[OUTLOOK]Asian Games a fool's gold heaven

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[OUTLOOK]Asian Games a fool's gold heaven

With the 14th Asian Games about to cross the finish line, it's time to pray for the Chinese. The nearly 1,000-member Chinese contingent at these Games will be leaving Busan soon in dangerously overloaded airplanes. Planes tend to wobble severely on takeoff when they're lugging three tons of gold medals.

The typical Chinese athlete will depart Busan flashing more gold than Mike Tyson's mouth. On several days during the Busan Games, China hauled in at least 20 gold medallions. Twenty golds a day! During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, China earned only 28 golds, and those over two weeks.

The Asian Games are simply far too watered down. With too many events and too many medals, the Games have turned into the Special Olympics: Everybody is a winner. Everybody except Yemen. It hasn't won a Games medal of any kind since 1982.

The Asian Games have become the Asinine Games. Who can take them seriously?

I walked about the Games for a couple of days the first week and saw many athletes. Matter of fact, I saw too many. There needs to be limits on numbers. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan could only muster a squad of 26. Meanwhile, the gang of 1.4 billion brought along 26 people just to polish trophies.

China discovered a gold mine in team competition. There were team medals for nearly every event in Busan, which is absurd. I can see team medals in softball, which is a team sport. But soft tennis?

The expansion of the Asian Games is not China's fault. The Games' organizers let it happen and China, believing that second place is good grounds for suicide, simply took advantage. You're offering pinochle? We'll learn the game and trump the world. Bodybuilding? Can I take these steroids with my oolong tea?

Incidentally, why bodybuilding, for heaven's sake? Bodybuilding is far less of a sport than it is entertainment. Flexing pecs? C'mon, I've seen more notable achievements on David Letterman's stupid human tricks television segments. If you let bodybuilding slide into the Games on its great gobs of grease, why not see who can shove the most green beans in his ears while singing "When a Man Loves a Woman"?

The Asian Games have become a carnival, a state fair. I wouldn't be surprised if the 15th Games set up a weight-guessing booth or a pie-eating competition.

And if billiards, bowling and golf can be part of the Asian Games, which they were this year, why not for the next Games install air hockey tables and hold wet T-shirt contests?

A few words about golf. South Korea should have done well in golf in the Asian Games for the country has approximately 1,000 golfers for every hole. But poor Mongolia; it's got the biggest sand trap on earth -- the Gobi Desert -- but say the words Tiger Woods to a Mongolian and he'll likely grab a hunting rifle and head for the nearest forest.

My suggestion for the next Asian Games: no billiards, bowling or golf unless you allow contestants to drink and smoke while competing. Let's be reasonable, after all.

And while we're into logic, why in the world didn't South Korea, as the Games' host, insist on baduk as an event? Or soju drinking? Down eight bottles of soju in an hour's time and you get the gold -- if you're breathing.

Organizers in Busan expressed concern that the crowds were not what they had hoped. Indeed, at several venues I saw more athletes than spectators. Let's not let that happen again. The Asian Games should only add sports to which spectators can relate, such as hunting for the house keys. Or, running for bus the stop. Or, trying to hail a taxi on a Friday night in the rain.

This Asian Games offered women's wrestling, but to attract more fans to that event Busan officials should have labeled the activity what it truly is: cat fighting.

North Korea made a rare appearance at this Asian Games, and for that I am glad. But the North didn't enter even a quarter of the events that China did. Frankly, the North has little experience in many sports. Beach volleyball? Maybe beach abduction.

In shooting, China truly cornered the world's gold supply. Even so, I don't think there were enough shooting events. Certainly not enough for average fans to appreciate. Why not for the next Asian Games establish cap pistol competition? Or rubber-band gun firing? Even better, why not let competitors blast away at each other -- using real bullets? Odds-on favorites for 1-2 in that event: India and Pakistan.

The next Asian Games will actually be the Winter Asian Games, to be held in February in Aomori, Japan. I've heard that the Chinese snowball throwing team is already deep in training.


The writer is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Toby Smith

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