Sports

A Definitive Ranking of Every Olympic Sport and Whether It Is Cool or Not

Yes, the Olympics are cool, but they also legitimize rowing. So six of one, half a dozen of the other.
August 11, 2016, 3:15pm

Photo via Republic of Korea

The Olympics are a curious thing, because they are at once exceptionally brilliant but also really nerdy and crap and sad. Like, these people spend every day, day after day, for four years, training to do exactly one thing, and that thing is, like, judo. Imagine for a moment your life is a professional judoer. How embarrassed would you be going to the bar with your friends with real jobs? "What'd you get up to today, man?" "Wore a very tough dressing gown and chucked some guys about on the play mats, how about you?" "Yeah, I… I actually did work, but no, that sounds good" "My office is the dojo. What'd you have for lunch? I had a big Lucozade out the vending machine." No.

But the Olympics are happening now, and the best judo-doers in the world—among other sportspersons of low note—are collecting in Rio to compete for medals at the most glamorous sporting event in existence. And it's sort of good, isn't it? Not "stay up late and actually watch it" good, but it's OK. People are trying their best, and they are doing alright. It's a nice. To a non-cynic, it would be a real celebration of the human spirit, the limits of physicality, the magic of elite athletes making their bodies do things other humans cannot even comprehend.

But then I am a cynic, so here's a comprehensive ranking of every Olympic sport, based on how cool it is:

Photo via Republic of Korea

ARCHERY

Being good at archery was well cool in olden days when, if you were amazing at archery and you got caught by the enemy, they would chop your fingers off to stop you from archerying—I mean, that is honestly one of the coolest things ever. Imagine being so good at killing that someone took your fingers off so you had to live with your stumps and the knowledge that your greatest gift had been stripped away from you. History was so dope—but now anyone who is good at archery basically only did it because they didn't make any friends at orientation week and so instead got slightly too into their sports club and still has precious memories and custom-printed polo shirts with "JOHNNO" on the back of them from the Manchester Metropolitan Europe-Wide Archery Tour '08, and essentially: Nobody who lives like that can be in any way cool.

ATHLETICS

I was impressed by people who could run quickly in the playground, and I am impressed by people who can run quickly as actual adults, too. There aren't many transferable skills from the playground that can see you through to adulthood—willingness to pick up a dog shit with a stick, for instance, or chew gum that has already being in someone else's mouth, or make a fart sound cupping a single hand under your armpit—but running really went the distance. This is a cool event.

BADMINTON

Tennis for people who don't like loud noises. Bullshit sport.

BASKETBALL

I'm a millennial #thoughtful writer with a not-even-low-key America obsession, of course I think basketball is cool.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL

Beach volleyball is exceptionally cool, because anyone who hangs around on a beach all day cannot fail to be cool. We all deep down want to be beach people, but we can't, we can't let go, we thrust responsibility on ourselves, we force ourselves to have jobs and maintain apartments and push ourselves into positions of high adulthood, when really we could all just fuck it off and live in a camper van and play beach volleyball all day, but we don't, because we're pussies. Yeah, I said it: Anyone who doesn't play beach volleyball professionally is a pussy. It is among the coolest sports.

Photo via US Embassy London

BOXING

Actual boxing is amazing, a noble art, two primal muscle bags just going at each other, artistic jabbing, exquisite punching, feats of survival and aggression that defy logic, and sense. But Olympic boxing is like that only everyone has a helmet, a blue vest on, and nobody is really watching it. Ask yourself: Would Rocky, from the Rocky films, the greatest boxer to ever live, would Rocky have boxed at the Olympics? No, he would not. He was too busy hitting the shit out of some beef joints in a warehouse in Philadelphia. Olympic boxing fails the "Would Rocky Out of the Rocky Films Do It?" test, and thus is not in any way cool.

CANOE SLALOM

This is just an underwhelming bachelor party activity.

