The Summer Olympics are a smorgasbord of athletic events, with over 300 gold medals to be awarded. However, most events are in sports that don’t get much attention in non-Olympic years. Which of these sports are worth your time? Below is a ranking of the 29 sports in the Olympics (officially it’s 26, but we’re breaking out the four listed as Aquatics as separate sports). I did a similar ranking for the Winter Olympics in 2010. Unfortunately, most of the summer events do not particularly translate as spectator sports. Thanks to The Complete Book of the Olympics for help with the research.
1. Swimming One of two sports synonymous with the Summer Olympics, swimming rightfully dominates the opening week. Of course, having Michael Phelps is a big advantage, but as 2008 showed, the swimming events are usually exciting, with close, and in some cases, historic finishes. Swimming also gets bonus points because we are currently the dominate country. U-S-A! U-S-A!
2. Basketball The 2012 team vs. the Dream Team is pointless, since that’s not what the current team has to do. They have to beat Spain and Brazil and France and Argentina. Olympic hoops are much different than the Dream Team era. Winning the gold medal is no longer the US’s birthright; it has to be earned. Personally, while the Dream Team was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I like it better this way, as it creates tighter games and some suspense. The US Women though, are still mostly like the Dream Team, and should dominate.
3. Track and Field This is the other sport synonymous with the Summer Games, and with good reason, as it headlines the second week. There is no greater moment of anticipation than just before the gun goes off in the 100 meter final, particularly this time around with Usain Bolt back, but possibly vulnerable. The sprint events are all but guaranteed excitement (or breathtaking dominance), while the longer races allow suspense to build. What keep track and field from being #1 are, well, the field events, which aren’t as telegenic, as well as the fact that race walking exists.
4. Tennis Outside of men’s basketball, tennis players are the most financially successful of the Olympic athletes. Despite this, the tennis world cares a lot about the Olympics, as the scrum to qualify these last few months has showed. Venus Williams based her comeback from an autoimmune disease primarily on qualifying for the Olympics. Add that to the fact they are going back to the All England Club just three weeks after Wimbledon and you have the makings for a fantastic tournament.
5. Soccer It’s not quite World Cup level on the men’s side, due to the rule allowing teams just three players over 23. That said, it’s still a chance to see the next generation of players, particularly for-surprise, surprise-Brazil and Spain. The true drama though comes on the women’s side. The age restrictions the men have don’t apply here, so everyone from last year’s thrilling Women’s World Cup will be back, including Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and company. Here’s hoping we see another drunken interview at the end of these Games.
6. Team Handball This sport has never taken hold in the United States, even though it looks something like this. There’s a lot of scoring, some contact, and chucking a ball as hard as you can. If curling can gain a cult following every Winter Olympics, why can’t Team Handball? Also, if we took some of our second-tier basketball players, undrafted guys and D-Leaguers, and taught them this sport, we’d dominate it in 10 years.
7. Water Polo Like Team Handball, there’s not a lot of love here for water polo, even though the US has had success in it. Even though it’s in a pool, it’s not necessarily a docile sport. It’s definitely one of the more watchable unknown sports.
Read on for the middle of the road sports.