Oliver: Summer Olympics like no other still warms heart of fan of obscure sports

Still, it’s hard not to be worried about the health and safety of those competing during COVID-19 pandemic

Maybe it’s a holdover from my childhood days of watching “Wide World of Sports,” but I’ve always considered myself a bit of a sports nerd.

Mind you, I stopped actually playing sports competitively after junior high school, but my interest in them remains strong. And not just for the most popular ones, like football, baseball and basketball.

That’s probably why the Olympics continue to be something I look forward to with eager anticipation. The season doesn’t matter, either; I love the Winter Olympics, with its sledding, skating and skiing events, as much as I love the Summer Olympics.

Needless to say, I was disappointed like everyone else when they were postponed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, one could make a credible case that they should have been canceled now, too, for the very same reason. As more athletes test positive for the virus, that case gets even stronger.

Still, they are here, and these athletes have worked very hard to get there, so I will support them in the best way I can: I will watch as many events as I can, within reason.

There’s really no way that I can watch everything, since there are 33 sports and 46 disciplines awarding 339 medals. More than 11,000 total athletes will be competing. Add in the fact that many of these sports have heats and tournaments, and it’s easy to see that one needs to be selective.

These days, with far more channels available than when I was a kid, it should be easier to see at least some of the lesser-known sports. We all know that primetime spots will be reserved for the gymnastics, swimming and track and field showcase events.

Although I like all of those sports just fine, and wouldn’t miss them, I also have been known to watch things like equestrian, archery and powerlifting. Why, I have a distinct memory of watching Greco-Roman wrestling during the 1996 Summer Olympics while I was cutting fabric for a quilt class I was taking at the time. I still laugh at that visual.

As always, there are some new events that I might have to check out: skateboarding, which will have street and park disciplines; surfing, both men’s and women’s; sport climbing, both men’s and women’s; karate, which will have kata and kumite disciplines; 3-on-3 basketball tournaments for men and women; and freestyle BMX cycling.

Also new this time around will be some contests that will feature mixed teams of men and women.

Familiar faces, such as gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, will be trying to add to their already impressive Olympic gold medal collections.

Sadly, one of my favorite perennial Olympians, beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, will not be there, having failed to qualify for her sixth Olympics. It won’t be the same without her.

If this list seems a bit slanted toward female athletes, it is. This is one of the few times that women’s sports are front and center. I look forward to seeing the U.S. women’s soccer team go for gold again, as well as Team USA in women’s basketball. One of my favorite WNBA Chicago Sky players – Stefanie Dolson – is playing in the 3-on-3 tournament for the U.S. I could go on and on.

Will this Olympics be unlike any other? Sure. No doubt it will be strange to have no fans in the stands for any events. Yet, we’ve had a bit of that over the past year from just about all the sports that have been played during the pandemic. Here’s hoping that all of the athletes compete well and stay safe.

A ton more information about sports, schedules and the like can be found online at nbcolympics.com.

As for me, I’ll be settling in with my remote control in hand. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Friday. Early rounds in soccer and softball start even earlier. Closing ceremonies take place Aug. 8.

Let the Games (such as they are) begin (safely).

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.