CANOE SPRINT

Same with this. Your outdoorsy friend wants a bachelor party in the woods. "Beers, guy, big house, beers." You're all up at 6 AM to be trussed into waterproofs and thrown into a frigid rivulet. Paddle a canoe a bit. Go to the nearest bar, 15 miles away, where all the locals hate you. Your body hurts. It somehow takes someone an hour and a half and an open fire to make you all bacon sandwiches. The train home takes a five-hour Sunday diversion. That was your weekend. You don't even like him. This is not an Olympic sport.

CYCLING BMX

This is cool because i. BMX was extremely cool back in the era of playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 all day and listening to Kerrang! and watching Jackass i.e. the coolest era ever on earth, and also it's very viable that whoever wins gold in this event can and will say the word "gnarly" with aplomb and ii. basically any of the hard kids who used to loop around you on BMX's when you walked home from school and call you "soft" could feasibly win a medal at this, and that's very cool indeed. A cool sport.

CYCLING MOUNTAIN BIKE

Mountain bikes are also cool, even though there was always a guy at your school who was a little too into it—"Where you going this weekend, Liam?" "My dad and I are going to Epping Forest, I've got a new exoskeleton" "Isn't that what you did last week?" "Always the same"—just took it a little too seriously, liked it a little too much. A borderline cool sport.

All these guys shout "COMING THROUGH!'" really loudly while pelting through pedestrian traffic in central London. Photo via Jonathan J.Ingles-Le Nobel

CYCLING ROAD

Now we're getting into a very difficult territory because going really fast on a bike is definitely a good thing (and, as before, was really cool when you were a kid), but now domestic cycling is dominated by 40-year-old agency heads in full lycra and a special $800 3D-printed helmet and little yellow sunglasses and a whole mess of chamois cream slathered on their junk, thus making road cycling the nerdiest thing on earth.

CYCLING TRACK

Not a real sport, sorry. If it's a sport you can definitely do outside, but you're too scared too—indoor soccer, that sort of thing—just in case you get rained on or hit by a van, then sorry, this sport is for wimps. I know Sir Chris Hoy and his massive thighs are good at track, but that doesn't make it cool.

DIVING

Divebombing: extremely cool. Diving to impress girls when you are 14: cool. Diving professionally at the Olympic Games: for nerds.

EQUESTRIAN DRESSAGE

The horse is doing all the work here, so it's not a sport.

EQUESTRIAN EVENTING

Not a sport. You trained an animal to do a thing. Well done. Where's Pudsey's Olympic medal?

EQUESTRIAN JUMPING

Not a sport! Call me when there's a Horse Olympic Games, with massive horse-size medals, and then we'll talk.

FENCING

If you're competing at the Olympics in fencing, then you're basically admitting to the world that you are your boarding school's most underwhelming graduate.

SOCCER

Soccer is obviously the sport of kings, but Olympic soccer is trash—it's just one of those trash tournaments nobody actually cares about. It is the League Cup of international soccer—and the only joy comes from Brazil really, really wanting to win it and then never winning it. That's it. Shit game.

GOLF

I'm convinced televised golf is just a government ruse to keep dads quiet and docile—cheaper and less dangerous than lacing their water supplies with bromide, and if you hit a dad with a golf tournament and then an F1 qualifier on the same day, he will basically be quiet and pliant for up to and including a week—and so by extension it is exceptionally uncool.

GYMNASTICS ARTISTIC

This is what the fucking Olympics is about. This is what the Olympics is about. Ninety percent of Olympic sports, you or I could feasibly do first try—most of us can run, or do a dive, or kick a ball, or cycle—but no fucker I know can turn upside down and just hover in the air like Simone Biles does, or any of that wacky pommel horse shit, or holding onto two big suspended rings and just flipping about a bit. Gymnastics are cool because the only people who can successfully do it have essentially transcended humanhood and pushed through to evolve into something other, something better.

Photo via the US Army

GYMNASTICS RHYTHMIC

Dunno the difference, just read the above entry again.

