What sports could be shortened?

Dear Sports Fan,

My wife is a sports fan. I love sitcoms. My hobby takes 30 minutes to watch. Hers takes three hours, whether it’s football, basketball, hockey, baseball, or soccer. How is this fair? What sports could be shortened without making them less fun for sports fans?

Thanks,
Sam


Dear Sam,

You have a point – sports games are much longer on average than other forms of entertainment. As a sports fan, I find it hard to commit to watching a two hour movie, but I think nothing of sitting down to watch a three hour football game… or more than one! On its face, this behavior doesn’t make much sense. Why commit to three or six hours when you won’t commit to two? Do I really like sports that much more than movies? Probably not – instead, the difference can be explained by the intermittent nature of sports. The average football game famously only has eleven minutes of action spread out over those three hours. This is an exaggeration, but there are lots of times during a three hour game when a sports fan can safely leave the couch to get a snack or a beer or check their email or… I’ve even been known to read a book while watching a game! That said, you may be on to something. Sports games are long. Can any sports be shortened without losing the essence of their appeal? Would any actually become more exciting by being shortened? Let’s play out the hypothetical of cutting each of the five most popular sports in half and see what happens.

Soccer

Soccer is 90 minutes of running around without much happening. It seems ripe for disruption through abbreviation. The problem is, because there is so little scoring, shortening the game would pose a serious problem. Think there are too many ties now in soccer? Wait until games are only 45 minutes. It’s not just the length. Many soccer games don’t really “open up” until the 60 to 70 minute mark. This is when players start getting tired enough to make mistakes that allow the other team to get some legitimate scoring opportunities. If we are going to shorten soccer, we would at least have to require players to tire themselves out before they begin; say, run a 10k before the game starts.

Verdict: Not a good candidate. Soccer requires a long time for one team to win as it is.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey doesn’t have soccer’s issue with excitement. Hockey is so exhausting to play that players don’t stay on the ice for more than 45 seconds to a minute at a time anyway. While they are on, they go like gang-busters! A 30 minute hockey game would be just as exciting as a 60 minute one. There are two issues with cutting hockey in half. First, the necessity of rotating players makes hockey a uniquely team-oriented sport. Cut the time in half, and you would definitely be able to get away with having only 3/4 or even 1/2 the number of players, which would harm this aspect of the game. Second, and more conclusively, hockey is one of the most random sports because goals are scored in such a chaotic way. A lot of the time, even watching in slow motion on a high definition television doesn’t help the viewer figure out how the puck went into the goal. The average game in 2016 had 5.45 goals scored. Just enough for the weirdness of the game to even out and the better teams to win most of the time. Cut the game in half, and the better team might not win most of the time. The weirdness could easily overpower the statistical significance of the sport.

Verdict: Ice hockey is just too random to be any shorter than it already is and still have the better team win most of the time.

Baseball

Baseball seems like a great candidate for cutting in half. At its heart, it is a series of one on one interactions anyway. Pitcher faces batter, repeat. Because of this, baseball is the sporting culture obsessed most with statistics. Any change to the game which affects the ability to compare contemporary players to players in the past is fiercely resisted. If that could be overcome, the next obstacle to consider would be the endurance of starting pitchers. A lot of baseball games are decided only when one team’s starting pitcher gets tired enough to make a mistake and the other team is able to start hitting their pitches. Over the past decade, baseball teams have adjusted to patch this vulnerability by substituting relief pitchers in for their starting pitcher earlier and earlier – before he even gets tired. So, in a way, cutting the game in half might create a throw-back to an earlier era, when starting pitchers were expected to pitch complete games. Hmm!

Verdict: It would never happen because of the rabid baseball traditionalists, but if it did, they might find themselves oddly pleased.

