways, each of them is for a bronze medal!

This might be easier to understand visually. The bold letters win their matches.

Quarterfinals: A vs B | C vs D | E vs F | G vs H |
Semifinals: vs C | vs G | Repechages: vs D | vs H
Finals: vs E | Bronze Medal Matches: vs B | vs F

Now, why judo does this is another story. My guess is that it’s because judo is not a naturally competitive sport. The Wikipedia entry on Judo has an illuminating quote from the activity’s founding father, Kanō Jigorō:

For one thing, judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment. Then the Olympic Games are so strongly flavored with nationalism that it is possible to be influenced by it and to develop “Contest Judo”, a retrograde form… Judo should be free as art and science from any external influences, political, national, racial, and financial or any other organized interest. And all things connected with it should be directed to its ultimate object, the “Benefit of Humanity”.

Maybe, just maybe, in the competitive desert that is the modern Olympics, judo’s granting of two bronze medals is an oasis of anti-competitive spirit.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

How do repechages work in Olympic rowing?

Dear Sports Fan,

I have become an Olympic junkie this year. I watch it all, from volleyball to table tennis to swimming! I have a question about rowing. I was watching a race and some of the boats qualified for the semi finals and some for something called a repechage. What is a repechage and how do repechages work in Olympic rowing?


Dear Marcella,

How cool that you’re enjoying the Olympics this year. A repechage is certainly a rare thing in sports. I wondered about it as well. It comes from the French verb, “repêch” which means literally to “fish up again.” Idiomatically, it means “to get a second chance.” In the context of rowing, a repechage is a race that gives athletes a second chance to advance to the next round in their event.

The way a repechage works in rowing depends on how many boats are racing in that event. In smaller events, the top two or three boats from each heat (the first race in an event) qualify for the semifinals. The rest of the boats get one more chance to qualify for the finals by placing in the top two or three of a repechage against other boats who did not qualify. In larger races, the repechage may sit between the initial heats and a semifinal race. In addition to rowing, Olympic track cycling has repechage races in the sprint and keirin events.

Do repechages make sporting events more or less fair? You could argue both positions. On one hand, having a repechage means that a single mistake can’t eliminate a team. If a great team has a terrible day, they can come back, win the repechage, or at least do well in it, and still make the finals or semifinals. On the other hand, the use of a repechage may make the semifinals or finals less even. Setting aside the fact, for a moment, that teams that lose an early race tend to be worse, on average, than teams that win an early race, the repechage still presents a problem for competition. By the time the finals come around, a team that had to go through a repechage has suffered through at least one more race than athletes who won their first race. This effect of a format isn’t unheard of — some American football teams get a “bye” going into the playoffs, meaning they play one fewer game than their opponents — but in a competition with a compressed schedule, like the Olympics, this can really tilt things. Now you have athletes who could not win their first race and who are now more fatigued than their opponents, going up against them in a final or semifinal. It’s a rare feat to come back from a repechage and win a medal!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Why would a table tennis player hand her paddle to the ref?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why would the US table tennis competitor, who just lost to a woman from Korea, hand her paddle to the official at the end of the match? Any ideas?


Dear Brian,

Do you remember the Deflategate controversy in football from a couple of years ago? The National Football League discovered (although this is still widely debated, especially in New England) that the New England Patriots and their quarterback Tom Brady had intentionally been playing with balls on offense that had less air in them that was allowed. In other words, they had broken the rules by modifying the equipment they were playing with. This story was novel for a bunch of reasons, many of them involving particular narratives within football that we don’t need to go back into, but one of them was that the NFL seemed to be punishing what, within football was seen as a minor infraction, with a major penalty. Well, in table tennis, illegal modifying your equipment is not seen as a minor issue. That’s probably why the table tennis Olympian you were watching handed her racket (they’re officially called racket not paddles) to the umpire after the game.

Based on a brief reading of the official International Table Tennis Federation’s Handbook for Match Officials, racket cheating is a major concern. Here are just a selection of the characteristics of a racket that the umpire is concerned with:

  • One side of the racket must be red, the other black.
  • The material covering the racket must not extend past the racket itself. This exact rule is left up to the official’s discretion, but the rulebook suggests that “as a guide, 2 mm would be an acceptable margin to most referees.”
  • During any of the many towel or water breaks during the match, players are supposed to leave their racket on the table and “must not remove them without the specific agreement of the umpire.

The rule that is most likely relevant to what you saw, however, is one that legislates how and when rackets are tested for illegal tampering by players.

