Summer Olympics: All About Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline

Rhythmic Gymnastics and Trampoline are two distant branches on the family tree of gymnastics. One emphasizes beauty, the other bounciness!

All About Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline

Rhythmic Gymnastics and Trampoline are two often forgotten outgrowths of Olympic Gymnastics. If the story of regular (officially called Artistic Gymnastics) is one of an increasingly athletic arms race, Rhythmic Gymnastics is what would have happened to the sport if it had gone in the other direction. It rewards grace and beauty over strength and forceful athleticism. Trampoline goes in the other direction. It starts with the question, “what if we gave gymnasts a virtually infinite ability to jump” and goes from there.

How Does Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline Work?

Rhythmic Gymnastics, like Artistic Gymnastics, has a number of apparatuses: hoops, ribbon, ball, and clubs. Each of these is a prop that can be used by rhythmic gymnasts in 75 or 90 second floor routines. Each apparatus has its own skills and each emphasizes a particular element of the gymnast’s movement. Rhythmic gymnasts are scored by two panels of judges, one assessing at the difficulty of the routine and one looking at how well executed each movement in the routine is. In Trampoline Gymnastics, gymnasts do routines that are limited to no more than ten jumps on a giant trampoline. Judges score the routines like Rhythmic Gymnastics, on difficulty and execution, but with an additional element of hang time. Trampoline competitors are rewarded for total time spent in the air, which can exceed 18 seconds!

Why do People Like Watching Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline?

Rhythmic gymnastics has a lot to recommend it to television viewers. These athletes use their bodies and their apparatuses together to create beautiful patterns. They’re also amazing athletes in their own right. You can easily get distracted by the flowing ribbon, but if you keep your eye on the gymnast, you’ll see strength and flexibility being tested to its full extent — every bit as much as in other events. Watching trampoline is like watching diving but without all that boring setup between dives. Imagine ten consecutive dives with all of their tucks, rolls, swivels, and summersaults!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Rhythmic Gymnastics has a team and an individual event. Trampoline has men’s and women’s events.

How Dangerous is Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline?

Safe. Trampolines are notoriously dangerous when used by laypeople, usually children or teenagers. At the Olympic level, they’re much safer than that. There aren’t any faulty springs and the trampoliners are not going to go flying into the shrubs. Rhythmic gymnastics is also very safe. Not that I’d try to do any of those moves, but still.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline?

Trampoline is perfectly balanced and Rhythmic Gymnastics is perfectly unbalanced — only women compete in Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Rhythmic Gymnastics & Trampoline is from Friday, August 12 to Sunday, August 21.

Read more about these events on the official Rio Olympics site for Trampoline and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Summer Olympics: All About Swimming

All About Swimming

Every four years, the world focuses its attention on the Summer Olympics and is momentarily fascinated by people swimming. These simple races, with even the fastest Olympians traveling slower than the average person walks, are the site of some incredibly feats of sudden strength, sustained endurance, and hair-splittingly close margins of victory.

How Does Swimming Work?

One of the features of swimming from a viewer’s perspective is how simple it is to understand. A bunch of people start in one place, swim back and forth in a pool (or in one case, the open and questionably safe water off Copacabana beach,) and whoever completes the required distance first, wins. That simplicity belies an enormous amount of detail that goes into these races. Many of them require different ways of swimming, called strokes. The four main strokes are front-crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Breaststroke is the most familiar of the strokes. In it, swimmers stay on their front, push their hands together out in front of them, and then divide them, and push back to their hips before bringing them forward together again. Legs kick in a frog-like manner. In front crawl swimmers are also front down in the water, but the arms move separately in long windmill like motions all the way forward, almost parallel to the body, back downward to the hips and then forward again. While one arm is moving to the hip, the other swivels forward. Meanwhile, the feet are kicking like crazy in a flutter-like motion. Front-crawl is the fastest of the strokes. Backstroke is basically front crawl but done flipped over, with the swimmer on her or his back. The last stroke, butterfly, is what happens if you try to do front-crawl with both arms moving together instead of alternating. If you’ve ever tried this, you probably know that this movement naturally propels the swimmer down into the water. Butterfly swimmers compensate for this by bucking their entire bodies up in the water at each stroke. It is exhausting and slow, which makes Olympic butterfly incredibly impressive. One fun fact about Olympic swimming that pertains to strokes is that there are no front crawl races. The times when you see swimmers doing that stroke are when there are freestyle races that allow any stroke. Since front crawl is the fastest, everyone always chooses to do that, but a swimmer could theoretically do a different stroke.

