SI Vault
E.M. Swift
November 04, 2002
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November 04, 2002

Olympic Sport

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BLAME OLGA KORBUT. Point the finger at Nadia. Say it's all thanks to you, Mary Lou. If it weren't for those pixies and the TV producers who fell in love with them, Americans wouldn't be subjected to numbing hours of little contortionists tumbling, swinging from bars and prancing on beams like so many midget circus performers. Most of the world sees cute, smiling Muppets performing feats of balance, strength and flexibility. I see underfed victims of child abuse who train so hard for so many hours that their growth is stunted and their adolescent bodies deformed. For every Olympic gymnastics champion, there are dozens of Olga wannabes who end their careers with permanent back, neck or shoulder injuries. And for what? Until someone thinks up some new apparatuses, there are only so many things a human body can do on a mat, on a beam, swinging from uneven parallel bars or while vaulting off a horse. With minor variations, a flip is still a flip, a cartwheel a cartwheel, so judging is every bit as politicized and inscrutable as it is in figure skating. Whether a competitor "sticks" her landing or not becomes the great drama of each performance.

I've got an idea where to "stick it." On satellite channel 293. At 3 a.m. Someplace where Mary Lou's smile, and the sun, never shine.

Stop your sniggering-badminton is not the backyard, precocktail, white-flanneled lawn game that provided diversion for British aristocrats and family fun for postwar America. Olympic-level badminton is a fast-paced, tactical, sweat-soaked contest that beats the bejesus out of tennis when it comes to spectacular rallies. The shuttlecock—gotta love that name—has the flight patterns of a bumblebee, shooting ahead when whacked, suddenly running out of steam, then diving earthward until it can be returned with ferocity by some lightning-quick dervish in shorts. The serves are lobbed or slammed in a mesmerizing array of arcs and speeds, and the doubles game is so fast it looks like pinball played with a net. It's inexpensive, easy to understand and can be played indoors or out. So what's holding badminton back from taking the nation by storm? Three little letters: NBC, whose provincial Olympic coverage doesn't allow air-time for a sport dominated by the Chinese and Koreans. It's time for the shuttlecock to play a starring role on the peacock.