Where have you gone, Jesse Owens, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…woo, woo, woo.
As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begins its inevitable wind down in August 2021 (my goodness, spanning two years, this must be the longest Olympics in history) I have a confession. In all the years NBC, and ABC before it, has been covering the Olympics on TV, I’ve spent less time, actually almost no time, watching these troubled games. In fact, the only coverage I’ve seen is when I’ve stumbled on some replays on a news show.
It’s kind of bittersweet for me. As you know, I lived in Tokyo for almost five years in the 1990’s and was initially so excited about the Tokyo event that back in 2019, Sharon and I actually signed up to be chosen as foreign volunteers to assist the many English-speaking people from around the world attending the games. Alas, a bad lottery number and, eventually, Covid, put the kibash on that endeavor.
As it turns out, my lack of interest in these Olympics was exacerbated by one of those replay segments that aired right at the start of the Olympics. It was replay of the “Street Skateboarding” competition. (If you can believe it, there’s another Olympic version of this event, “Park Skateboarding.”)
Now, let me say from the start, I’m in awe of skateboarders. For someone who generally has to hold onto a chair when I’m putting on my trousers to maintain my balance, the athleticism, the courage, the daring of these athletes, and make no mistake, they are athletes, is stunning. But…it’s skateboarding. And in my mind, it’s a street game that shouldn’t be in the Olympics. But there it was in all it’s magnificence.
Of course, as you might imagine, this idea of making a street game into an Olympic event got me thinking. What about all the other street games that the IOC should be considering?
So, with that in mind, the following is the Around the Block abridged list of other street games that must be made eligible for future Summer Olympics:
Stickball – Like, apparently, skateboarding, stickball has two versions; the “Street” version and the “Wall” or “Fast Pitch” version. Since most Olympic cities have streets, manhole covers in the streets and cars parked on those streets, there would be no need to build expensive venues for the games as it is played in the street with cars and manhole covers serving as bases and the buildings on the street designated the foul lines. The “Fast Pitch” variation is even simpler as the field requires only a wall and an open space in front of it. And, the equipment costs are minimal: broomsticks, rubber “spaldeen” balls, and for the wall version, soft chalk to mark the strike zone on the wall
Johnny on the Pony – Johnny on the Pony pits two teams of six players against each other. The team on defense lines up against a wall with one member standing with his back against the wall like a pillow while the remaining five line up, bent over with arms interlocked (forming the “pony”). The offensive team’s members then jump on the “pony” one-by-one with the objective to pile on the “pony” to cause it to collapse. Teams alternate, with the offense receiving one point for a collapse and the defense receiving one point if it holds without collapsing. There are an number of advantages to this game: It can be played on the same “field” as Fast Pitch Stickball; there are no equipment costs; and fat participants, generally shunned by the Olympics, have an edge, especially on offense since if they jump last their excess weight is more likely to cause a collapse. For the Olympics, there will be Men’s Johnny on the Pony; Women’s, which would be renamed Jane on the Pony; and Mixed Competition to be called Jack & Jill on the Pony*.
Pitching Pennies – An age-old game in which players compete against one another pitching (or tossing) pennies against the wall. The player whose penny comes closest to the wall wins the round and moves on the next level. Again, costs are minimal as the play will be on same wall that is used for Fast Pitch Stickball and Johnny/Jane/Jack & Jill on the Pony. And we’re not talking big bucks here; we’re talking pennies. An added advantage: as the Olympics move from city to city, the pitched coin will change to honor the host country – Pitching Yen in Tokyo, Pitching Euro cents in Paris 2024 and back to Pitching Pennies in Los Angeles 2028
There are many, many more street games for consideration including, Nok Hockey, Stoop Ball, Potsy, Ringolevio (a team variant of Hide and Seek), Box Ball…and others. But in putting this list together I began to wonder, is it just too urban. Do we need to include some events that are played in more rural areas. So, with that in mind, I submit the following for consideration:
Caber toss – Popularized in Scotland, a game in which players toss a “caber” (a roughly trimmed log) so that it turns end over end, falling away from the tosser. Ideally it should fall directly away from the tosser in the “12 o’clock” position. (Yeah, it’s silly but don’t the Winter Olympics have another ridiculous Scottish game called Curling?)
And while we’re talking logs, what would be better than Logrolling. Bet you didn’t know that there’s already a United States Log Rolling Association (USLRA) all set to pitch the sport to the IOC.
Look folks. If we have to put up with skateboarding, why not some of these great, competitive games as well. I don’t know about you, but adding them to the Olympics is enough to get me back to the TV and begin humming.