“In major competitions rackets are tested for the presence of banned solvents, normally after the matches. For the quarter and semi-finals as well as for the finals, the players may be given the choice of a pre-match or post-match test, so that they can decide between not having the use of their racket between the test and the start of the match and the disqualification if a post-match test proves positive.”

My guess is that the American Olympian you saw handing her racket to the umpire after the match was over had opted for a post-match test and the umpire was going to facilitate that.

Another option, although I think it’s a less likely one, is that the player had damaged her primary racket and all of her backup ones. In that case, a the match umpire “must report to the referee, who will decide how a second replacement is to be provided.”

Amazing what you can learn from rulebooks!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Summer Olympics: All About Track & Field

All About Track & Field

Track and field is such a wide-ranging set of disciplines with so many different competitions that it could be a multi-sport event like the Olympics just itself. From running fast to running far to jumping to throwing things, track and field has a little bit of everything. You can divide the track and field events into any number of categories. I came up with five that I like: sprints, long distance running, jumping, throwing and combined.

How Does Track & Field Work?


Sprints are relatively simple events. Sprinters line up and go as fast as they can until they hit the finish line. Because sprints are so short, how well a runner starts is very important. As a result, there are a lot of false starts — when a runner begins moving before the starting gun is fired (no bullets) — and these can be frustrating for viewers and runners alike. Within this category are the only team events in track & field — the relay race. During relays, a team of four runners each run a distance consecutively with a baton that must be passed from one to the next. Whichever team finishes first, wins.

Medium and Long Distance

From around 800 meters (two laps around a starting track) to 10,000 meters (25 laps) to marathon distances (26.2 miles) and above (yes, there’s a race longer than a marathon!), races become much more tactical. The winning strategy is not just to start running as fast as you can for as long as you can. Instead, runners carefully watch each other and decide what to do. Runners who know that, all things being equal, they can run the last half lap faster than anyone else in the race are content to see the race go slowly at the start. Runners who don’t have that final kick, as it’s called, want to push the pace early, hoping to tire out the better finishers.


How awesomely simple do the Olympics seem sometime? How far can you jump? How high can you jump? What if we give you a giant stick to launch yourself off of? What about if you have to jump three times in a row? Who invented this and why do we like it so much?


There may be no better connection between the modern Olympics and the ancient Olympics than the track and field throwing events. Wrestling may be the sport most associated with the connection between the two, but for my money, there’s more in common with throwing events and actual ancient warfare even than wrestling. And, after all, that’s what the Olympics have been for so much of their history — warfare by other means. Throwing events are judged purely by distance, although there are strict requirements for how to throw the apparatus in each event and these rules lead to illegal throws quite often.


There are two types of combined track and field events. Some are multi-discipline events like the Heptathlon and Decathlon, where athletes compete in seven or ten different sports. Others are single events which combine elements of the previous four categories. Hurdling races are sprints or medium distance track races during which runners must leap over a series of evenly placed barriers. The steeplechase is a more novel race where runners must navigate a variety of obstacles including some involving water. Fun!

Why do People Like Watching Track & Field?

Each event and each category of events has its own potential appeal. Sprinting is a pure thrill — it’s no coincidence that these athletes are billed as the fastest people on earth. Sprints are bite-sized highly rewarding snacks. Middle and long distance races are more tactically interesting to watch. There’s sustained suspense throughout the race and the sprint at the end, when it comes, is more exciting because of the time you’ve invested in watching the event. Jumping events are amazing in part because they are so highly specialized. It’s rare to see a high jumper also do the long jump or the triple jump. Each jumping event has its own technique and rewards its own body type. Talking about variations in body types, that’s one of the main joys of watching the throwing events. It seems as if the object these athletes throw has some type of formative power over their bodies. People who put the shot (shot putters) are giant berserker-like humans while javelin throwers are shaped more sleekly, like the javelins themselves. The multi-discipline events are cool for exactly the opposite reason. What kind of person can do all seven or ten of these things well? What should their body look like? Finally, the hurdling and steeplechase events are amazing because they require such precision. If a hurdler gets even a split second off, they’ll hit one hurdle and then the next. The margin of error is so small and recovering from a mistake is almost impossible.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?


There are individual 100, 200, and 400 meter races as well as team relay races for four athletes each running 100 and 400 meters.

Medium and Long Distance

There are track races at distances of 800, 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters. Outside of the arena, on roads, there is a marathon as well as 20 km and 50 km race walking events!


There is a long jump and a high jump event. There is the pole vault, which is like a high jump event assisted by the use of a long metal stick. Finally there is the triple jump event which is judged just like the long jump but which requires competitors to hop and skip in a particular way before taking off on their final jump.