Football

Why not football? Football is facing a looming crisis anyway. The brutality of the sport and our new understanding of traumatic brain injuries has already forced a number of changes and promises to force many more, or perhaps end the sport entirely. I’ve thought and written a lot about this issue and my conclusion was that NFL football rosters should be reduced from 53 to 20. This would reduce the specialization of football players that allows for 350+ pound men and 180 pound men who run 20+ miles an hour to coexist on the same field. It would also make it impossible for players to “give 110%” on every play. Slow everyone down, encourage everyone to have bodies optimized for endurance over speed and strength, and maybe players will have the split second they need to avoid calamitous collisions. Cutting the game in half is exactly the opposite of this! It would make every play more important and encourage everyone to play even harder on every play. No way!

Verdict: Not a good idea for players’ long term or short term health.

Basketball

Like football, basketball is played harder than ever these days. If you look at film from the 1980s and compare it to now, it’s radically different. Players in the 1980s were not expected to cover nearly as much ground as they do today. The dominance of the three point shot today means that players need to play high intensity defense in parts of the court that they used to simply allow an opponent to dribble in without being contested. This difference showed up in the playoffs last year, when teams built around a single great player, like James Harden on the Houston Rockets or Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder, fell apart in the fourth quarter when their star got too tired to play effectively. This could be an argument against shortening the game — teams should have to be built in a more balanced way, not around a single player. Basketball is already the sport that is affected most by a single player. One player out of five on the court is more impactful than one out of eleven in soccer, eleven (plus eleven, plus special teamers in football), or one out of nine in baseball. (Hockey has only six on the ice at a time, but because they can only play for a minute or so before they need a rest, the impact of a single player is proportionally smaller.) Basketball is the most star-oriented sport but its length, combined with the way it’s now played is getting in the way of the best players being able to play their best when it matters the most.

Verdict: Let’s do it!

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

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?

Thanks,
Lester


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?

Thanks,
Meredith


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?

Thanks,
Marcella


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?

Thanks,
Brian


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

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.

Jumping

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?

Throwing

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.

Combined

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?

Sprints

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!

Jumping

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.

Throwing

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!

Combined

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.

Links!

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 Basketball

All About Basketball

Basketball is the most American of sports. Invented in Massachusetts in 1891, it’s as American as Apple pie. So, what is it doing in the Olympics? Well, it’s been a long time since 1891, and since then basketball has become as French as a baguette, as Spanish as jamon, as Argentinian as steak, and as Lithuanian as Cepelinai.

How Does Basketball Work?

I’m going to skip the general nature of basketball, but if you want to brush up on that, here are some earlier posts I’ve written.

International basketball has always had slightly different rules than the ones American basketball fans are used to seeing in college basketball or the NBA or WNBA. Some of them are small and have little impact on the game but some are pretty big. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

  1. The three point line is closer to the basket than in the NBA. This has made concentrating on the three point shot a more common tactic in international basketball than the NBA over the years. However, just since the last Olympics game, the NBA has gone totally three-point crazy. So, things this time around will look much more the way NBA fans are accustomed to but even MORE of the three point shots will go in.
  2. Traveling (taking too many steps without bouncing the ball) actually gets called. Hooray!
  3. Games are a little shorter than in the NBA — 40 minutes instead of 48 — and players foul out after five fouls not six.
  4. Pure zone defenses are allowed, like in college. On the other hand, a player who is closely guarded and doesn’t move the ball for five seconds will lose possession by rule.
  5. Once the ball has hit the rim, anyone can go up and touch it at any time. In the NBA, the ball needs to leave an imaginary cylinder above the hoop before being touched. This will lead to some hellacious put-back-dunks off of misses.

Why do People Like Watching Basketball?

Basketball may have the most balletic athletic movements of any team sport. Watch how the players not only hang in the air, but adjust their bodies to whatever the defense is throwing at them. Sometimes that means changing hands in mid-air, sometimes it means bouncing off a defender’s body and throwing up a shot on the way to the ground, sometimes it means shifting from one side of the basket to the other. In any event, the body control of these athletes is beautiful. Basketball also has beautiful movement at the level of a team. When a team is hitting on all cylinders, there are five people moving in complete synch with one another.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Olympic basketball has a men’s and women’s competition.

How Dangerous is Basketball?