The races are mostly individual ones organized into preliminary heats that qualify swimmers for a single finals race. Most of these races involve one stroke but a couple require swimmers to do all four strokes consecutively. These are called medleys. Some races are team races called relays. During a relay, one swimmer races until they’ve swum a particular distance (1/4 of the entire distance of the race, because there are four team members) and, once they touch the wall, the next swimmer on the team dives in. The team that finishes first wins.

Why do People Like Watching Swimming?

Even describing how swimming works, it feels a little silly to remember how much fun it is to watch. It doesn’t seem like something one would be happy spending hours watching, but it is. Why? I think a big part of it is the joy one gets from watching almost perfectly efficient bodies in motion. When you or I swim, we probably thrash around a little in the water on our way from point A to point B. Not so for Olympic swimmers. Any motion that doesn’t propel them forward is a wasted motion and is carefully removed from their stroke during hours of practice. What’s left is a smooth, beautiful stroke. Even swimmer’s bodies at this level seem to have been chosen for efficiency in the water. Another thing I love is that for some reason, swimming under water is faster than any stroke done at the surface. Swimmers in any stroke are allowed to swim under water only at particular times — when they first dive into the pool and when they turn at the wall of the pool. So, they all try to stay under for as long as they possibly can. Some swimmers can just do this longer than others; maintaining lung capacity and control even when exerting themselves massively. A swimmer with great control in this way can make time up against an otherwise faster swimmer at every turn. It makes races less predictable and more exciting.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

“There are a lot of swimming events in the Summer Olympics. A plethora. There are individual events at different distances in breast stroke, back stroke, butterfly, and freestyle, which we now know means that everyone chooses to do front crawl in. There are freestyle relay events for men and women at 100 meters (there and back once) each for a total of 400 meters, and 200 meters each (800 total). There is also a 100 meter medley relay in which each of the four team members swims 100 meters using one of the four strokes. There are also 200 meter and 400 meter individual medleys.

Lastly, and I forgot to mention this in any earlier swimming sections, there is a swimming marathon event. It’s not 26.2 miles, but swimming 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) is roughly an equivalent feat. This race is held in open water, which makes it even more difficult. Open water swimmers have to deal with currents, waves, and assorted competitors’ elbows, knees, and feet coming at them.”

How Dangerous is Swimming?

Thankfully, none of the swimmers at the Olympics will have just had lunch, so it’s not that dangerous. Ha. Jokes aside, swimming is not a dangerous sport. In fact, because the water allows for movement with less resistance, swimming is often something doctors or physical therapists prescribe for rehabilitating injuries. Now, I’m pretty sure they don’t want you out there going for it like Katie Ledecky, but the principle still holds.

The only swimmers to worry about at the Olympics are the marathon open water swimmers. This is particularly true in 2016 because the water they will be swimming in is rumored to be full of gross and toxic sludge. Eeek.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Swimming?

Almost perfect. There are 34 events, 17 for women, 17 for men. 16 of those events have a women’s version and a men’s version that are identical. The one exception is the longest distance freestyle event. For some reason, even though women swim the 10 kilometer marathon event in open water, the powers that be in swimming have decided that women should have an 800 meter freestyle event while the men should have a 1,500 meter one. I don’t get it, and I feel sure this will change in some future Olympics. Once it does, swimming will be a perfectly balanced Olympic sport.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Swimming is from Saturday, August 6 to Tuesday, August 16.

