Expect Olympic ‘street cred’ to rise

Skateboarding, climbing among new sports for 2020

It’s hard to imagine legendary American decathletes Jim Thorpe and Bob Mathias busting a move as part of an official competition at the Olympics, where they both ascended the victory podium as gold medalists.

Unofficially, the winner of the decathlon is widely regarded as the world’s greatest athlete.

Yet, in just over five years from now, thanks to an endorsement from the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, athletes competing in the 2024 Paris Games will position themselves on the podium and bow their head as an Olympic medal is draped around their neck in recognition of their top-three placement in, get ready, breakdancing.

Yes, that is the correct visual in your mind’s eye.

Tony Estanguet, president of Paris 2024, explained that breakdancing, along with skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing, were submitted for consideration by the International Olympic Committee because the Paris organizing committee “wanted to choose popular sports that are inclusive, accessible, and promote creativity while best complementing the existing sports program.”

The IOC will consider the recommendation for ratification in June. The vote is simply a formality. Skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing are already approved for debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The four sports in question for the Paris Games will be monitored by IOC officials through 2020 on the basis of performance, management, governance, integrity of competitions, judging systems, and other criteria.

The sports sections of newspapers that are traditionally filled with news and statistics from competitions that involve use of a puck, some type of ball, or other athletic equipment will be reporting on Olympic events that are more typically regarded as entertainment or recreation rather than formalized sport.

Can disc golf and billiards be far behind?

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said that the introduction of breakdancing, skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing would make the Games “more gender-balanced, more youthful, and more urban.”

The acrobatic skills associated with breakdancing have the power to elicit the same types of reactions experienced at track and field, diving and gymnastics meets, where artfully choreographed leaps, rotations and dismounts produce sounds of amazement and appreciation from the crowds.

And yet, it is fair to speculate on whether a breakdancing performance that could be viewed on “America’s Got Talent” merits space on an athletics platform as revered as the Olympics.

The lines of demarcation have blurred in so many entertainment and media outlets these days that it should come as no surprise that the Olympics are hovering over a gray area.

Reality television is taking scripting to a seemingly all-time high level (or low, based on your perceptions and tastes) and the material on cable news outlets at times appears to be more personal commentary than reporting. Even Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy feature on air guitar last summer.

The magazine’s editors obviously define individual improvisation with an imaginary guitar as an athletic pursuit.

Lurking behind the idealism of Paris 2024’s proposal and the IOC Executive Board’s recommendation is this reality: The Olympic movement needs to appeal to a younger demographic that will supply the television ratings which inspire major corporations to invest tens of millions of dollars in advertising on NBC, whose parent company is on the hook for Olympic Games broadcast rights totaling $7.75 billion from 2021 to 2032.

This deal was an extension of the $4.4 billion agreement NBC signed with the IOC in 2011.

The addition of trendy sports to the Summer Games lineup is no different than a manufacturer of consumer goods introducing a “new and improved” product or a restaurant tinkering with the menu.

Failure to inspire imagination, fill a need, meet expectations, or maintain a place of prominence in the consciousness of the consumer will surely generate a one-way ticket to the land of obsolescence.

Embrace the new Olympic sports and your vocabulary of sports terms, such as Ollies and Hang Tens, will surely expand.

And so, too, will your street cred.

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona.

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