Over the next three weeks, you will be walking past a television and find your gaze drawn idly to a host of strange looking activities. The Olympics are here and with them come some sports you won’t have seen before.
You will find yourself compelled to watch and by the end, you will surprise your friends with the range of your knowledge.
Given that your friends will be doing so too, read this guide to obscure Olympic sports in order to get a head-start in idle chatter:
This is the sport that looks like two semi-dressed bouncers trying to put a mouse in each other’s underpants. It famously originated in Classical Mythology when the Greek hero Odysseus wrestled with the Roman version of himself, Ulysses.
The sport consists of a circular ring. Arranged around one half of it are upturned plugs. Around the other half are biscuits. The object of the game is to remove your opponent’s shoes and force them onto the upturned plugs in their socks, while simultaneously preventing them from eating any biscuits. The biscuits are magic biscuits and eating them gives a man the strength of ten.
It is not to be confused with Freestyle wrestling, where the competitors taunt each other with raps made up on the spot.
Ireland has only ever had one Greco-Roman wrestling competitor, in Seoul in 1988. Because of this, it is commonly acknowledged as statistically the most drug, controversy, argument and hames-free sport to be managed by the Olympic Council Of Ireland.
This is another ancient sport with proud traditions. It should not be confused with the Irish sport of putting a bush in the gap to prevent the cows from breaking into the barley.
Fencing is one of only four sports to have featured at every single Olympics. At one point, Olympic officials mooted the possibility of dropping it but several were later found dead from very tiny little stab wounds, and the proposal was dropped.
The point of a game of fencing—known in the sport as a ‘fight’—is to convince your opponent that he is fighting a man but then at the end after you beat him, you take off your helmet and mask and actually reveal yourself to be a woman with luscious blond hair. He will then have a rueful smile on his face that says, “I’ve seen it all now…”
You will notice while watching fencing that there is a cord attached to each of the fencers. This is the ‘electric fence’ and designed to prevent cattle from disrupting the fight.
Olympic Handball is very different to the sport played in Ireland. In this country, the game consists of two players hitting a ball against a wall and then Michael Duxie Walsh wins in the end.
Olympic Handball pits two teams against each other to try and throw the ball into the net. The start of the game is like a normal game of soccer but then at a predetermined time, one of the crap players on the pitch will get fed up and start throwing the ball around.
If you watch Olympic handball closely you will still see a few players trying to play soccer and shouting angrily at the other players to “cop-on, play-properly will-ye for feck’s sake”. Those players are known as the ‘no-craics’. They may even refuse to accept their medals and go home with the ball.
In other sports, money, glory and recognition are the driving forces behind the urge to compete. Not so trampolining, where the only reason to take part is because the neighbours have one.
The event has two parts. In the PleasePleasePlease section, competitors race against time to persuade their father to buy them a trampoline. They are graded according to the persuasiveness of their arguments and their strategic use of tantrums.
In the second stage, there is the additional level of difficulty of convincing their mother they won’t fall and break their neck.
The winner is the one who doesn’t lose interest quickly and look to play a new sport.
Dressage comes from the French for “Don’t Mind Your Dancing The Fox Is Getting Away”. It originated in the circus where the first dressage animals were sea-lions who were trained to bob and sway to music. Legend has it that a horse broke into the tent looking for someone and became transfixed by the sight of the gyrating sea-lions and began to copy them.
Now dressage—or The Horse Dancing Sport to give it its official title—is one of the most popular in the Olympics. It is know for its gentil aspect: the horses are immaculately turned out and make precise little movements in time to a piece of classical music. The horses are typically called Henderson My Monsieur and Butler Waldecot De Fipley
In 2000, this cosy little world was threatened by the arrival of Knight Mare, a sassy filly with a Mohican and bags of attitude. The crowd in the Sydney Horse House were astounded as her rider led Knight Mare through a series of complicated breakdancing and body-popping dressage movements culminating in a 540-degree elbow freeze.
This was not to last, however, and the International Olympic Council brought in a ruling months later which explicitly forbade any competitors or their horses from “getting funky”, “breaking it down for the people up top” or “fighting for their right to partaaay”.
Colm O’Regan brings his show Ireland’s Got Mammies to the Skibbereen Arts Festival on Friday 3rd August. Visit www.skibbereenartsfestival.com for details and tickets.