What do we get to throw? There are four objects. The discus is like a frisbee but heavier and smaller. The javelin is basically a spear. The shot put is a freaking heavy boulder. Finally, the hammer, the least well known of the throwing events, is a metal ball on the end of a wire. WHOA!


The Heptathlon and Pentathlon are the two multi-sport events. There are hurdling events at distances of 100, 110, and 400 meters and a 3,000 meter steeplechase.

How Dangerous is Track & Field?

There have been some famous track and field injuries. These happen most frequently in the sprinting events, where athletes move so explosively that their muscles sometimes explode or in the combined events where it is possible to mistime a leap and smash into an obstacle. All in all, most of the Olympic track and field athletes will make it out unscathed.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Track & Field?

This is almost too big of a question. Taken all together, track & field is by far the biggest sport in the Olympics. There are 141 gold medals to be had! The only glaringly messed up thing about track & field comes from distance and quantity. In hurdling, women have a 100 meter event and men have a 110 meter one. What, that last 10 meters was going to kill someone? Men have a 50 km race walk in addition to their 20 km one whereas women only have the 20 km. In the multi-discipline events, men get ten sports to play with while women only compete in seven.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Track & Field is from Friday, August 12 to Sunday, August 21.

Read more about track & field on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Sailing

All About Sailing

If summer is all about finding a way to be in the sun and the water, than sailing is the perfect activity. If your enjoyment of sports is based primarily on tactics, than it might be a great viewing opportunity for you, even if you can’t find a way to set up your television near a pool.

How Does Sailing Work?

All of the Olympic sailing races are “fleet races.” In this case, although speed is important, the word fleet means that a group of ships sails together, as opposed to individually around a course. In every category of sailing, the vessels are under strict rules to ensure that the difference between the best and worst (of the best) sailors in the world comes down to skill, not technology. Skill, in sailing has a physical component — who can adjust their sails the fastest or eek the most speed out of their boats by leaning far over the side as a counter-weight — and a mental component — who can read the wind and the water and adjust the fastest and best to the conditions to pick the optimal route. There’s also an element of luck, because no matter how you cut it, the conditions will be slightly different in every part of the water at every moment.

Why do People Like Watching

Sailing is the Olympic sport that approaches a tactical board game the most closely. Yes, there is a physical element to sailing, but that often gets lost in the wide-angle camera shots necessary to show several boats at once. Instead of watching athletes sweat, and deriving pleasure from that, viewers of sailing watch athletes think and take tactical risks, and derive enjoyment from that.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Sailing events are defined primarily by the category of boat used. These categories are defined by weight and shape as well as feature, including such things as whether it has a trapeze (a wire from the mast down to the hull that allows a sailor to hang over the edge of the boat to create more speed), a jib (the sail that extends from the mast toward the front of the boat), or a spinnaker (extra poofy sail). Of the ten sailing events at this year’s Olympics, five take a two person crew and five a solo sailor.

How Dangerous is Sailing?

Sailing is a very dangerous sport. The most dangerous races are the long-distance ones which take ships far from land and far from help if something were to go wrong. Even in Olympic style racing, two ships colliding or any kind of equipment malfunction or human error can have disastrous consequences.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Sailing?

Sailing is a little off-kilter now, with men having an extra event, four, to three for women with a mixed crew (one man, one woman) required for an eighth event. You’ll also notice that for the most part, men and women race in different boats. The boats for women’s events are designed for lighter sailors than the ones in men’s events.

One interesting note about sailing is that until 1988 it was a gender-free event. There were no gendered events at all and women were simply expected to compete with men.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Sailing is from Monday, August 8 to Thursday, August 18.

Read more about sailing on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Golf

All About Golf

Golf is one of the world’s great games but it hasn’t been in the Olympics for 112 years. It returns, somewhat less than triumphantly, in this year’s Olympics.

How Does Golf Work?

The goal of golf is to propel a small, hard white ball into holes in the ground by hitting it as few times as possible with a club. The player who can do this 72 times over three days using the fewest hits (called strokes) wins an Olympic gold medal. Players are competing against each other, but their main adversary often seems to be the designer and landscaper of the course itself. In navigating one’s way to the hole, golfers must deal with fiendishly placed pits of sand, clumps of higher grass called rough, and any number of hills or man-made lakes or rivers.

Why do People Like Watching Golf?