Read more about swimming on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Gymnastics

All About Gymnastics

Gymnastics is the Summer Olympic games’ answer to the Winter Olympics’ obsession with figure skating. It’s a popular event that launches (mostly) young women into national stardom through a mixture of athleticism, artistry, and shiny costumes. Even more than with figure skating though, there’s a depth to Gymnastics beyond the gold and glitter.

How Does Gymnastics Work?

Gymnastics demands that its practitioners demonstrate a high level of artistry while doing insanely difficult physical feats. All of gymnastic is scored by a panel of nine judges who watch everything and basically decide who made the hardest thing look easiest. Gymnastics is a prop-based medium. There are eight different apparatuses on which gymnasts perform. The floor is the most minimalist of the apparatuses. It’s a 12 meter square mat that gymnasts perform 70 or 90 second tumbling routines on. In the vault, gymnasts sprint down a narrow mat before launching themselves into the air to bounce off of a solid chest-high structure, spin, twist, and tumble in the air, and then land on their feet. The pommel horse is a similar structure to the vault with the addition of two raised handles. Instead of leaping off of it, gymnasts hop on top of it and do a routine of tricks, all while touching the pommel horse only with their hands. The rings are like an inverted version of the pommel horse, except there are only two handles — no horse at all — and they are suspended from the ceiling by cords whose strength is tested by the gymnasts as they do tricks on them. In this discipline, watch for moves that pause — any pause requires immense strength from a gymnast in mid-air. The balance beam is a four-inch wide elevated strip upon which gymnasts do wildly difficult tricks. Imagine the fearlessness (and practice!) one needs to flip backwards and plan to land on something only four inches wide. The remaining four apparatuses are all variatons of thin, rounded bars. There is a single bar, two parallel bars, and two bars of different heights called uneven bars. On all of these, gymnasts plan routines that have them speeding up as they rotate a bar, only to release the bar, tumble through the air, and catch a bar again before hitting the ground. It’s pretty wild!

Why do People Like Watching Gymnastics?

NBC, the channel that’s televised the Olympics in the United States for as long as I can remember, has made an art out of its gymnastics coverage. Each gymnast seems to have an equally compelling personal back story. You get to know them and then, of course, you want them to succeed in their routines and events. This is kind of the pattern for all Olympic coverage, but it’s most obvious with the glittery gymnastics events, especially the women’s events. There’s nothing wrong with watching gymnastics this way, but if you want to concentrate on the more purely athletic aspects of the sport, there’s a lot there as well. Gymnasts pack an enormous amount of strength into bodies sculpted for elegance and flexibility. Gymnastics events are won by fractions of an inch. An inch over or under rotated during a tumble lead to a wobble on a landing and a deduction of points by a judge. An inch miss on the balance beam or one of the bar apparatuses can be equally disastrous. Plus, there is so much variety in gymnastics, it never gets boring.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Gymnastics has individual events for each apparatus as well as combined individual events and team events. In a combined individual event, gymnasts perform in a number of apparatuses and have their scores on each one combined. In a team event, teams of gymnasts perform on a series of apparatuses and have all of their scores tallied.

How Dangerous is Gymnastics?

Every Olympic junkie remembers Kerry Strug finishing her routine on an injured ankle to win an Olympic gold for her and her teammates. That is an exception, but it’s one that proves the rule. Don’t be fooled by how beautifully gymnasts complete their routines most of the time. What they are doing is amazingly precise and the consequences for any error can be big. Gymnastics is dangerous!

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Gymnastics?

Gymnastics is a confusing sport when it comes to gender equality. Men perform on more and different apparatuses than women. Men do the Vault, Floor, Pommel Horse, Rings, and Parallel Bars, while women do the Vault, Floor, Uneven Bars, and Balance Beam. You can argue that the women’s apparatuses are better, but they’re still different and fewer than the men’s. They also emphasize raw strength less than the men’s apparatuses. On the other hand, the women are much bigger stars than the men, although there’s a vague prurience in the coverage of women gymnasts that takes away from any honest celebration of this fact. Gymnastics is a messy world gender-wise.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Gymnastics is from Wednesday, August 3 to Wednesday, August 17.

