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« No wrong answers, except for yours | Main | Dry holes »

Aug 03, 2012


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formerly gt

Gymnasts are incredible athletes. But is it really a sport?

With all the "floor routines" it seems more like "Dancing With The Stars - the Olympic Edition"


Gymnastics a sport, absolutley!

Andrew Brod

I've never been a fan of aesthetically scored sports. When I learned that ice skaters can lose points because of their costumes, I decided it wasn't really a sport. What's next? Olympic concert piano? Olympic ballet?

Oh wait. We already have the latter.

In the novel Ordinary People, the high-school-swimmer narrator denigrates divers as "wet gymnasts." As a former swimmer, that sounds about right to me.


At least as much a sport as golf. Sport is what athletes do. They don't need to be engaged in faux combat.

Andrew Brod

And it's not about subjectivity. A lot of officiating in sports like basketball and baseball is subjective, but it's not aesthetic.

Ed Cone

But it's not all subjective, and certainly not all about aesthetics. The commentators refer repeatedly to quantitative factors -- specific numbers attached to specific infractions, and also to total possible points varying from one routine to another.

That's the stuff I'd like to understand better. I'm sure the vast internet contains answers, but I only care for a week every four years, so I want it spoon-fed to me on the teevee while I'm watching it happen.

"Sport is what athletes do." Yes. It's an athletic competition.

Non-athletic factors may play a role in the scoring, but gymnasts and skaters surely are athletes and surely are competing.

Andrew Brod

Don't try to find natural boundaries. There are none. Ballet dancers are just as "athletic" as ice skaters and ice dancers. The boundaries are arbitrary, and I'm okay with that.

formerly gt

"Ballet dancers are just as "athletic" as ice skaters and ice dancers." - andrew


"At least as much a sport as golf" - corbs

golf is a game which requires some athletic ability. probably less physically demanding than bowling. more demanding than archery.

"The boundaries are arbitrary" - andrew

but not the game selection. if people want to see it and if the top performers want to compete and if it's played internationally, it'll be in the games. otherwise it'll go the way of polo, cricket and the tug-of-war.

"Fewer crowd and reaction shots, more sports, please, and not just in gymnastics."

sorry to break it to you ed. but you're either just out of the core demo or you soon will be.

Ed Cone

10:25AM: "I decided it wasn't really a sport."
10:43AM: "Don't try to find natural boundaries."

I contain multitudes!

But there is a natural, or at least, definitional boundary: athletic competition.

Ballet is a performance. Gymnastics is a competition.

Dancers are athletic, but they aren't engaged in athletic competition.

Andrew Brod

But they could be. Start awarding "maximum points for different routines, deductions for specific mistakes, and so on," and you've got a sport.

Andrew Brod

Or, rather, a "sport."

Ed Cone

Yes, if you codified rules of athletic competition for ballet performances, you'd have the basis for an athletic competition.

But that would be different from the collaborative art performed by athletic dancers.

There are gray areas in my competition-centric definition: Is an exhibition game in a sure-enough man-approved sport actually a sport? Is NASCAR (competitive but not that athletic) a sport?


Don't even try to claim that NASCAR does not involve athleticism. The levels of strength (to handle g-forces) and hand-eye coordination (reaction times), as well as the need for excellent peripheral vision make it more of a sport -- due to the demands placed on the body -- than many of the sports we are watching on NBC currently.


Now, you're made me curious when competitive sports, especially competitive team sports, arrived on the scene.

The Greeks included wrestling, foot races,and chariot racing in their Olympics. So, NASCAR could be considered a modern version of that. Still, it'd be fun to see a chariot race around London.

In any case, "contests of athletic prowess" seems a broad enough term to cover what happens at an Olympics.

Ed Cone

Mojo's points about NASCAR are well taken, although in chariot racing (and horse racing) the best athletes are the horses.

But is every scored activity that involves some degree of physical prowess a sport, or, to use my (hopefully) less charged term, an athletic competition?