HANDBALL

I feel like this is just a weird joke game that all the mature students in the international halls of residence played and not a real sport at all. Just seems like it would have a disproportionately high number of players who wear protective goggles to play. Uncool.

HOCKEY

Any sport that could be feasibly dominated by a fees-paying all-girls school is not cool, I'm afraid.

JUDO

Your dad's turned the garage into "his dojo" and put a poster of Karate Kid up on the wall. Every time you go in there, he's solemnly doing his breathing and tugging at his own lapel. "What it is, son," he's saying, "is more than just me keep ing fit: It's a fine and ancient art, where I use my attacker's weight against him as a weapon." Some bloke comes over and says your dad has spilt his pint. "I never!" your dad says. He wants to take this outside. Your dad winks at you. "Watch this, kidda," he says. You have to call the ambulance yourself. Blood on your hands, smudging on your phone screen. "My dad!" you're saying. "My dad, my dad!" Doctors rebuild his skull, but he's never quite the same. He's never quite the same. Judo is not a cool sport.

MODERN PENTATHLON

Sampling a lot of sports in one day is the preserve of team-building office fun days, not the Olympics.

ROWING

Everyone who thinks rowing is good votes Conservative, owns more than one cravat, knows the names of all the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and avoids inheritance tax. This is not a cool sport.

Photo via the US Army

RUGBY

I feel like rugby has actually pushed through being uncool to make itself sort of post-cool, like, it is definitely not cool—watch rugby in this country, and it's just a load of wide posh lads saying "Twickers!" and emptying lager over their heads—but then the fact that rugby is almost unashamed in the naffness of its fan base kind of makes it cool in that uncaring way, a sort of malaise that appeals to people such as I. So actually I am going to go out on a limb here and say rugby: actually alright.

SAILING

Don't understand how sailing is a sport. When the primary mechanic of the sport is "it's quite windy today," I don't think that event can be cool.

SHOOTING

Lots of guys in polo shirts and cagoules very slowly lining up a shot from a specialist rifle while wearing massive ear protectors? Weird how the Olympics have taken the coolest thing on earth—shooting the shit out of something—and made it uncool, isn't it?

SWIMMING

Swimming when you're a kid is just a really good way to get a nose full of chlorine and a foot full of warts and spend an hour retrieving bricks from the bottom of the pool while wearing Spongebob pajamas, but when you watch Michael Phelips just be a hyperagressive mega-athlete and just power through the water like a big angry shark, then you realize competitive swimming is actually brilliant and cool as hell.

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING

Doing anything in sync is just a party trick twins do instead of being genuinely interesting to talk to. Not cool.

TABLE TENNIS

Just something you play while you're waiting for your mom to pick you up from that Christian youth club she took you to for a bit in the hope that it would make you stop swearing.

TAEKWONDO

Taekwondo is actually exceptionally brilliant and could only be improved if they renamed it something like "Kick the Shit Out of Someone's Head."

TENNIS

Tennis is fine. Tennis is good because it's dominated by people who have played the sport intensely since they were, like, five years old, and they live tennis and they breathe it, and they adhere to all the little rules and etiquettes of tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis, like they dropped out of school to be taught lessons by their mom so they could get more tennis in, tennis is their life, tennis is their blood, they are finely honed athletes with incredible twitch speed and reaction times and strength and power and stamina, and yet also, Serena aside, I feel like I could get pretty much put every tennis player into a headlock and give them a humiliating titty twister, and they wouldn't be able to do anything about it. So: sort of cool.

TRAMPOLINE

If you've ever been on a trampoline as an adult, you will know that it's kind of fun for like a minute, maybe two, and then it's just the dullest thing in the world. You're just bouncing, get over it. Anyone who does that as a vocation is, in my opinion, clinical.

TRIATHLON

Why be good at one sport when you can be sort of alright at three?

VOLLEYBALL

Volleyball is actually very uncool when contrasted to beach volleyball, because it's basically played by people who like beach volleyball but want to ruin it by both taking it too seriously and transferring it indoors, so they can play it all seasons. Imagine taking the joy out of beach volleyball. Why bother.