Read more about gymnastics on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Rugby Sevens

All About Rugby Sevens

Traditional rugby is an awesome game. If you’ve never watched it, you should. With fifteen players on each side, it has tactical complexity that outpaces most other team sports. At times, the players form into clusters that move together and look like nothing more than independent alien life forms. The problem with rugby as an Olympic sport, however, is that it is thoroughly dominated by a small group of countries — mostly the UK, its former colonies, and France. Their dominance is so severe that it would be hard for many other countries to field competitive teams. Rugby Sevens is a scaled down version of the sport that is arguably more exciting and inarguably more accessible around the world. This is the first Olympics that Rugby Sevens will be an event in.

How Does Rugby Sevens Work?

Rugby is a territorial game, like American football, where teams try to move down the field, and eventually end up in their opponent’s end zone with possession of the ball. It is a rough and tumble sport. Tackling is allowed, but players are not allowed to tackle above the shoulders or hit their opponents without wrapping them up with their arms. That’s one big difference between rugby sevens and American football. Another one is that players are only allowed to pass the ball backwards to a teammate — no forward passes allowed. Unlike American football, rugby sevens doesn’t stop between each play. There are brief pauses in the action when a player is tackled to the ground, but the play is only constrained by rules that come into effect at these moments, not completely stopped. One of the amazing aspects of this variant of rugby is that the organizers of the game reduced the players on each side from 15 to seven but did not reduce the size of the field at all! This gives players so much room to work with that spectacular offensive plays happen much more frequently. Games are short (two seven minute halves) and exciting. Teams can score by running into their opponent’s end of the field and placing the ball on the ground. This is called a “try” and is worth five points. After a try, the team that scored gets to attempt to kick the ball through the uprights for an additional two points. If a type wins a similar kick from a penalty or if it tries to drop kick the ball during active play, those kicks would be worth three points.

Why do People Like Watching Rugby Sevens?

Rugby sevens is a great spectator sport. It’s short, so it doesn’t require much of a time commitment. It’s close to non-stop action (half-times are only two minutes). The play is sudden and surprising and violent. The players are admirable for the mixture of respect and brutality with which they play the game.

Check out some highlights:

What are the different events?

Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy: Rugby Sevens has a men’s event and a women’s one.

How Dangerous is Rugby Sevens?

I don’t want to diminish the danger of rugby sevens. It’s one of the most violent Olympic sports and its athletes brave all sorts of injuries. From twisted knees and ankles to unintentional but common head wounds to broken ribs and fingers, rugby sevens players take and dole out a lot of damage. It takes a lot to get a rugby sevens player out of a game, but it does happen. On the other hand, for as violent a sport as rugby sevens is, the looming threat of brain injury that is so present in American Football and ice hockey is much less present here because of the tackling rules.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Rugby Sevens?

The gender equality of this newest sport to be added to the Olympics is near perfect. The game does not differ between its men’s and women’s events and the uniforms actually tend to be much tighter on the men’s side than the women’s. 12 teams will compete for women and the same number for men.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Rugby Sevens is from Saturday, August 6 to Thursday, August 11.

Read more about rugby sevens on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Beach Volleyball

All About Beach Volleyball

I don’t know about you, but when I think of summer, I think of sun, water, and sand. While lots of Summer Olympic events take place in water or in the sun, only one that I can think of directly involves sand: beach volleyball.

How Does Beach Volleyball Work?

A beach volleyball court is 16 by 8 meters (about 53 by 26 feet) divided into two equal halves and divided by a net strung seven and a half or eight feet above the ground. Beach volleyball is always played in teams of two. Beach volleyball players pair up, if not for life, at least for the duration of an Olympics, and usually much longer. Communication is key, because the two players have a lot of space to cover and movement in the sand is slower and harder than on grass or wood. Even more important than the verbal communication that goes on between players during the game is the unspoken knowledge of each other that grows over years in a pair. You may also notice players communicating before points with hand signs, usually held right behind their butts so that the other team can’t see what is going on.