When does something become just a game? What's darts?

David Wharton

The ancient Olympics weren't bound by any modern definitions of sport and included many purely aesthetic competitions (such as poetry) along with the sporting ones. They also included the 4-horse chariot race, one of the more prestigious events -- the Formula 1 racing of its day.

In response to ftg's comment, I'd say it doesn't matter to me whether gymnastics meets some artificial definition of "sport" -- it definitely belongs in the Olympics. I understand Coubertin wanted to include artistic competition in the modern Olympics.

Fun fact: "gymnasics" comes from the Gk. gymnos "naked" from which is derived gymnasion, ("gymnasium") literally, "nakedness place" because the Greeks worked out in the nude, and the ancient Olympians competed au naturel. Of course, women didn't compete at all.

Fun fact no. 2: the wealthy owners of the equestrian teams were awarded the Olympic victory prizes (not the charioteers and riders) and were greatly honored at home for bringing glory to their city-states. Guess that's another old custom that's gone out of style.


plus nascar drivers need to be able to piss themselves while going in circles.

for what it's worth, i don't think of golf as a "sport." a competitive pastime / game? yes. but when the pro's have a coach / bag holder following them around the course... c'mon. john daly won a major while drunk and fat. tons of skill, not much athleticism. yes, i realize tiger created a buff trend with golfers, but it doesn't create the same competitive edge that being in shape does for a linebacker or a shooting guard.

Ed Cone

Poetry slam!

Golf is a sport. Athleticism is not limited to running and jumping (ask Larry Bird).

Honoring owners may be lapsed Olympic tradition, but NFL and other major pro team owners are celebs in a big way.


larry bird was ten times the athlete of any golfer, including tiger woods.

formerly gt

"for what it's worth, i don't think of golf as a "sport.""

what do you consider archery?


"When does something become just a game? What's darts?"

Games are sports. Sports are not always games. Darts is a game. So is basketball, golf, tennis, water polo, and hockey. Swimming is not a game. You can't play swim. Swimming, bicycling, running, jumping, etc. do have rules at thier respective competitions, but they are still singular activities at thier most basic level. When an activity becomes a competition, it becomes a sport.


i think of archery similarly -- a competition. highly skilled, but not an actual sport.

Andrew Brod

"When an activity becomes a competition, it becomes a sport."

Then concert piano is a sport. So is debate. So is poker.

Well, poker's no surprise. It's on ESPN.

David Wharton

Do you guys realize what deep philosophical waters you're diving into?

Ed Cone

"larry bird was ten times the athlete of any golfer, including tiger woods."

No. An American team-sport bias is not the final arbiter in this debate. Bird was a phenom, but so is Woods.

Not accusing anyone here of it, either, but there's a whiff of sexism behind some of the not-a-sport arguments I hear re gymnastics and skating.

"Games are sports." Monopoly?


"john daly won a major while drunk and fat."

Babe Ruth accomplished quite a lot while laboring under the same burdens. Was he an athlete engaged in a sport?


As for the NBC coverage, I really appreciated it last night when they cut away from the competition so Ryan Seacrest could tell me which Olympic-related topics were trending on Facebook and Twitter. Riveting stuff.

Andrew Brod

I guess that's no weirder than breathless stories on Entertainment Tonight about box-office numbers.

But still weird. Too meta for me.


I don't know if sexism is involved. If so, that's too bad for sexists. Anyone not watching the US women play basketball is missing a treat.


I should have added the requirement of skill or ability.

Andrew Brod

Playing a piano requires no skill? Debate and ballet require no ability?

Ed Cone

Athletic skill and ability.


Maybe it is helpful to remember that in Olympic parlance, track and field are referred to as "athletics".

Faster, higher, stronger.


I didn't disagree with your assumptions regarding those activities, AB. My previous post was addressing the Monopoly question that Ed posed. Although Monopoly does involve a bit more skill than Chutes and Ladders, it's still primarily a game based more on luck than anything. Evidently there is a World Monopoly Championshio...


