Our Friday Five: Lesser-Known Olympic Sports

By: Scott McMahon

The opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics take place tonight, as the athletes competing for worldwide prestige will represent their countries at their formal introductions. As each competitor takes his or her stroll through the stadium, one can only help but wonder what sport each athlete is a part of. A safe guess for the Summer Olympics is usually either swimming or track and field, but what about the sports that seem to go unnoticed?

We’ve put together a list of five of the more unknown and most underrated sports that tend to go by the wayside. Keep your eyes out for these events, and see what these unique sports have to offer.

1. Team Handball (my personal favorite)

Around since 1936, handball is most popular in Europe, but has spread to Asia, northern Africa, and South America. Handball features a very fast pace of play, and athletes must have strength, stamina, and the ability to adapt to a constantly-changing game. Although handball owns the largest court of an indoor Olympic sport, goals are common (around 50 per match total).

When to watch: Check out the handball TV schedule here.

For more information and an explanation of the rules, visit the Team Handball page on the London 2012 website.

2. Racewalking

While the track and field spotlight shines on the fastest runners in the world, the fastest walkers in the world have their own events. Men and women compete in their own 20K walks, and men have a 50K of their own. Converted from metric, those are 12.4 and 30.1-mile walks. Not quite your average walk around the block in the morning.

Especially considering the world records in the sport. The current record for the 50K is 3:34:14, an average mile time of just over 7 minutesKeep in mind, this is a walk, not a run. At least one foot must be on the ground at all times, making that 3:34:14 world record an incredible feat.

When to watch: Racewalking will be broadcast on August 11. Check here for more track and field listings.

To learn more about racewalking, check out the racewalking page on the London 2012 website.

Be sure to look at the course map, and find out where these walkers will be going.

3. Water Polo

Believe it or not, Olympic water polo has been around since the 1900 Paris Games. Although it opened up to women at the 2000 Sydney Games, water polo has been a mainstay in the Olympic program. Hungary has solidified itself as a powerhouse, winning nine gold medals in the sport’s history and an unprecedented three gold medals in a row from 2000 through 2008. Their quest to add another will be difficult, as Serbia has recently emerged as the world’s top water polo squad. In case you were wondering, the United States isn’t too bad themselves- U.S. Water Polo has won 12 Olympic medals overall, good for second in the world.

When to watch: Check out the water polo TV schedule here.

For more information and an explanation of the rules, visit the Water Polo page on the London 2012 website.

4. Hockey

Hockey at the Summer Olympics? Field hockey, yes! The Olympic program has included men’s hockey since 1908 in London, and women’s since 1980 in Moscow. From 1928 until 1972, India and Pakistan won every gold medal in men’s field hockey, until Germany unseated the two champions. Since then, Asia and Europe have had a stranglehold on the competition. Because of this, the American team is looking to win just its third medal in field hockey.

When to watch: Check out the field hockey TV listings here.

For more information, and an explanation of the rules, visit the Hockey page on the London 2012 website.

5a. Canoe Slalom

The first of two canoe events, the canoe slalom will test the athletes’ speed, control, and precision on the whitewater course north of London. Slalom has been a mainstay on the Olympic program since Barcelona in 1992, but appeared sporadically on programs prior. Slovakia has claimed the most medals in the event’s history, with three gold medals.

The canoe slalom is broken up into three different disciplines: canoe singes and doubles, and a kayaking event. Countries may enter one boat per discipline.

When to watch: Visit the NBC Olympic schedule for TV listings.

For more information and an explanation of the rules, check out the Canoe Slalom page on the London 2012 website.

5b. Canoe Sprint

The canoe sprint has been around since the 1924 Games, but first awarded medals at the 1936 Berlin Games. Races have become shorter and shorter over time, as the longest race in the 2012 program is the 1000-meter event. Athletes must have strength and stamina above anything else to push through the pain and effort of a canoe or kayak race.

Events include singles, doubles, and four-person team races from 100 to 1000 meters. Germany dominated the canoe/kayak sprints in 2008, taking home seven total medals, while Hungary and Belarus followed in second and third, respectively.

When to watch: TV listings can be found above under Canoe Slalom.

For more information and an explanation of the rules, check out the Canoe Sprint page on the London 2012 website.

We all know about the big sports, but let’s give some love to the lesser-known sports. What are your favorite sports that not everyone may know about? Enjoy the Olympics!

One Response to “Our Friday Five: Lesser-Known Olympic Sports”
  1. John says:

    Good choices!

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