I recently referred to the women's 10-meter air rifle competition in London as "girls shooting BB guns 33 feet" and a friend of mine who happens to teach air rifle target shooting pointed out to me that my derision aside, air rifle competitors shoot $3,000 weapons at targets an inch-and-a-half in diameter with scoring rings a quarter-inch apart and that a perfect shot entails hitting a spot the size of a pinhead, which competitors do with regularity.
So then I felt like a dode, which isn't that uncommon.
Upon reflection, I think being among the best in the world at anything is pretty impressive, even if what you're best at is falling in unison with a partner from a concrete platform three stories above a pool. I don't want to be like the typical American who can only appreciate familiar sports and I'd hate to be like Bob Costas, whose moment of jingoism during the Opening Ceremonies last week was exceptional even for a Yank.
Costas' sidekick, Matt Lauer, he of the casually dropped factoid, upon the entry of the Ugandan team of 16 athletes into the Olympic venue, observed that Winston Churchill once called Uganda "the pearl of Africa," to which Costas replied, snarkily, "He never met Idi Amin."
Really, Bob? Idi Amin was driven into exile in 1979 and died nine years ago a disgraced and forgotten man. How about letting a developing country and its people put an unfortunate past behind them for just one night at a global event to celebrate diversity and peace? Seriously.
Well anyway, I've been trying to be as open as possible to non-mainstream sports since these games opened. I've watched everything from field hockey to fencing and I've checked out archery, badminton and handball in between. In case you didn't know, Olympic handball is not the game by the same name you used to play against a wall with your friend from up the block. It's a team sport with seven players to a side and it's basically lacrosse without sticks. Played over the course of an hour, teams regularly score 30 or more goals in a game that demands speed, toughness, coordination and endurance to rival any other sport.
When it comes to appreciating international variety, I've become a regular Boutros Boutros-Ghali of sport and I'm right proud of my tolerant self. Still, it's England and that leaves me to wonder about a few things. I've long believed that if the Olympics ever return to America's shores we should include horseshoes, monster truck racing and the 100-meter mosey and what's good for the colonist is good for the colonizer. So where are the English sports?
First of all, why aren't darts in the Olympics? Darts requires every bit as much precision, focus and discipline as air rifle or archery, a lot more people have thrown darts than have done those other two things and in England throwing darts is even more popular than speaking ill of the French. So why not add darts as a demonstration sport? If there aren't some half-drunk English, Welsh, Irish and Scotsmen hanging around pubs all over the UK right now who could beat the rest of the world in an international darts competition, I'll eat my beret.
And what about billiards? Snooker, if no other form of billiards, should be included in the London Olympics. There ought to be a half-dozen guys who look like extras from a Jason Statham movie beating bugger-all out of the world in a game so difficult even the Germans don't like it. In case your idea of billiards comes from a bunch of college kids at your local Dave and Busters making themselves obnoxious, snooker is to eight-ball as 10-meter air rifle is to shooting a BB gun at empty beer cans. It's a game played on a 12-by-six-foot table involving 15 red target balls and six other balls of different colors worth varying points that can only be shot in order after sinking a red ball. I once played snooker for about three minutes. I've never done anything more frustrating.
And then there's ferret legging. I'm not making this up. Wikipedia includes the following description of a pastime quite well-known to the Queen's subjects:
"In the sport of ferret legging, competitors tie their trousers at the ankles before placing two ferrets inside and securely fastening their belts to prevent the ferrets from escaping. Each competitor then stands in front of the judges for as long as he can. Competitors cannot be drunk or drugged, nor can the ferrets be sedated. In addition, competitors are not allowed to wear underwear beneath their trousers, which must allow the ferrets free access from one leg to the other, and the ferrets must have a full set of teeth that must not have been filed or otherwise blunted. The winner is the person who lasts the longest."
The current ferret legging world record stands at five hours and 26 minutes, set by one Reg Mellor in Holmforth, Yorkshire, in 1981. I don't know if I could make it through a competition that lasted over five hours, not without Ryan Seacrest to break it up for me with a cut-away human interest montage, but I'd definitely tune in for at least the ferret legging highlights and so would any sane viewer.
One thing's for sure: I'd rather watch a grown man get his parts shredded by a pair of ferrets than listen to Bob Costas all night long.