Ed, yes, thank you.


^^^^ thomas, babe ruth was an exception to the rule. you can find any number of players in team sports who fit a similar narrative because team sports allow for specialized positions. a power hitter or pitcher? fat is fine. offensive lineman or punter? eat all you want. but what about a tennis player? or a volleyball player?

ruth also had the advantage of not facing *all* the talent around him during that time period but that's a discussion for another day.


Beer Drinking and Hot Dog eating are sports? You have to train up for those. Meet me at Natty's to discuss further......


"Is NASCAR (competitive but not that athletic) a sport?"

Have you ever driven at speed on the high banking of a place like Daytona, Talledega, or Indianapolis?


Then you have no idea the type of physical and mental conditioning required to sustain 2-4 Gs of lateral acceleration.

Have you ever driven at speeds that can exceed 200 mph for up to four hours at a time, at night, when you routinely out-drive the available visibility, then taek a four hour break before your next shift, as is sometimes the case at endurance prototype GT racing, such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, or the 24 Hours of LeMans?


Then you have no idea of the physical,mental, and emotional durability required to do so.

The successful professionals in motorsports prepare and train just as hard in all aspects needed as any world class athlete in any sport.

The old days of fat drivers and skinny tires has been replaced in the modern era by skinny drivers and fat tires.

Ed Cone

On the one hand, auto racing rewards strength and endurance and reflexes, and it's a competition.

On the other, it's operating heavy machinery while sitting down, with the equipment determining the outcome much of the time.

Here AB's warning against natural boundaries applies. Maybe racing is a sport, but not an athletic contest? Or a competition that involves elements of athleticism but is not usually determined by them?

Buff boyOn the topic of buffness as a prereq for athleticism, I introduce you to shot putter Reese Hoffa, not to mention every sumo wrestler ever.

Andrew Brod

Re "The World Finally Catches Up to Ryan Lochte and the U.S.", it's only fair to say: Not so fast. U.S. swimmers had a great Olympics in the pool once again, winning 16 out of 32 golds, more than they did in 2008 and well more than China's 5. The U.S. total of 30 medals was about the same as in 2008, and far ahead of Japan's 11, China's 10, and Australia's 10.

(Actually, 34 golds will be awarded, as since 2008 swimming has included a men's and women's 10K lake swim.)

Recent U.S. medal counts in swimming...
2012: 30
2008: 31
2004: 28
2000: 33
1996: 26

It's true that the U.S. used to be more dominant. But that was in the '60s and '70s. In 1964, the year of Don Schollander, we won 29 medals and 13 of 18 golds. In 1968, after the program was expanded to approximately its current format, we won 52 medals and 21 of 29 golds. In 1972, the year of Mark Spitz, we won 43 medals and 17 of 29 golds. In other words, the world caught up to us some time ago.

(Prior to the '60s, U.S. swimming medal takes were up and down. But we were dominant at times. In 1924, the year of Johnny Weissmuller ("Tarzan"), we won 9 of 11 golds.)

We didn't see a U.S. decline in the pool in London, but we did see something of a shift of power from Europe/Australia to east Asia. Perennial power Australia saw its medal take cut in half from 2008, while both Japan and China doubled their totals.

However, there were four countries in double digits for total swimming medals in this Olympics, as compared to only two in recent Olympics. We haven't seen more than two since the East German 1980s swimming machine was puttering out in the '90s.

Ed Cone

Yeah, SI came out early in the games, and the U.S. then picked up the pace and finished strong. Phelps finally remembered why he was there, and last night's final relay was a great ending to his career. The women were impressive. Lochte, who seemed to be happy cast as the next Phelps, was by that measure a disappointment.

The part about recognizing that athletes from other places win medals, rather than US athletes just losing them, is worth remembering.

