9 Criminally Overlooked Sports to Watch at the Rio Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will feature 306 distinctmedal events, in sports from aquatics to wrestling. However, only a fraction of those will be shown during NBC’s primetime coverage, which means if you’re not paying attention you’ll misssome of theoddities ofworldwide sportlikehandball, racewalking, or synchronized footbag. (OK, not that last one.)That’s where we come in: with a fewnew sports, some relics from Ye Olde Olympics, and some criminally overlooked but stillthrilling events, your Summer Gamesare about to get a whole lot more interesting.

August 3-19

Soccer

The ftboltournament isone of the few instances where competition takes place far away from the host cityand, in this case, will reuse several stadiums built for the Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup. The US Womens national team is looking dominant as itchases itsfourthconsecutive gold medal, so the more dramatic narrative comes on themens side: Brazil will be seeking redemption on home soil after getting absolutely shellacked by Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 Cup. With thecountrys most exciting player, Neymar,acting as captain,Canarinhowill be under the microscopewhich will make for some exciting competition.

The ftboltournament isone of the few instances where competition takes place far away from the host cityand, in this case, will reuse several stadiums built for the Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup. The US Womens national team is looking dominant as itchases itsfourthconsecutive gold medal, so the more dramatic narrative comes on themens side: Brazil will be seeking redemption on home soil after getting absolutely shellacked by Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 Cup. With thecountrys most exciting player, Neymar,acting as captain,Canarinhowill be under the microscopewhich will make for some exciting competition.

August 6-11

Rugby Sevens

The last time Rugby was an Olympic event was 1924,when the United States defeated France for gold in the Paris games. The sport has finally been revived in Rio, but not as the 15-a-side version seen in the early 20th century. Now its called Rugby Sevens, named for the number of players on each team at a given time, though it still takes place on a standard-size rugby field. Because it requires fewer players and fosters a more open playing style, the game has taken root in more countries around the world, making it more widely competitive than the larger version. Get acquainted now, before the Rugby Sevens World Cup comes to the Bay Area in 2018.

The last time Rugby was an Olympic event was 1924,when the United States defeated France for gold in the Paris games. The sport has finally been revived in Rio, but not as the 15-a-side version seen in the early 20th century. Now its called Rugby Sevens, named for the number of players on each team at a given time, though it still takes place on a standard-size rugby field. Because it requires fewer players and fosters a more open playing style, the game has taken root in more countries around the world, making it more widely competitive than the larger version. Get acquainted now, before the Rugby Sevens World Cup comes to the Bay Area in 2018.

August 6-21

Handball

Every time the Winter Olympics come around, there are always stories about curling, a.k.a.Giant Ice Shuffleboard. If youre looking for a summer sport that’s similarlyunknown/misunderstood inthe States, look no further than Handball. It’s a combo of indoor soccer, basketball, and water poloand is without question the most excitingsport American audiences dont pay enough attention to. France is on the quest fora third consecutive gold in the mens event, while Norway looks for the same on the womens side, but at least things promise to be more competitive than mudhole-stompings that arethebasketball events.

Every time the Winter Olympics come around, there are always stories about curling, a.k.a.Giant Ice Shuffleboard. If youre looking for a summer sport that’s similarlyunknown/misunderstood inthe States, look no further than Handball. It’s a combo of indoor soccer, basketball, and water poloand is without question the most excitingsport American audiences dont pay enough attention to. France is on the quest fora third consecutive gold in the mens event, while Norway looks for the same on the womens side, but at least things promise to be more competitive than mudhole-stompings that arethebasketball events.

August 6-17

Table Tennis

Olympic table tennis is sneakily one of the best televised events at the games. Points rarely take as long as rallies in tennis or badminton, but the spin action players put on the ball is gorgeous to beholdeither in slow motion, or inbreakneck real-time. As with badminton, Asian nations dominate the table tennis medal table, with China garnering 24 of the 28 total gold medals given out in the sport since its introduction in 1988. The Gold Medal game for men and women has been an all-China match for the last two Olympics,but that doesn’t make what that tiny plastic ball does any less crazy.

Olympic table tennis is sneakily one of the best televised events at the games. Points rarely take as long as rallies in tennis or badminton, but the spin action players put on the ball is gorgeous to beholdeither in slow motion, or inbreakneck real-time. As with badminton, Asian nations dominate the table tennis medal table, with China garnering 24 of the 28 total gold medals given out in the sport since its introduction in 1988. The Gold Medal game for men and women has been an all-China match for the last two Olympics,but that doesn’t make what that tiny plastic ball does any less crazy.

August 8

Equestrian (Eventing, Cross Country)

Four years ago, the only thing mainstream viewers knew about equestrian was that Mitt Romneys wife Ann co-owned one of the horses competing in the dainty, dancy dressage. But thats not the right equestrian event to focus on. Three-day eventing, which has individual and team competitions, is basically the horse equivalent of gymnastics all-around. It includes show jumping and cross countrythe latter of which, with its obstacle and water jumps, is deceptively exciting.