Although I am not someone who enjoys watching golf (I almost fell asleep just looking for highlights to include in this post), I understand that many people do. One segment of people who enjoy watching golf are golfers! There’s something about having done it yourself that increases the enjoyment you get from watching others do it. Golf does have a wonderfully leisurely pace to it. Convention calls for announcers to speak quietly during broadcasts. All in all, there is a pastural quality to golf that’s appealing, even to the non-golfer.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are only two golfing gold medals available, one for men and one for women, both in individual competition. This is a real shame, because golf has some very clever ways of transforming itself from an individual pursuit into a team game. These different formats are a large part of what makes men’s golf’s premier international event, the Ryder Cup, so popular.

How Dangerous is Golf?

Don’t golf through a thunderstorm. Otherwise, you’ll be okay.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Golf?

Golf approaches gender equality in its format. The only difference is that women start closer to each hole than men do in recognition of the fact that they, on average, do not hit the ball as far as male golfers.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Golf is from Thursday, August 11 to Saturday, August 20.

Read more about golf on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Volleyball

All About Volleyball

Volleyball was my favorite sport in gym class. It’s the ultimate team sport. It punishes all selfish play, which was great in high school when you wanted nothing more than to bring the jock boys down to your size. At the Olympic level, this facet of the sport may have translated into an odd form of dominance. Of the 13 times volleyball has been in the Olympics, communist or former communist countries have won the gold six times in the men’s event and whopping nine times in the women’s event!

How Does Volleyball Work?

Volleyball is played by two teams of six players each. The teams line up in two rows of three on either side of an eight foot (seven feet, four inches for women) net. The ball, which is a little smaller and lighter than a soccer ball, must be kept in the air by hitting it with any part of the body — this is a little known aspect of volleyball’s rules, which is equally little used; the ball is pretty much only ever hit with the hands. Let the ball drop on your team’s side of the court and the opposition gets a point. Likewise, if the ball drops to the ground out of bounds and you were the last person to touch it, the opposition gets a point. Matches are played divided up into a maximum of five potential independent games called sets. The first team to win three sets wins the match. The first four sets are played to 25 points (must win by two) and the last one, if necessary, is played to only 15 points. This is interesting because it’s kind of the opposite of how other sports like tennis or ice hockey think about the end of games. If tennis has different rules for a final set, it’s to make it potentially longer, not shorter, and the same is true of overtime in hockey.

You might also wonder why one player is wearing a different color than everyone else on their team. Oddly, my post answering this question is the most consistently popular post on this entire site. The short answer is that this player is called the libero and they are a defensive specialist who is allowed to ignore most rotation and substitution rules but who cannot move close to the net to spike.

Why do People Like Watching Volleyball?

I wrote a whole post about why people like volleyball. If you’re interested enough to read this, I recommend you read that too. The quick summary is that volleyball has great vocabulary words, that it punishes selfishness, it scaled well with the player, it has a good mix of competitiveness and collaboration, and that at the Olympic level, it’s incredibly athletic.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Volleyball has a men’s and a women’s event.

How Dangerous is Volleyball?

For a sport where ball speeds can reach 80 miles an hour, volleyball is surprisingly safe. The ball is light enough not to break anything important, even at that speed.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Volleyball?

The major difference is in the height of the net. Men play with a net that is eight inches taller than the net played on by women. As with several other events, we can decide to be annoyed about this or not. It depends on if you think differences in average height by gender should be honored with rule adjustments.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Volleyball is from Saturday, August 6 to Sunday, August 21.

Read more about volleyball on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Wrestling

All About Wrestling

Two people face each other, searching for weaknesses. They are naked and covered with oil. They are wrestlers. That image is at the heart of the Ancient Olympics for many people, and for those people, wrestling must be at the spiritual center of the modern Olympics too.

How Does Wrestling Work?

There are two types of wrestling at the Olympics: freestyle and Greco-Roman. Let’s start with the similarities. Both are contested on the same surface — a flat cushioned mat with concentric circles drawn on it. The action is supposed to take place in the biggest of the circles, the central one. The smaller ring around that is called the “passivity area” and wrestlers may be penalized for spending too much time there. Outside of that ring is an area of mat which is beyond the wrestling area. A wrestler can score points by forcing their opponent into that out-of-bounds area. Both disciplines match one wrestler against another in a maximum of three two-minute rounds. Each round is scored independently — in other words, winning the first round 7-2 is the same as winning it 1-0 — and the first wrestler to win two rounds is victorious in the match. Both disciplines are organized by weight class so that wrestlers are close to even in size and strength. In both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, points can be scored in a number of ways. The most well known way is by forcing your opponent to the mat and controlling them with at least three “points” (points are knees, arms, or head) touching the ground. One can also force an opponent to touch out of bounds, as we mentioned before. There are a couple of other, lesser known ways of scoring points. One is a reversal — where a wrestler who is in danger of being thrown turns the tables on his or her opponent and controls them. Another is called exposure which refers to the daring feat of placing your back near or on the mat and daring your opponent to pin you. The major difference between freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling is how a wrestler can attack her or his opponent. Nothing below the waist is allowed in Greco-Roman wrestling whereas in freestyle wrestling throws and trips as well as mat-based manipulation that originates below the waist are common.

