Something about the Olympics and Paralympics gets me deeply excited, even though the events I love most are not always the most popular. In the name of getting people excited about things I love, I'm assembling a list of some of the more obscure things I'll be watching from afar, assuming the Rio Olympics doesn't totally collapse into a puddle of incompetence, corruption, and chaos.
1. Women's Weightlifting
I didn't actually get into weightlifting until fairly recently (aside from my unrequited love for Sarah Robles), but a friend is a powerlifter, and she got me hooked on it. Women's lifting in particular is incredible to watch, because there's something about seeing a ridiculously strong and powerful woman bring her entire focus and body to bear on lifting hundreds and hundreds of pounds (well, kilograms) that gets me all tingly.
There's a lot of art and form to weightlifting to ensure that you do it safely and effectively, and we'll often hop on chat and watch streaming events while she schools me on how it's done. I'm sad her gym is too far away for me, because her coach is a super-cool cat, and she describes powerlifting — a related, but not identical, sport — as very empowering. Training your body to do this intense, amazing thing that requires a very serious burst of power is pretty cool and I hope to do it myself someday.
I fenced in high school (saber and some foil), and while I don't fence anymore, I love watching other people do it. It might sound prissy and frou-frou, but fencing is serious business. You need to have perfect form and be extremely comfortable working in very tight quarters. If you're short, like me, you're at a tremendous disadvantage when you go up against many potential opponents.
Two Olympic-level fencers move as though they're engaged in an elaborate dance with each other, and it's completely mesmerizing. If you haven't watched fencing, you totally should, because it's also oddly satisfying to watch people go at it. Plus, there's something vaguely piratical about the whole thing.
I love all equestrian sports, but eventing is my favourite, and here's why: The horses and riders have to be really good at all-round sports. It's like the triathlon of being a horse, with cross-country, dressage, and show jumping. While individual horses may excel at any one of these things (and I adore watching dressage, which is basically horse ballet), eventing horses have to be incredibly well-rounded.
Equestrian sports are one of the few that aren't gendered, either, with all competitors going up against each other collectively. The horses cost more than my car, and they're very, very pretty, with ridiculously elegant and perfect form. It's the platonic ideal of horseness. Fun fact corner: Eventing actually has its roots in military origins, and was once only open to soldiers.
4. Wheelchair Rugby
I really adore violent sports. Regular rugby can get pretty brutal, but wheelchair rugby is on a whole new level — in part because it's not actually just a repurposed version of rugby, but a blend of several sports. Competitors get seriously vicious, down, and dirty. Like, they call it "murderball" for a reason, and in fact, someone made an entire movie about it.
It's an indoor sport, played on a court capable of dealing with a serious beating from the players' sports chairs. Each team has four players, and the game integrates elements of basketball (there's also wheelchair basketball, for purists), handball, and, obviously, rugby. If you like seeing people race up and down the court like they're on fire, definitely hit up some wheelchair rugby matches.
5. Paralympic Triathlon
This is actually the first year that triathlon is on the Paralympic menu, which is why I'll be watching — I always love to see new sports get their acceptance, in part because it means they'll go more mainstream as well. As in nondisabled triathlon, athletes have to compete in running, cycling, and swimming segments, so it's really a test of their abilities across multiple sports (which is why I love triathlon in general). Training for any one of these things at the Paralympic level is a challenge, but all three?
I love the form, elegance, and power of athletic bodies, and triathlon is a chance to see a really interesting balance, because it requires a blend of traits. Like other adaptive sports, it also showcases a diversity of bodies and people working with highly specialized equipment (which incidentally costs thousands and thousands of dollars, without the sponsorship and support nondisabled athletes often receive).
Speaking of brutal sports, goalball is right up there. It involves teams of three visually impaired people, all wearing blackout eyeshades for equality. They're tasked with getting a small ball with a bell inside into the opposing team's net, and defending their own net from their opponents.
Goalball is incredibly fast. People whip around the court while remaining highly coordinated with their teams. The sport requires the ability to put on serious bursts of speed, paired with collaboration, accuracy, balance, and the ability to track a very small object across a very heated court. That ball? It can reach speeds of over 60 miles an hour.
7. Olympic and Paralympic Rowing
I have a weird fascination with rowing, and not just because I like watching the coxswain holler. It may stem back to the days when I used to run around Lake Merritt watching the various teams practice — and this was back in the days when Lake Merritt was pretty gross, and any reasonable person would stay far, far away from that water. I think it's the coordination, the burst of power, the focus.
Also, rowers have amazing arms. That said, they're up against some tough circumstances, since as we know, Rio officials have been unable to address the heavily polluted water in the areas where athletes will be competing. The American teams will even be wearing special "antimicrobial suits" in an attempt to protect themselves. Fun!
Photo: Craig Maccubbin/Creative Commons