Four years ago, the only thing mainstream viewers knew about equestrian was that Mitt Romneys wife Ann co-owned one of the horses competing in the dainty, dancy dressage. But thats not the right equestrian event to focus on. Three-day eventing, which has individual and team competitions, is basically the horse equivalent of gymnastics all-around. It includes show jumping and cross countrythe latter of which, with its obstacle and water jumps, is deceptively exciting.

August 11-20

Badminton

Bored at the thought of an Olympic tennis tournament without Roger Federer? Think table tennis is justtoo damnsmall? Then try badminton, the just-right oatmeal of the racquet sport family. Most people think ofbadminton as a relaxing, leisurely garden activity. (Think of that one scene in Disneys Robin Hood.) But at the Olympics, it’s a parade of lightning-quickvolley shots over the net and booming overhead slams. Only 10 nations have medaled in badminton at the Olympics since it became a regular event in 1992, but half of those are Asian countries. China has dominated, but South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India all have medals as well.

Bored at the thought of an Olympic tennis tournament without Roger Federer? Think table tennis is justtoo damnsmall? Then try badminton, the just-right oatmeal of the racquet sport family. Most people think ofbadminton as a relaxing, leisurely garden activity. (Think of that one scene in Disneys Robin Hood.) But at the Olympics, it’s a parade of lightning-quickvolley shots over the net and booming overhead slams. Only 10 nations have medaled in badminton at the Olympics since it became a regular event in 1992, but half of those are Asian countries. China has dominated, but South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India all have medals as well.

August 12, 19

Race Walk

Look, I didn’t even want to include this one here; race walking is a patently ridiculous sport. (Ed.mwahahahahaha) It’s like running, except you have to haveone foot touching the ground at all times. It is by far the silliest looking event in the entire Olympics, and that includes the ones where a rider makes a horse dance and gymnasts flick ribbons around while pseudo-tumbling. The best thing I can say about race walking is that it helped inspire one of the best episodes of Malcolm In The Middle. There are 20 and 50 kilometer events, but the men’s 2ok takes just over an hour, long enough to watch the whole race and not get bored with how utterly absurd it all looks.

Look, I didn’t even want to include this one here; race walking is a patently ridiculous sport. (Ed.mwahahahahaha) It’s like running, except you have to haveone foot touching the ground at all times. It is by far the silliest looking event in the entire Olympics, and that includes the ones where a rider makes a horse dance and gymnasts flick ribbons around while pseudo-tumbling. The best thing I can say about race walking is that it helped inspire one of the best episodes of Malcolm In The Middle. There are 20 and 50 kilometer events, but the men’s 2ok takes just over an hour, long enough to watch the whole race and not get bored with how utterly absurd it all looks.

August 17-19

BMX

Much likesnowboard events have become the equal oftraditional skiing events at the Winter games, BMX has become the newest mainstay of cycling, a discipline that has been a part of every single Summer Olympics since the modern games were revived. Its not the X Games, but at least the Olympics have opened up to the point where mens and womens BMX racing takes place alongside the longer, traditional cycling eventswhich are a total snoozefest for a television audience. (Sorry, roadies.) Its like short-track speed skating or snowboard cross, but with dirt bikeschances for wipeouts andspectacular crashes is high as riders jostle for position over the course of a heat. BMX only awards two medals, but dontmiss either.

Much likesnowboard events have become the equal oftraditional skiing events at the Winter games, BMX has become the newest mainstay of cycling, a discipline that has been a part of every single Summer Olympics since the modern games were revived. Its not the X Games, but at least the Olympics have opened up to the point where mens and womens BMX racing takes place alongside the longer, traditional cycling eventswhich are a total snoozefest for a television audience. (Sorry, roadies.) Its like short-track speed skating or snowboard cross, but with dirt bikeschances for wipeouts andspectacular crashes is high as riders jostle for position over the course of a heat. BMX only awards two medals, but dontmiss either.

August 18-20

Modern Pentathlon

Fencing, shooting, running, swimming, show jumpingall in the same day. Thats the concept behind Modern Pentathlon, the strangest hodgepodge of competition anywhere in the Olympics. “Modern” is a bit of a misnomer:the events were selected by Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin to test for the ideal cavalry soldier at the end of the 19th century. It’s also somewhat of a zombie event, popular almost nowhere in the world; it only exists because it was devised specifically for the Olympics. Still,the bizarre all-day one-shot makes for one of the oddestviewing experiences possible.

Fencing, shooting, running, swimming, show jumpingall in the same day. Thats the concept behind Modern Pentathlon, the strangest hodgepodge of competition anywhere in the Olympics. “Modern” is a bit of a misnomer:the events were selected by Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin to test for the ideal cavalry soldier at the end of the 19th century. It’s also somewhat of a zombie event, popular almost nowhere in the world; it only exists because it was devised specifically for the Olympics. Still,the bizarre all-day one-shot makes for one of the oddestviewing experiences possible.

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