Why do People Like Watching Wrestling?

So, once you take out the nudity and oil of the original wrestling, what is left? Well, you’ve still got impressive determination, strength, and suddenness. Wrestling has a great combination of suspense and surprise — one dual spectrum on which to think about sports. Suspense is present during the majority of the match when the two wrestlers are circling each other, searching for an opening. Surprise comes when someone sees an opening and tries to exploit it. Olympic wrestlers can move faster than the eye can follow!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are 18 Olympic gold medals up for grabs in wrestling events. 12 of them are for freestyle wrestling and six in Greco-Roman. Within each discipline and gender, competition is divided into weight classes.

How Dangerous is Wrestling?

Wrestling is perilous. Although striking (kicking or punching) is against the rules, the speed with which wrestlers throw their hands toward each other, searching for hand-holds, is significant. Someone is going to get poked in the eye. In the process of throwing or getting thrown, arms and legs tend to bend in the wrong direction and shoulders and necks get jammed or hyperextended. Wrestlers’ ears are often subjected to wounds that compound into the growth of nasty looking scar tissue. On the other hand, there’s a relatively low risk of concussion or other brain injury compared to other fighting or martial art related sports. So, wrestlers have a good long term prognosis.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Wrestling?

The state of gender equality in this sport makes me angry. Men and women each have six weight class events in freestyle wrestling but only men are allowed to compete in the six Greco-Roman events. Why? What about not being allowed to grab at someone’s feet or legs suggests that this should be only a sport for men? The current state of wrestling is actually an improvement from four years ago when there were even fewer medals for women to win.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Wrestling is from Sunday, August 14 to Sunday, August 21.

Read more about wrestling on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Rowing

All About Rowing

One of the complaints I often hear about some sports (basketball, I’m looking at you,) is that it’s not worth watching the first 3/4 of the game when the result is always decided in the last few minutes. Rowing may be the sport least vulnerable to that complaint of any in the Olympics. Part of what is beautiful about rowing is that there are so few variables: stroke cadence, stroke strength, and stroke skill. Beyond that, all there is is effort. And wow, is there ever effort!

How Does Rowing Work?

Olympic rowing races are all 2 kilometers (about 1.25 miles) long. Boats start from a stand-still and start moving at the sound of the horn. In some events, rowers may have an oar in either hand or just one that goes to one side of the boat or the other. Boats may have one, two, four, or eight rowers in them, and may have a coxswain (a tiny person who screams at the rest of the rowers) or not.

Why do People Like Watching Rowing?

There is something mesmeric about watching rowing. The synchronized movement of the oars is soothing to watch. This provides a nice counter-point to the extreme effort the athletes are putting in and, if you are lucky, the incredible suspense of a close race. In rowing, there are no tricks to pull out to make up a deficit at the end of a race. Leads build or evaporate slowly, helping to build enormous dramatic tension. Hitchcock would have loved rowing!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are 14 rowing events in the 2016 Olympics. These can be divided in a number of ways. First, there is gender: women’s and men’s events. Second, there is the number of people in the boat: one (single), two (double), four (quadruple,) and eight. Last, there is the style of rowing: sculls (where rowers have two oars in their hands, one on either side of the boat) and sweeps (where each rower has one oar, either on the right or the left of the boat.) The word “sculls” is always in the sculling event names. If you don’t see “sculls” you know it’s a sweeps event. Lastly, there are two events with weight limits known as “lightweight” events.

How Dangerous is Rowing?

One can only imagine the chaos that could be created by a mass pile-up of full speed rowers colliding in the water. Luckily, that doesn’t really ever happen. Rowing machines in gyms are always a good bet for being pointed to if you’re rehabbing an injury because of their ability to provide a full body workout without strain on joints. Rowing injuries are not unheard of, but you don’t see them at this level in competitions.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Rowing?

Men get two extra events! Women are not allowed to take part in either of the four person events — the coxless four or the lightweight coxless four. Sophomorically ironic and legitimately upsetting! On the other hand 2016 sees an increase in equality of numbers. There will be fewer men’s entries invited overall, bringing their number closer to that of the women.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Rowing is from Saturday, August 6 to Saturday, August 13.

Read more about rowing on the official Rio Olympics site.