With the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics, I’m reminded of the curious sports that I had never heard of before this year. I’d never heard of “biathalon”, a winter event that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. You read that right – biathalon athletes ski and shoot in one event. There’s also “skeleton”, which involves an athlete sliding head-first down a steep slope on a tiny sled. Skeleton makes luge look wimpy. With sports this extreme and strange, I wondered how we came up with these events to begin with. What makes a sport worthy of the Olympics?
Some Olympic sports are events simply because they’re flashy and fun to watch. For example, figure skating or ice dance, sports that weren’t around in ancient Greece and aren’t commonly practiced today. They remain popular because you don’t have to skate professionally to appreciate a well-choreographed dance and frilly outfits. Some Olympic sports are ones that are enjoyed by the average joe. For example, lots of people ski or snowboard, and because these events are commonly enjoyed, it’s natural to want to find the *best* skiier or snowboarder in the world. And some Olympic sports are no longer popular but are still events for largely historical reasons. Think of discus throwing or javelin. Though most people have never thrown a discus or javelin in their lives, as a nod to the ancient Greek Olympic festivities, we’ve adopted some of the old athletic traditions.
In the Olympics of 2100, what sort of sports will our descendants watch? Perhaps in the future, there will just be high-tech versions of flashy sports that people like to watch, common sports that people like to play, and historical sports that were popular in ancient Olympics.
For flashy sports that are fun to watch, the Olympics of 2100 might have a high-tech version of figure skating or ice dance. Maybe jetpack acrobatics, with catchy music and colorful fashions in an aerial dance. Jetpack acrobatic athletes with fake smiles and quick reflexes would perform airshow-like stunts in the air. Basically, ballet with a rocket.
For common sports that people like to play, maybe one day when space travel is commonplace, many households will have zero-gravity chambers where children and adults will play sports that in today’s age are played outside. Think soccer. The Olympics of 2100 could finesse what is commonly enjoyed at home, and award medals for zero-gravity soccer, for example.
Lastly, at the Olympics of 2100, there might be a competitive sport that is included as an homage to today’s Olympics. I’m optimisic that the future will be non-violent, and that rough sports that are considered acceptable today – rugby and boxing — will be abhorrent to our peaceful descendants. Perhaps in the future, rugby and boxing will be Olympic events for historical reasons only. They may even be played by robots instead of people.
Alas, it may be some time before we see jetpack ballet, zero-gravity soccer and robot rugby. Until then, I’ll have to make do with men and women’s ice hockey (Canada FTW).