High-stakes sports is like watching a movie: Plot, drama, heroes.
And most of us can name the events that bring all those elements into play. World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Final, U.S. Opens (tennis and golf), Indy 500, Kentucky Derby, World Cup. And we can name the heroes from those events — Tom Brady, Buster Posey, Steph Curry, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Megan Rapinoe.
But every four years, we watch a different bunch of athletes. It’s a fortnight known as the Olympic Games, a geographic smorgasbord of plot, drama and heroes.
Many Olympians have become household names, in recent years Apolo Ohno, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles.
But if you have paid attention the past few weeks, you’ve seen and read about other athletes who dominate in sports less popular with the masses. Be honest, before last week had you heard of Caeleb Dressel, Carissa Moore, Sydney McLaughlin, Nyah Huston, Sunisa Lee, Cat Osterman and Brady Ellison?
Their sports are, in order, swimming, surfing, track/field, skateboarding, gymnastics, softball and archery.
They are sports we pay attention to only every four years, at Olympics time. Many of these events go back centuries, in an Olympic tradition that enthralls the world. Others are newer to the Olympics (i.e., surfing was added this year).
As we counted down the days to the start of school, my grandson Joaquin spent a lot of his time watching the Olympics with his family. He’s familiar with a lot of the popular sports from watching TV with me, and he has played soccer, T-ball, table tennis and golf.
But as we flipped through the channels, he was riveted by such competitions as kayaking, gymnastics, volleyball, BMX, surfing, water polo, trampoline and equestrian.
So let’s hear it for the Olympic Games. Long may they live to show us that the highest level of sporting achievement is not simply the domain of millionaires. That there are thousands of athletes who sweat, toil and persevere so every fourth year they can travel across the world competing for their countries as well as themselves.
And let us also pledge to support the traditional Olympic sports — wrestling, swimming, track & field, gymnastics, etc. — in our high schools and universities.
They are the cornerstones of athletic competition.
Thanks, Olympians, for a wild ride. See you in 2024.