Beach volleyball matches consist of up to three sets, of which the first team to win two wins the match. The first two sets are played to 21 points, the third, if necessary, to 15. Games must be won by two points, so if the teams are very close, you may see scores higher than 21. Points can be scored on any rally, not only on a team’s serve like they used to be. A point is scored by forcing the ball to hit the sand in the opponent’s half of the court or by allowing the ball to hit the sand outside of the court if an opponent was the last player to touch the ball.

Why do People Like Watching Beach Volleyball?

Remember I mentioned that players hold their fingers behind their butts to communicate with each other before points? Well, television producers are overjoyed to use this as an excuse to have their cameras linger on beach volleyball olympic butts. Sex appeal is not the only draw to the sport though — far from it. As anyone who has ever tried to run or jump in sand knows, it takes a gargantuan amount of power and stamina to do it effectively and for any extended period. Beach volleyball is certainly a strength and an endurance sport but it also has a lot of technique and tactics. I also think that two person teams are one of the most fun events to watch. As a spectator, you can develop a fandom for a pair that doesn’t verge on creepy the way that rooting for individuals sometimes feels, but is more intimate that rooting for a team of 12 or 20.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are two medal events in the Olympics for beach volleyball – a men’s event and a women’s.

How Dangerous is Beach Volleyball?

One of the joys of playing beach volleyball, even at a very very low level, is that when you dive for a ball, you land on soft sand, not a scrapey wood floor. Beach volleyball is a very safe sport to play. You’ll rarely see a team have to withdraw because of injury, but you do often see players taping up their fingers, wrists, shoulders, or leg muscles, all of which take a beating from this sport.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Beach Volleyball?

So… here’s the thing. The sport itself is not so bad. There are two gold medals, one for women, one for men, each of which have an even number of teams and athletes competing for it. The net is slightly lower for women than for men, but I’m not horribly opposed to this type of difference that recognizes the difference between the average height of men and women. No, the bigger problem in beach volleyball, which makes this a bad sport in terms of gender equality, is the uniforms! Men wear reasonably baggy shorts and loose tank top shirts. Women wear skimpy two piece swim suits. I don’t think either uniform is better or worse for playing beach volleyball, so why have a difference at all? I’d vote for putting both genders in tight swim suits, but I’d also accept putting both in looser athletic wear.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Beach Volleyball is from Saturday, August 6 to Thursday, August 18.

Read more about beach volleyball on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Triathlon

The triathlon is a modern Olympic event which combines three sports – running, swimming, and bicycling — into a single exhausting package.

All About Triathlon

The triathlon is an exhausting combination of open-water swimming, road bicycling, and running. Triathlon athletes perform these feats back to back with no rest between. In fact, the transition periods between the swimming and the biking and the biking and the running are timed. You won’t see any casual drying off or stretching out between disciplines!

How Does Triathlon Work?

The triathlon begins with a mass of competitors on a beach. When the race starts, they all run into the surf and begin to swim out to open water. This type of swimming is very different from swimming competitions in a pool. For one thing, there’s a lot more jockeying for position, and it’s not uncommon for triathletes to get elbowed or kneed or kicked. Second, in anticipation of the biking and running events, many triathletes use special swimming strokes that leverage their upper body strength and save their leg power for later. After the 1,500 meter swim (almost a mile) triathletes sprint up the beach to a station where their bikes are waiting. They’ll quickly don helmets and get moving. The bike race is 40 km (25 miles) on roads. Although it is not allowed in some triathlons, in the Olympics the creation of pelotons or large groups of riders where drafting is possible, is allowed. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for a large group of the competitors to finish the bike ride at roughly the same time. This puts an emphasis on the last leg of the race, the run. The final discipline is a 10 km (6.2 mile) run. Whoever finishes first, wins!

Why do People Like Watching Triathlon?

