I was thinking about whether Michael Phelps is the ‘greatest Olympian of all time’, and the relative value of medals in different events. For example, the fact that it’s even possible to enter eight events at the same Games means that Phelps has a medal-collecting advantage over, say, a boxer. And the 52 gold medals available in rowing (fourteen events, but multiple people in each boat) seems a lot for a sport with such limited global participation: those events are surely less competitive than, say, the athletics.
So how to go about levelling the field? Well, you could start by cutting events; certainly from the rowing, and probably the fencing (currently 10 events), canoeing (16), judo (14), shooting (15) and wrestling (18). But you still might need to introduce new events to the more competitive sports. In athletics, there’s clearly room for a 50m race, a 300m, a 600m, maybe 2000m and 8000m; we could revive the standing long-jump and high-jump; and learning from the swimmers, there must be room for 4x200m and 4x800m relays. If we got really desperate, we could take an idea from the boxers and weightlifters: have weight classes for the throwing events. The featherweight javelin: it’s an idea whose time has come.
But the sport which is clearly most underrepresented in Olympic medals is the most popular sport of them all: soccer. At the moment there are only two events — men and women — so with 18 players in each squad, that’s a maximum of 36 gold medals, less than are currently awarded in the rowing. So we need some new events. Obviously you’d start with an indoor/five-a-side tournament: what FIFA calls futsal; beach soccer also seems like a plausible idea. Wikipedia reveals the existence of a baffling-sounding Norwegian variant called Synchronised Football. And a penalty shootout tournament might be interesting, too.
But the one which has got me most excited is: keepy-uppy. It is, after all, like a slightly blokier version of rhythmic gymnastics. And the possibilities are endless: there’s the classic version, with the player performing a routine and being marked for the difficulty and style of his tricks. You could have doubles keepy-uppy, with two players keeping the ball in the air between them. There’s endurance keepy-uppy, although as the world record is over 19 hours, that would be a hell of an event to stage. There’s the keepy-uppy 100m sprint. And of course the magic of synchronised keepy-uppy.
I am joking about most this, but actually I would love to see keepy-uppy (or, if you prefer, freestyle football) as an Olympic event. It would be fabulous. And it might actually be a good idea to introduce futsal, but as a replacement for normal soccer: that way football could still have a presence at the Olympics without just duplicating the World Cup.