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The Obscure Olympic Sports That You Should Be Watching

The Obscure Olympic Sports That You Should Be Watching
By Gavin Cooney Updated

The best thing about the Olympics can be viewed through Peter Collins late night on RTE.

Collins has been given presenting duties for the late-night show from the Rio Olympics, and he's having a feckin' great time.

He's been released from behind a desk, and freed from the rigid format of presenting live football, Collins has roamed the studio like a seanachai touring the west of Ireland, wandering from the desk to the sofa and back again, via the big TV screen and that fancy touchpad. He's used this new format to experiment with his words. Here's what his introduction to synchronised diving:

And now, a sport we only watch every four years, yet its precision never ceases to amaze.

Oh, and for the record, Cristiano Ronaldo is a big fan!

Collins on RTE after midnight is a little like when Andy leaves the room in Toy Story. You half-expect Collins to organise the production staff into some kind of civilised society and lead them on whimsical adventures while the live sport is being shown. But in a couple of weeks time, scheduling will return to normal, and all we will see of Collins is back in the Soccer Republic chair.

But this novelty is what is best about the Olympics. Just flick on the TV late at night, and dive into whatever sport happens to be on. Because you only have to think about the sport for whatever length of time it is on, it can be enjoyed purely for what is happening.


Because you only have to think about the sport for whatever length of time it is on, it can be enjoyed purely for what is happening. It's not like football, rugby or GAA, sports which keep on happening over and over again, requiring you to glean a certain depth of knowledge to maintain conversation with your friends.

But with Olympic sports, you just have to flick on and enjoy, freed from the tyranny of having to concentrate to analyse the nuances regarding the tightness of a gymnasts' Yamowakee for future conversations. (That's not rude. We think).

We in the Balls office have been having as good a time watching these obscure sports as Peter Collins has had presenting them, so some of us have decided to pick our favourite.


Mick McCarthy - Canoe Slalom

There's something about the Olympics that just entraps me. Last night, I found myself watching Serbia and Puerto Rico in women's volleyball on the BBC's 7th Olympic channel.
It was the kind of event that if you saw it on Eurosport at a different time of year, you'd scoff. Who in God's Name would watch this crap? Yet here I was, strangely intrigued by the serving power of the Serbs and the tenacity of the underdog Puerto Ricans.
So yeah, when it comes to the Olympics, I'll watch anything, so long as it's the pinnacle of the sport. My favourite though, going back the Barcelona Olympics when it just captured me as a young child, has to be canoe slalom.
A sport for absolute nutcases. It feels more like an adventure film than an Olympic sport, but once you. Olympic events are best when a an individual has a time to beat and we can watch the checkpoints along the way, and the slalom can be incredibly dramatic in this regard.
But it can also be quite heartbreaking, when in the middle of a great run, a competitor will miss a marker, and have to helplessly row against the tide to get back around. They can appear so helpless.
It can be triumphant. It can be sad. It can be funny. And it appears dangerous. What more could you want from your Olympic events?

Mark Farrelly - Synchronised Diving 

Have you found the edge of your seat? Because that's where you are right now.’ The funniest part of this piece of commentary from the BBC’s Bob Ballard during Monday’s synchronised diving was that he had hit the nail on the head.

Five minutes earlier I had never watched a second of the sport in my life, now I was a fully-fledged diehard. My housemate and I watched on with a mixture of confusion and suspense. All we had learned was that the less splash as you entered the water the better and being a ‘bicycle length’ apart from your partner was a disaster.

Then the moment of clarity arrived. The Chinese stepped up and unleashed a forward four and a half to die for. You didn’t need an ounce of diving knowledge to realise that what you had just witnessed was perfection. The very last dive saw the British secure bronze in the most dramatic fashion and, just like that, it was gone from our lives again. I for one cannot wait until Tokyo 2020.


Mikey Traynor - Table Tennis 

Easily the best sport to watch at the Olympics is Table Tennis.

It's a game that everybody loves to have a go at themselves, but the stuff that these guys do never fails to blow minds and make you realise just how horrifically crap you are despite fancying your chances against everyone you know. The spectacle is incredible as two men in polo shirts and short shorts batter a ping-pong ball at each other making what seem like impossible returns look effortless.
There's so many countries with superstars in the sport. China, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Brazil, Germany, and my personal favourite; Singapore. They bloody love the game in Singapore so those guys always leave their heart on the table.
It's fast-paced, thrilling, impressive, and makes you feel like you've exercised just by trying to keep up with it. Every time you watch it you're likely to see a stunning rally within minutes. It's magic.

Gavin Cooney - Weightlifting

So, it turns out that weightlifting may be the greatest spectator sport on the planet. On a basic level, it is simply one extremely big man or woman lifting an extremely big thing before dropping it to allow another extremely big man or woman lift it. But it is so, so, so much more than that.

Without wishing to go too overboard, weightlifting probes to the very depths of the human condition.

Having ramped himself or herself up from behind the curtain the lifter (I don't know if that's the right word) emerges from backstage to confront the bar (I also don't know if that's the right word).

Yet the lifter confronts more than simply the bar. He/She is confronting the very limits of his strength. This is not just physical, but mentally also. How brave are you going to be?

The lifter squats down to grasp the bar. (Anyone who has been forced to undergo a torturous Health and Safety day at work will immediately pray he is lifting with his knees rather than hs back). He/She then pulls the bar beneath his chin as he rises; holding it there for a couple of seconds. But while he/she holds it beneath his chin - with veins popping out of his/her skin like rivets bursting out of a cartoonishly overflowing water tower and muscles now adamantine - he/she knows that they're only halfway through.

He/She must then hoist the bar above his head, sliding his legs apart to minimise the effort upon his arms, before slowly bringing his/her legs together to complete the routine. All the time the lifter's body quivers as if it is about to spontaneously combust, that the body would naturally reject this ludicrous undertaking.

Weightlifting tells us about ourselves, also. It is grimly compelling, as every second seems to be the natural prelude to some sickening injury. With every lift, we expect the lifter's knee to buckle and twist in the most hideous way imaginable, yet we keep on watching: it is the Olympic sport closest to the ancient games of the Colosseum.

It is a grotesque, yet satisfying spectacle.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away. But it's good, you should give it a go.


What are your favourites? Let us know.

See Also: Kieran Behan Had The World's Proudest Irish Mother After His Olympics Courage

See Also: Defeat And Criticism Are Not Going To Change Paddy Barnes And We Love Him For It




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