The triathlon is a surprisingly (at least to me) modern event. In this format (swimming, biking, running) it was invented in the 1970s in California. That actually makes some amount of sense. I’ve always associated the triathlon with fitness, a much more modern focus than the versatility focus of the “modern pentathlon”. The idea of a grueling combination of events that rewards the strongest person with the most endurance who is most able to endure the pain of exhaustion is a distinctly modern phenomenon, as is the enjoyment of watching it. One small side benefit of watching the triathlon is the dress. Since it is easier to run and bike in swimwear than it would be to swim in bike gear or running clothes, everyone pretty much just wears their swim suits throughout the whole event, creating subtly discordant images of elite athletes wearing seemingly the wrong type of athletic clothing.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

The triathlon just has a women’s and a men’s event.

How Dangerous is Triathlon?

The most dangerous part of this event is the open-water swimming. There are a lot of unintentional or partiallytentional elbows, knees, punches, and kicks that get thrown as the triathletes try to make room for themselves to swim comfortably. Organizing the race so that the most physically punishing section, (the run,) is last guarantees that triathletes will pound their joints into submission, but that type of damage is long-term and unlikely to show up in Rio.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Triathlon?

Perfect – same race, same number of athletes for men and women.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Triathlon is from Thursday, August 18 and Saturday, August 20.

Read more about triathlon on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Judo

All About Judo

Judo is the Olympics’ only sport which stems from an Eastern martial art. Invented in the 1880s, Judo began as a martial art emphasizing principles of “maximum efficiency, minimal effort” and “mutual welfare and benefit”. Judo is acrobatic combat, impressive in its speed and suddenness.

How Does Judo Work?

Although the phrase “Judo chop” somehow entered the vernacular (I blame Austin Powers), there is no striking allowed in competitive Judo. Points are awarded for throwing one’s opponent to the floor. There are three degrees of throw: ippon, throwing an opponent to the ground on their back, and holding them there for 20 seconds, wazari, in which one of the elements of an ippon is missing, — for example, maybe someone landed mostly on their back but also on one elbow or was able to escape after 18 seconds — and yuko, when an opponent is thrown onto their side or immobilized for only ten seconds. Any single ippon ends the fight and wins it for the judoka performing the throw. Otherwise, bouts are either four or five minutes, with an untimed, sudden-death period if the score remains tied after that.

Why do People Like Watching

One rationale for why ALL sports are popular is that they all, in some way, simulate combat and that the urge to watch people fight is built into most people. Boxing and football, among other sports that model themselves on combat of different sorts, have become very guilty pleasures, thanks to what we now know about brain injury. Judo is a perfect antidote. It’s a combat sport without the guilt!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Judo, like boxing, has weight classes to provide some level of parity between opponents. Judo is organized into seven weight classes for men and women, starting at 132 lbs and ending at over 220 lbs for men and ranging from under 106 lbs for women and over 172 lbs for women.

How Dangerous is Judo?

Judo is not terribly dangerous. It seems to be one of those activities that’s actually much more dangerous for beginners than experts. Beginners are more likely to hit someone in the face illegally when they’re trying to grab them or break a bone falling to the mat than experts are. At the Olympic level, injuries are unusual.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Judo?

Judo has the same number of weight classes and therefore medals available for men and women. However, more men will compete for those medals than women. 220 men and only 146 women qualified for the Olympics. Women’s Judo matches are also only four minutes compared to five for men.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Judo is from Saturday, August 6 to Friday, August 12.

Read more about judo on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Handball

All About Handball

The United States is a different sporting environment than the rest of the world in lots of ways — American Football is king, soccer is of debatable worth, etc. — but its lack of handball as a major sport is the single most confusing difference. Handball seems ideally suited for the American sports landscape. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if a single spark started a major growth of handball in this country. I’d love it!

How Does Handball Work?

Handball is played by teams of seven players – six and a goalie – on an indoor court roughly the size of a basketball court. In fact, in the last Olympics, it was played on the Olympic basketball court. The object of the game is to throw a ball about two to four inches smaller than a volleyball into a goal almost as wide and a little bit shorter than a field hockey goal. Like basketball, players are restricted from running with the ball indefinitely. Unlike basketball’s relatively stringent traveling rule (yes, even though it almost never gets enforced,) players in handball are only required to pass or dribble the ball after three complete steps. The more meaningful restriction in handball is a territorial one. No field player on offense or defense is allowed to step into an area around each goal starting from six meters or almost twenty feet from the goal and curving around on either side. Players on offense are allowed to leap into that area as long as they shoot or pass the ball before landing in it. Goals are common and in the hour-long game, scores of up to 35 goals on either side are normal.

