Going for the gold

The Olympics: the one time every four years that countrymen band together in patriotism to care about otherwise forgotten sports. The Summer Olympics are essentially to the rest of the world what the FIFA World Cup is to America: an excuse to adopt some crazy fanaticism about sports one knows absolutely nothing about.

But maybe that’s not necessarily a terrible fate. After all, summer is the slowest season for the sporting world. Once the Olympics are in full swing, it’s like a playoff season on steroids. You take the best of the best and watch them duke it out for pure glory and a bit of gold.

There are, of course, countless “hell yeah!” moments in any given Olympics — most of which involve Team USA. This year the women’s gymnastics team utterly eviscerated the opponents on their way to the gold — the first time the women took it home since the Magnificent Seven’s storybook run in 1996. After a shaky start, Michael Phelps essentially proved he’s the greatest Olympian in the history of the entire universe, and the men’s basketball team is coming dangerously close to surpassing the infamous Dream Team.

But for every “hell yeah!” moment, there’s at least one that takes you by surprise and makes you stammer, “What the hell?” These fringe instances around the edges add pops of color more phenomenal than the spectacle of Lord Voldemort and Mary Poppins duking it out during the Opening Ceremonies.

Exhibit A: Race walking. This is the curling of the Summer Games: the sport for gangly boys who got tagged out first in dodge ball. In its barest terms, race walking is like running, only one foot must be on the ground at all times. It looks like a mix between the hip gyrations in a Shakira music video and a forwards moonwalk — and it goes on for 12.4 miles. This year’s gold medalist finished with an average of 6:30 splits. And you thought snails or your grandma couldn’t book it.

Exhibit B: The rigidity of the International Olympic Committee. The Olympics require strict laws to run smoothly, but does everything have to be so inflexible? Take Shin A-lam, the South Korean fencer who was denied her own golden glory. Homegirl had a one-point lead with one second left on the clock in the epee semifinal: The match was essentially hers. Then the clock stopped, and her opponent won on a final touch. A-lam appealed the erroneous decision, but according to a unique bylaw, she had to stand sobbing on the piste for nearly an hour during the appeal. Although the opponent won from a mere mechanical error, the judges stood by the original score. It’s one thing to stick to the status quo, but real life is never devoid of outliers.

Exhibit C: The entire person that is Ryan Lochte. This guy is a real-world frat boy if ever there were one. He’s a ladies man who can only commit to one-night stands. He designed his own rhinestone-covered sneaks and has an American grill that he wears through smiles on the podium. He has his own catchphrase — “jeah!” — that he hashtags in grammatically incorrect tweets. And we wonder why the rest of the world hates America.

There are other events that barely scratch the headlines. There were those badminton teams that got disqualified after purposely throwing their games to earn cushier seeds in the preliminary rounds. There was a Chinese diver whose parents didn’t tell her of her grandparents’ deaths for fear she would lose focus on her way to gold. The hilariously outdated spectacle that is the modern pentathlon — which combines pistol shooting and show jumping, among other events — is now my go-to punch line.

It’s too bad these gigs occur so infrequently. Then again, the Winter Games are only two years away.