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August 9th, 2012:

Repechage and other Olympic mysteries explained

Chennai: Some sports are easy to understand. For instance, hockey. If Belgium, which did not send a team to the Olympics at all, is winning you can easily surmise that India is the opponent.

But a few other sports are difficult to comprehend because there are too much technicalities. Here we at Crank’s News have handpicked three Olympic sports and explained their nuances in easy and every-day language so that when they are on television you need not, henceforth, hurriedly switch over to the channel showing women’s beach volleyball.

Judo: Judo comes from Japan, the land that has given us the remarkable Sumo wrestling.

In Sumo wrestling, your basic aim is to grapple your enemy and push him out of the ring before he undoes your loincloth, which is called Mawashi in Japanese (literally meaning ‘Mawa’, a ridiculously small cloth + ‘Shi’, for a ridiculously big hip).

Judo, on the other hand, is also a type of wrestling, but is seen to be more combative since it has incorporated the aggressive spirit of the Chinese martial art Karate by borrowing its, well, attire.

The beauty of judo as an Olympic sport is that when you watch it you cannot but help ask, in spontaneous surprise, the question: “Hey, what the hell is happening?” You can watch a judo contest from start to finish but still won’t be able to say who is winning and who is losing. Only expert judges, who follow the ancient Japanese point system of random numbering, can figure that out.

Away from the sporting arena, judo can serve you well as a handy self-defence martial art against all criminals, who, of course, have to know Judo. Yes, this is important: You can’t practice judo against non-judokas. The important point being, if your enemy has a pistol in his hand and is threatening you with that, you are expected to follow the non-judo technique called: Running.

Fencing: There are two types of fencing. 1) Olympic fencing, the type played in Olympic Games. 2) Historical fencing, the type actively played by dead characters inside the pages of history books.

Fencing, as a sport, is divided into three categories (based on the weapons used): Epee, Foil and Sabre. The three weapons may look uncannily similar on first view, but when you cast an expert glance you will immediately realise that the three have totally different spellings.

Fencing is an exciting sword sport with the winner being decided on the technicality of who exults first and removes the mask in a jiffy. Otherwise no one has a clue as to what constitutes winning (or losing) here.

Fencing is one of the Olympic sports in which gender equality is well established. In that when you are watching it as a spectator, you will not be able to tell whether the fighter is a male or female.

Another attraction of fencing is its unique form-fitting uniform, doubtless inspired by Egyptian mummies.  The fencing player’s outfit basically is cotton gauze full-body hospital dressing  — the type that Kamal Haasan wore in Singaravelan in this scene.

Fencing is one of the five sports that has been featured in all the editions of the modern Olympic Games, making it clear that it is a hugely popular sport — among those in the IOC who decide these things, that is. Otherwise, outside of the Olympics, fencing is probably followed by a sum total of 323 people, 321 of them being actual players of the sport.

Cycling: Cycling has come a long way from the humble early days when competitors had to pound their legs on heavy metal machines to work up even small speeds. Today’s racing bicycles, on the contrary, are technological marvels, sleek and swift, and one look at them one is bound to exclaim: “hey, that is a beauty. On that I can get terminal backache pretty fast”.

The cycling arena, known as velodrome, is custom-built with steeply banking tracks that typically ensue when you entrust the work to totally clueless engineers. (Some of the velodrome engineers are routinely employed in Chennai Corporation’s road division).

The official rules for ‘Men’s Keirin’, which is a type of cycle race, reads: “the races are about 2 kilometers long:  Lots are drawn to determine starting positions for the sprint riders behind the pacer.” We suspect that the winner too is determined by the draw of lots, because every time we saw a race the winner was never the guy who finished first.

On the other hand, the rules for the men’s team pursuit race says, “the race, over 4 km, is between two teams of four cyclists, starting on opposite sides of the track. If one team catches the other, the race is over.”  We know what you are feeling, and indeed you are right. Yes, there is an Olympic event, which follows the rules similar to the one you had while playing ‘catch-boys’ in your backyard.

Cycling also involves repechages, which technically allows a losing competitor to keep participating till he/she wins a medal. At least that is what we think it is. Repechage can find some use elsewhere, too. For instance, it is through repechage that P Chidambaram managed to get elected from Sivaganga constituency even after being declared a loser.

(Disclaimer: And seriously, how did handball become an Olympic sport at all?)