Ten giant humans launching themselves into the air? That seems pretty dangerous, and it is… at least to their ankles. As anyone who’s ever played basketball knows, the most common injury is a turned ankle. This can be self-inflicted, during a quick change of direction or landing from a leap, but it happens most severely when one player comes out of the air and lands on another player’s foot instead of the even surface of the floor. When that happens, eek! Other than ankles, basketball has all the dangers of a contact sport.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Basketball?

Gender equality in the sport of basketball is very good. The rules are virtually the same. It’s the subject of equipment that gets people’s hackles up in one direction or the other. Although women use a slightly smaller ball, they play on the same height basketball hoop. This changes the look and tactics of the game significantly. Although a few women have dunked in competitive play (and more in practice, I’m sure,) it’s not a regular part of the women’s game. This is either actually a big why women’s basketball is so much less popular than men’s or a convenient excuse. In any event, the relative height of the rim to the average height of the players makes a big tactical difference and people aren’t sure of how to feel about that.

Links!

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

Read more about basketball on the official Rio Olympics site.

Summer Olympics: All About Tennis

All About Tennis

Tennis was part of the first seven Olympic games. Then a dispute between organizations led to it being dropped for ten of the next eleven Olympics. In the time it was missing, all of the sport’s Victorian notions of it being a gentle person’s sport were flushed from the game. These days it’s a fiercely competitive professional sport.

How Does Tennis Work?

“The most complicated aspect of tennis is its scoring system that has its own language and nests inside itself like a Russian doll. Let’s run through this from biggest to smallest. Tennis is played in matches. A match can be won by winning two of three (or three of five) sets. A set consists of individual games. Winning a set means being the first player to win six games, although you have to win by two. If a set is tied 6-6, it gets decided by what is called a tie break. This is like a single extended game where the first player to win 7 points (again though, you have to win by two) wins the set. The only exception to this is if the final set is tied — if this happens, normal games are played infinitely until one player has a two game lead. Games themselves have their own confusing rules and vocabulary. A game is made up of points. Points are the smallest level of tennis. A point begins with a serve and ends when one player either cannot return a ball hit into their side of the court or hits the ball directly out of bounds. Games are played to four points with, of course, a few wrinkles. The first is that, like sets, winning a game requires a two point lead. The second is strictly a matter of how the scores are talked about. Instead of counting up from zero by one (1-0, 1-1, 2-1, etc.) the scores go 0 (also called love,) 15, 30, 40. If the score is tied 40-40, it’s called deuce, and one player will have to win two points in a row to win the game. After the first of those two points, the score is called Advantage Player A. If Player B wins the next point, the score returns to deuce or 40-40.

Got it? Good!”

Why do People Like Tennis

Olympic tennis is special because players are not just playing for themselves, they’re playing for their country. This is true in lots of sports, but it’s special in tennis, because it is, in my opinion, the most intensely psychological sport. What effect does this mind shift have? Does it help some players and hurt others? What does that tell us about them? For example, the favorite on the men’s side, Novak Djokovic, is known to be an overtly patriotic Serb. He hasn’t broken through at the Olympics but I’m sure he wants to. He’ll surely be playing with an edge but will that edge help him or hurt him?

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Tennis has a men’s singles event, a women’s singles event, a women’s doubles event, a men’s doubles event, and a mixed doubles event with teams consisting of one woman and one man.

How Dangerous is Tennis?

Tennis is not dangerous as much as it is damaging. The sport was developed to be played on grass and for the sake of its players knees and ankles, perhaps it should have stayed that way. Tennis also has one of the longest seasons of all sports, so tennis players basically never get a break from the constant pounding of sprinting on asphalt.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Tennis?

In many tennis events, and all of the four major tournaments, there’s a glaring difference between men and women in tennis. Men play best-three-out-of-five set matches and women play best-two-out-of-three set matches. The Olympics almost fixes this issue. Everyone will play best-two-out-of-three set matches… except for in the men’s finals which will be a best-three-out-of-five set match. Gah! So close!

Links!

Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Tennis is from Saturday, August 6 to Sunday, August 14.

Read more about tennis 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.

Links!

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.

Links!

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.