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Olympic sports in the making

ESPN staff
August 10, 2012
Who would turn down MMA? © Getty Images

We at ESPN are loving the London Olympics - but we can't help ourselves thinking of ways to make it even better. So how's about if we add this selection of sports to the Games?

The fastest growing sport in the world needs a voice, and it needs to be an Olympic one. Judo, Taekwondo, Boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling... they're all in the Olympics, so why not have the all-encompassing mixed martial arts? Bringing together the aforementioned disciplines, in addition to karate, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu and several others, MMA has become the ultimate new-age 'martial art'.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) is currently lobbying for acceptance of the sport in future Games, which will surely conclude one day with a positive answer.

By breaking things down into weight classes, timed rounds, and with clearly defined rules, Olympic-level MMA can operate within most of the guidelines laid down by the boxing competition. And with so many multi-talented stars willing to compete (Georges St-Pierre no less), it would be one of the biggest money-making tickets an Olympic Games could offer.

And if all that doesn't work for you... there's Octagon girls too.

Rock Paper Scissors
For just a $50 entry fee, you can currently enter the crazy world of the Rock Paper Scissors World Championships. Held every year in Toronto, £50 can become $10,000 if your mind-reading skills can outwit a series of equally geeky opponents.

The 'sport' is as much a battle of psychology as skill, with competitors attempting to read their opponent's moves long before they make them. Like all real sports, all the big plays have their own nicknames - there's 'The Bureaucrat' (choosing Paper, Paper, Paper in three straight hands), 'The Tax Cut' (Paper, Paper, Scissors) and the extremely rare 'The Guillotine' (seven straight Scissors).

Taken to an Olympic level, one can only picture the drama if a Guillotine was deployed as a gold medal-winning play. The beauty, of course, is also that men and women can compete in the same competition, although separate weight classes might be needed for aesthetic purposes.

Enough with all these muscle-bound beasts at the Olympics - let's make it more inclusive and welcome in the portly, greasy monsters of the oche. Aren't some of the sports just a little bit stuffy? All the hushed silence at the archery, who needs it? Let the fans bellow out a few tunes and bring the roof down when Tony O'Shea throws a cheeky 81. And is it really all that different to javelin? Well, yes, but only in the sense it's loads better. Olympic chiefs may find the sport slightly Brit-centric, but to our mind that's all the more reason to plough ahead: Phil Taylor gold, Adrian Lewis silver, Dave Chisnall bronze. And we'd probably still finish 17th in the medal table.

World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship
Yep, you've read that right; there are people out there that eat stinging nettles for fun! If the word "stinging" didn't give the game away, then maybe the sharp, shooting pain as you handled the nettles even before you've got your chops around them would deter even the hungriest of people? It seems not. Every year in mid-June the World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship takes place in the village of Marshwood near Bridport, Dorset. Competitors are presented with appetising two-foot-long stalks of nettles, and the aim of the game is to pull off the leaves and munch your way through as many as possible in an hour. Apparently there's tactics involved: the pros roll the leaves into small balls and throw the wrapped bunch of leaves straight to the back of the mouth. From there it's all about trying to swallow as quickly as possible, doing so with a minimal amount of contact. The bare stalks are then measured to find a winner. Like we said, mindless, but brilliant.

You can keep your Jessica Ennises, Mo Farahs or Greg Rutherfords - it's hearing "Mark Selby… 12" that will really moisten the eyes of any Brit. Could this be the prize that really forces Ronnie O'Sullivan to knuckle down, look interested and produce his best stuff consistently? And it's about time John Virgo's frenzied "… But where's the cueball going?!" commentary - one of the great sporting moments - was brought to a wider audience. TV classic 'Big Break' never got the worldwide recognition it deserved - let's not deny Virgo again.