Why do People Like Watching Handball?

As an American sports fan, watching handball is like discovering a new continent ripe for the taking. Handball has all the teamwork, strategy, athleticism, physicality, and hand-using of all of our favorite sports and is higher scoring than them all. It’s no surprise that Bill Simmons, dean of a particular brand of American sports writing, has been campaigning for years for the U.S. to simply field a team of American basketball players in this event and see if they can win.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Handball simply has a men’s and a women’s competition.

How Dangerous is Handball?

Handball is pretty dangerous. It’s a full contact sport with lots of moving parts. Playing goalie in handball is not only a usually thankless task but a bruising one as well. In a recent New York Times article about handball, the job of being a handball goalie was described as extremely difficult on the mind and body:

Handballs weigh just over a pound. Opponents will jump into the goalkeeper’s D-Zone, equivalent to soccer’s penalty area, and while airborne hurl the handball at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour, at point-blank range. The goalkeeper’s job is to get something, anything, in the way: chest, legs, arms or face… the risk of injury is also high. [Goaltender Thierry] Omeyer missed three months last year after an operation to fix a ripped biceps sustained while making a close-range save.

Expect all the injuries normal in basketball plus a few you’d expect from rugby.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Handball?

Almost perfect. There are 12 women’s teams at the Olympics and 12 men’s teams. The only difference in the game between genders is that the women use a slightly smaller, slightly lighter ball. This reminds me of basketball where the debate of whether or not to lower the rim for the women’s game has raged for years. The argument for it would be that by adjusting a piece of equipment to accommodate women’s smaller (on average) bodies, it allows women to play a more similar game to men than they would be able to (on average) otherwise. Either way, it’s a small difference.

Links!

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

Read more about handball on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Field Hockey

All About Field Hockey

The fact that I grew up in an area of the world where field hockey is pretty much only played by women is one of the key regrets of my childhood. Field hockey is awesome. We should all play and watch more field hockey!

How Does Field Hockey Work?

“Field hockey (just called hockey in most of the world outside of the United States and Canada) shares a lot of rules with soccer. Hockey, like soccer, is played with two teams of 11 players each on the field. There are goals on either side of a large rectangular field. Unlike soccer, where natural grass is the optimal surface, the best hockey is played on artificial turf. This is likely because its ball is much smaller than a soccer ball and would be effected more dramatically by the vagaries of a natural surface. The goal of the game, just like soccer, is to get the ball into the opponent’s net more times than they can get it into yours. Also like soccer, there are fairly dramatic limitations on how a player can play the ball. In field hockey, the ball is really only supposed to be hit with one face of the stick that each player has. Field hockey sticks are usually around three feet long and end with a j-shaped hook at the bottom. It’s not the most convenient stick to play a sport with. Its short length makes reaching for and hitting the ball more difficult than in hockey, and the requirement to only use one side of the stick seriously increases the amount of skill necessary to run with the ball. Although field hockey is a sport with a lot of body contact, almost all intentional collisions are illegal.

Games are divided into four 15 minute quarters. Goals can only be scored from within a semi-circle drawn around the goal with a radius of 48 feet. One very common way to score a goal is off a penalty set piece called a penalty or short corner. During one of these, five defenders (including a goalie) are start on the goal-line, usually stacked up within the goal. The attacking team passes the ball in from the corner of the arc around the goal and sets up a quick shot to get off before the charging defenders can reach them. On this play, like all others, only the goalie is allowed to touch the ball with anything other than his or her stick.”

Why do People Like Watching Field Hockey?

Field hockey at an amateur level can be frustrating to watch. The limitations on how one can hit the ball and the stringent rules over contact between players make it a very difficult sport to play gracefully. Luckily, as Olympics viewers, we don’t have to worry about that at all. Olympic hockey players make the sport look easy. Olympic hockey is fast moving and exciting, with lots of clever stick-handling, teamwork, and scoring chances.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Field hockey has a men’s and a women’s event.