Andrew Brod

The Chinese dude in the 1500 was amazing. During the race, my wife's eyes glazed over much as mine have during "artistic gymnastics" (which condition I cure by leaving the room). She thought it was boring to watch a guy swim down and back over and over again, but I found it riveting. And I was annoyed when the broadcast went to commercial for about 700 meters. I'll have to catch it online.


My favorite part of the live broadcast yesterday morning was the segment with the two morons discussing who where the most popular athletes on facebook with a minor digression to tell us that the U.S. v. Latvia basketball game underway was very close in its closing minutes. They never did show the game live. But facebook! Neeto!

David Wharton

"The part about recognizing that athletes from other places win medals, rather than US athletes just losing them, is worth remembering."

Speaking of which, I was actually rooting for Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the women's 100m after watching NCB's backstorystory on her. A bit treacly, yes, but I sometimes like treacle, and there was some vinegar in it too -- especially the part where her mother threatened to cut off certain parts of some neighborhood boys with her machete if they kept making lewd suggestions to her daughter.

Fraser-Pryce ran a great race, and Carmelita Jeter accepted defeat graciously. It's nice to get caught up in that whole Olympic spirit thing once in a while.

Ian McDowell

The chubby or even fat man (or woman) who is also extremely athletic is an uncommon phenomena, but it certainly occurs. Hong Kong action film star, director and choreographer Sammo Hung is in many ways even more impressively acrobatic than his friend and former Peking Opera schoolmate Jackie Chan, despite being twice Jackie's girth. He's far more graceful and physically impressive(and a better actor, although that's not what we're talking about here)than Chuck Norris, who as a karate tournament champion in the 60s could certainly have been called a professionally athelete (and one who was world-ranked in his field).


Or take professional wrestling. Sure, it's all staged, but it has a long history of big fat guys throwing themselves about the ring and into the air with a remarkable amount of agility. Because of the stunts performed, it's more genuinely dangerous than MMA and probably more dangerous than boxing (which is not to say a pro wrestler would win a fight with a boxer or MMA champ of the same size, just that they take more risks by virtue of the fact they're often doing such spectacular slams and falls). I don't enjoy watching pro wrestling, but I can't deny the athleticism of a lot of its stars (not all of them -- some guys rise rise in prominence due to their ability to make the guy who defeats them look good, despite his lack of skill).

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Jackie Gleason were also examples of the surprisingly agile fat man.


"On the other, it's operating heavy machinery while sitting down, with the equipment determining the outcome much of the time."

Not a chance.

Go to a basic NASCAR driver school for a day or so to learn how to drive a racing stock car, then take one of Rick Hendrick's Cup cars and challenge the average late model sportsman driver and ride combination that races at Bowman-Gray. Go to any track you like, and the late model guy laps you inside of five or six laps. Skip the school, and you probably don't make it more than several hundred yards before you put it into a fence somewhere.

In addition, watch the interviews with NASCAR and Indy Car drivers after the race ends. You will learn that the "best equipment" (by several different measurements) generally wins in only half the cases.

There is much more than meets the eye of a casual observer in motorsports. Start with the indisputable fact that motorsports is a team sport.

On the other hand, you could challenge me, a 64 year old guy with arthritis in his hands, who hasn't turned a wheel on a track in 15 years or so, who outweighs you by perhaps a 100 llbs, to a 10 lap kart race on an 1/8 mile oval. It's likely I would lap you twice in less than 10 laps.

Ed Cone

No doubt about the skill (and guts) required. Fitting it neatly into the category of athletic competition is the challenge for at least some observers.


"Fitting it neatly into the category of athletic competition is the challenge for at least some observers."

"Some observers"= "easy chair experts" or "Monday morning quarterbacks" or "water cooler warriors" or perhaps in this case "I-40 Earnhardts" or "people who haven't a clue."

Ask any non-decathlon Olympic athlete to compete in a decathlon against Carl Edwards (or numerous others), watch the competition, and tell me race car drivers don't qualify as athletes.

Andrew Brod

Man, that guy gets pissed off about everything.

David Hoggard

Just what I was thinking.

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