Ronnie O'Sullivan is arguably snooker's biggest draw © PA Photos

Pigeon Shooting
The RSPB and animal rights brigade may perk their ears up at this one, but we really do believe we are on to something. As well as Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square has been associated with pigeons. Things have cleaned up a shade in recent years, but we reckon that can be remedied by sending your granddad, all granddads are lovers of birds, down every day in the weeks before the event with some of your finest birdseed. Pigeons being pigeons, if there's easy food about they will come flocking which will provide the competitors with plenty to aim at. And before you ask how will we judge this, coloured pellets. Each competitor has his own colour and only clean shots will count. A backfiring taxi racing down an Olympic Lane will signal the start of play and the most kills in 30 seconds will pick up gold.

Tug o' War
LOCOG officials want to leave a legacy and inspire a generation. Now that is easier said than done, as unless you have a few quid you are going to struggle to repeat the heroics of the Ben Ainslies (boats are not cheap) and the Peter Wilsons (Guns are expensive and you can't just walk around the street with one) of this world. With this in mind, reviving tug o' war ticks so many boxes: all you need is a rope and a few mates to practice with. Tug o' war is steeped in history, Olympic history no less, as it was part of the Games from 1900 to 1920. It is a competitive sport in a number of countries and Britain has its own tug o' war federation and importantly, we have form. GB won in 1908, with the might of the City of London Police taking gold and if it is to be revived Britain will be defending champions after making off with the gold in 1920.

Cheese Rolling
It sounds crazy, and it kind of is: launching a 3.5kg wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill and chasing after it, to hell with the consequences. Traditionally held on Cooper's Hill near Brockworth, Gloucester, supporters flock in their hundreds to cheer on their more daring competitors as they pursue their massive hunk of cheese as it reaches speeds of 70mph. Charging down a slope for 200m is asking for trouble and sure enough injuries are almost taken as read. The idea is to catch the cheese, with the first person grabbing theirs declared the winner. Cheese rolling was officially cancelled in 2010 on health and safety grounds but passion for the sport is so strong that hundreds organised their own unofficial event in June. Coaches will be paranoid athletes will pick up knocks but when they see the wellies go on, the gigantic wheel of cheese underarm ready to be fired, and the copious amounts of bodies somersaulting and tumbling through the air towards glory (or their deaths), surely they'll feel reassured?

If we're being entirely honest, the only reason we want chess in the Olympics is because we have become fixated with the idea of everything that would have to come with it. Can you imagine the host country having to build a 'Chess Arena' on the Olympic Park? Maybe it is just us (okay, it is), but we really, really like the idea of fans scrambling for £95 category 'B' tickets to watch the last-32 encounters at the 5,000 capacity 'Chess Arena'. It's what the Olympics was made for.

In all seriousness, though (that's a lie - we still aren't taking it that seriously), chess does have some advantages over other sports. While most Olympic sports are split into male and female competitions, chess can combine the two and (AND!), after Deep Blue's memorable matches against Garry Kasparov in the 1990s, could presumably even include computers in the mix. If there's one criticism of the Olympics it is that not enough non-human species are allowed to compete (and the ones that are, horses, don't get the credit they deserve) - chess will change all that!

How chess would fit with the Olympic motto of 'Higher, Faster, Stronger' is a bit dubious - maybe play the event on stilts, with a time limit, and heavier pieces? - but chess nevertheless deserves a look in.

Anyone for cheese rolling? © PA Photos

The national spelling bee is an absolutely huge deal over in the United States, as schoolchildren tussle to be crowned the best young speller in the country. But what do these pre-pubescent walking dictionaries have to aspire to as they leave their teenage years? Nothing, that's what - which is why (we presume) so many end up spelling 'pre-pubescent' on street corners for an extra dollar. An Olympic spelling competition would help amend that, giving kids from around the world reason to keep on spelling well into their adult age.

The event could be staged almost anywhere (although it might be an idea to get some additional use out of the 'Chess Arena') while maybe you could add a physical element to it - for example, competitors might have to run to a wall to grab the numbers they need to spell a word, then run back to put them on an oversized scrabble board before a time limit expires. Yes, this sounds somewhat ridiculous for an Olympics - but is not the motto of London 2012 'Inspire a generation'? All current Olympic events focus on the physical, this gives kids a reason to stay educated too. No bad thing.

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