How Dangerous is Field Hockey?

Field hockey is extremely dangerous. It has all the stick swinging menace of ice hockey but with virtually none of the protective equipment. Hockey players are at great risk of being hit in the face or head by sticks. Goals cannot be scored on some types of shots that are deemed “dangerous” by dint of being lifted too high in an area with a lot of players. Still, they do happen, and being struck by a hockey ball is no fun either. Add to that all the normal potential knee and ankle injuries from a running team sport, and field hockey adds up to quite a dangerous past time.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Field Hockey?

Around the world, field hockey is played in roughly even numbers by men and women and this is displayed in the Olympics organization of the sport. There are two gold medals available, one for women and one for men, and each medal has 12 teams competing for it. Although it is quite equitable in gender terms, left handed people have reason to complain. Only traditionally right handed sticks are allowed in field hockey.

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Field Hockey is from Saturday, August 6 to Friday, August 19.

Read more about field hockey on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Cycling

All About Cycling

Although it has a much lower profile than swimming, track and field, or gymnastics, cycling is a big part of the summer olympics. There are eighteen different cycling events offering a wide variety of tactical and visceral thrills to viewers. From splattering mud to splintering wood, solo feats and teamwork, cycling has a little something for everyone.

How Does Cycling Work?

It’s just like riding a bike! Jokes aside, most of us kind of know how bicycles work, even if we couldn’t describe why they stay up scientifically. Every cycling event has one goal and rewards one quality — speed. Finish first, and you win.

Why do People Like Watching Cycling?

Each cycling event has its own appeal. I enjoy watching the road races the best because of their complex team tactics. Like in the Tour de France most of the riders are race their hearts out in order to set up one of their teammates for victory. That type of self-sacrifice touches me. BMX cycling brings aerial thrills and, if you are unscrupulous to admit it, the promise of spectacular spills. All together though, cycling is enjoyable because you’re watching athletes do something you CAN do in a way you can’t even imagine being able to do.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are 18 different cycling events in the 2016 Summer Olympics – nine for men and nine for women. An easy way to categorize them is by looking at the surface of the race. Two are on roads, one on mountain trails, one on constructed dirt courses, and five on an inclined wooden oval track called a velodrome.

Of the two races on roads, one is mostly a team event and one basically an individual one. In the road race, all the cyclists start together and riders from each country will work together to create the conditions for one of their riders to make it onto the podium. In the time trial, cyclists start staggered in 90 second intervals and, unless they are passing or being passed, are mostly alone on the road.

In mountain biking and BMX, riders start together and battle it out to finish first. The BMX competition is organized like many of the swimming and running races with initial heats that you have to finish in the top half of to qualify for the finals.

The velodrome is where things get confusing. There is the sprint and team sprint, when competing riders or teams start together, and the team pursuit where teams of riders start on opposite sides of the track and chase one another (although almost never catch each other). There is the keirin, where cyclists have to stay behind a dude (or dudette) on a motor scooter until the last three laps when they get to go as fast as they can. And, finally, there is the Omnium, which consists of six different types of races. I won’t go into detail on all of the six here, but some of them are truly wacky and it’s fun to watch and see if you can figure out how they work!

How Dangerous is Cycling?

Cycling is very dangerous. True, there aren’t cars around to hit these cyclists or door them, but on the other hand, they are going really, really fast. When a cyclist going 45 mph hits the ground, it barely matters if it’s asphalt, dirt, rocky dirt, or wood, it’s going to tear skin and maybe break bones.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Cycling?

On paper, cycling looks like a pretty good sport for gender equality. The only difference is that women’s races are slightly shorter in some events. Alas, because I know a bit more about cycling than some of the other events, I know that the actual state of gender equality in cycling is awful. Women’s teams are not supported even one eighth as well as men’s, and there is a distinctly chauvinist attitude throughout the sport.

Links!

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

Read more about cycling on the official Rio Olympics sites for BMX, Mountain, Road, and Track.