Which Olympic event demonstrates the most absurdly overspecialized skill?

So I’m watching the long-jump events where Marion Jones, who according to NBC’s coverage is one of four athletes participating in these Summer Olympics, is having trouble with the launch line. Her first jump is a foul, with the end of her foot well past the line; her second and third jumps have her toes just barely on the board, well short of the line, robbing her of measurable distance in the sand.

And it occurs to me that the ability to start some distance away from a line, accelerate to a full sprint, and put one’s foot as close as possible to that line in mid-stride is a skill in and of itself. I mean, we all know how to jump; we know pretty much instinctively that to get more distance we have to have a running start. But this specific competition demands a couple of very specialized skills that require extensive practice: stepping just shy of the line, and more importantly the ability to land in a sitting position, with feet extended, and still let one’s butt continue forward to land in front of the heels instead of falling short.

And diving’s pretty specialized, too. Sure, anyone can jump off a ledge into the water. But how many of us can jump off the ledge in such a way as to deliberately put our bodies into a wildly spinning gyration?

And then pole vaulting came on. :slight_smile:

Another way to think about it, I guess, is to identify the sport with the biggest chasm between the experts and the jamokes. I imagine there aren’t a lot of casual pole-vaulters above seventeen feet, for example; the talent required to be one of the elite isn’t really something you find out about by accident, and it isn’t something you can apply to much else except that specific sport.

Does my question make sense?

How about race walking? While I agree it is difficult to do and does require athletic talent, its real world application leaves me puzzled.

Most of artistic gymnastics has little application to modern day life. I don’t often come across a set of rings and feel the need to do an Iron Cross.

I’d say the full set of skills (some are probably useful if you swim much) involved in synchronized swimming. I’m sure it’s very very difficult. I’m also sure it’s very very silly.

Ever since they took the figures out of figure skating, it’s been all downhill.

Speaking of downhill…

One thing I noticed about the long jump and high jump is that the athletes had these little quirky things they did when they started running. One woman leaned back, placed her hands in certain positions then took off running. Another did sort of a hopping start to her run. I wondered if these were just quirks or superstitions or actually part of their specialized skill in that event. They didn’t all do the same thing but they all seemed to have some odd little start routine.

I noticed that too, Tiramisu, particularly with the Russian women. I wonder if it’s a means of getting set physically into an incredibly well-honed routine that includes counting a precisely worked out number of steps on a perfectly measured stride. I mean, that one woman was regularly landing her toe within two inches of the line, and on her last jump she was right on the line.

Hence this thread. :slight_smile:

Spinning a long ribbon on a stick doesn’t seem to have many practical applications.

Field hockey – it’s like hockey, only on grass, and the stick handles are about two feet too short, so the athletes have to run around hunched over. I watched a bit of it thinking, this sport looks ridiculous (although not as silly as race-walking), and the athletes’ backs must be killing them! A rare event that rewards the shorter and shorter-legged amongst us.

No real-world apps to it, except maybe one: when you get out the cat carrier to take the cat to the vet or whatever, and the cat catches on to what you’re planning, and hides under a sofa or bed, and you grab whatever object is near to try to force the cat out from hiding…

(Maybe some mutant combination of wrestling and taekwondo is a more apt analogy for what comes next.)

Okay, but see with long jumping, it’s not that entirely specialized of a skill. Jump as far as you can!

You’re confusing the specialized method to achieve the longest jump with the pure concept of jumping. In other words, the stretching out in a sitting position whil in mid-air is just an evolution of the best way to jump really far. Which is arguably quite a practical skill.

There’s also a large artistic and aesthetic element, even in track and field. Definitely in gymnastics, diving, etc. You’re not going to question the usefulness of art as well, are you?

Spinning a ribbon on a stick is pretty dumb, though. :wink:

Is the triple jump still in the Olympics? That one has always confused me. I can see how long jump, high jump, and even pole vault evolved from people just trying to see who could jump longer or higher. But who the heck thought up that triple jump approach?

Ahhh…triple jump…my second favourite track and field event. (pole valur is #1). Triple jump is actually the only event I qualfied for the state meet for in HS. It’s fun to do, and so many people seem baffled by it and can’t seem to do it. You jump off of your main foot, land on that foot and jump off of it again, then land on your opposite foot and jump off of that. I have seen many people try it, and I think the mistake they make is that they alternate and go ‘right-left-right’ instead of ‘right-right-left’. (You could also reverse it and do ‘left-left-right’. It doesn’t matter which one you start on, so long as you finish the right way.)

It’s interesting how we all have different perspectives. In Australia, nobody would use the term field hockey. We’d simply say *hockey * (i.e. the normal sort, played on grass). Then there’s the other, strange variation - ice hockey.

Huh. Kind of like when I mentioned skiiing to someone from Texas and they said “Oh, you’re talking about SNOW skiing!”

(Right, you can ski on water too!)

Re: the OP. I doubt any pitcher in the Olympic baseball competition threw a knuckleball but that would be a pretty useless specialized skill.

I think the rest of the world would say that ice hockey is like hockey, except it’s on ice. I’ve watched a bit of it, and it looks ridiculous.

Synchronised diving (or is that pairs diving)? Being totally insinc with someone throwing themselves off a divingboard from a great height. Also, water polo?? The underwater polo or hockey was absolutely crazy but I don’t think it got past the demonstration stage. Mind you, they all start to appear ridiculous after a while.

Curling, anyone?

What? Sweeping isn’t remotely a useless overspecialized skill. :cool:

Neither is shouting “Hurry! Hurry!!”

In the Olympics, there is hockey, which is played in the summer. And there is ice hockey, which is played in the winter.

One sport is governed by the International Hockey Federation.
The other by the International Ice Hockey Federation.