WATER POLO

Water polo is just pool hijinks you play with your dad when you're on vacation, only here it's turned into a team sport where everyone has to wear ear protectors to stay safe. Uncool.

Photo via Republic of Korea

WEIGHTLIFTING

Eastern European dudes in unflattering leotards lifting something so heavy that their elbows flip backward and break is the coolest thing in the universe.

WRESTLING FREESTYLE

If Hulk Hogan were able to win Olympic gold, then this would be the coolest sport there is, but it's actually just a bunch of beefed up guys with fucked up ears manhandling and slapping one another until one shuffles out of a chalk ring. Garbage.

WRESTLING GRECO-ROMAN

Almost certainly the same thing. Until Olympic wrestling embraces entrance music, cowboy hats, wraparound shades, and smack talk, it is going to be confined to the "uncool sports" list.

AND SO:

The officially cool sports we are left with are:

Athletics
Basketball
Beach volleyball
Cycling BMX
Cycling mountain bike
Gymnastics (both Artistic and Rhythmic)
Rugby
Swimming
Taekwondo
Tennis
Weightlifting

So we need to thin this out a bit to figure out the final and coolest sport, so we need to get harsh. Example:

IS THIS AN ACTUAL SPORT, LIKE, WHEN IT'S NOT THE OLYMPICS? DO HIGHLY PAID ATHLETES PLAY THIS AND APPEAR IN COMMERCIALS AS A RESULT OF BEING GOOD AT IT?

Yes, in the case of basketball, rugby, and tennis: yes. These sports cannot necessarily be the coolest Olympic sport, therefore, because they exist outside of the Olympics. They have sports bodies and significant prize monies. They have sporting narratives we care about besides the Olympic games. They are out.

CAN YOU REALLY IMPALE AND POSSIBLY STRAIGHT-UP EXPLODE YOUR BALLS DOING IT?

Yes, in the case of Cycling BMX and Cycling Mountain Bike, you can totally straight up explode your balls if you do it a bit wrong, and in my humble opinion straight up exploding your balls is up there among the least cool things you can do, sadly ruling these two sports out.

IS THERE A SUB-EVENT WITHIN THE UMBRELLA OF THE SPORT THAT INCLUDES DOING SOMETHING LAME LIKE THROWING A HEAVY BALL A FEW METerS INTO SOME GRASS OR FLOPPING BACKWARD OVER A BAR SET AT A CERTAIN HEIGHT OR RUNNING AND JUMPING OVER A HURDLE?

Sorry, athletics, because while running really fast over 100 meters is really, really, really cool, the weird muscular dudes in sleeveless vests and wraparound shades doing an above-the-head clap to ghee the crowd up before they pole vault are exceptionally uncool, and they are looped in under the term "athletics," too.

IS THIS SPORT SOLD AS A FUN AND BREEZY ALL-GENDERS BEACH ACTIVITY IN ADVERTS FOR YOGURT AND TAMPONS?

Sadly, beach volleyball, you're out.

DO REALLY HENCH LADS IN VESTS AND YEEZYS PRACTIcE THIS AT YOUR GYM WHILE YELLING "HEEEEEYAAAAARGH" AND DROPPING THE WEIGHTS REALLY HEAVILY ON THE FLOOR BEFORE CUTTING AN EXTREMELY PROTEINY FART BY THE ROWING MACHINES?

Sorry, weightlifting, you're out :-(

DO YOU GET TO KICK PEOPLE FULL ON IN THE FUCKING FACE WHILE PRACTIcING THIS SPORT, AND THEN PEOPLE GIVE YOU A FUCKING GOLD MEDAL FOR IT, FOR KICKING PEOPLE IN THE FACE, KICKING PEOPLE IN THE FUCKING FACE

And taekwondo is the coolest Olympic sport, no argument, no disambiguation.

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