2020 2021 Olympics are officially underway in Tokyo and so far things have been, well, the best word we can come up with is weird. From having to debunk rumors that the sustainable cardboard beds were there to discourage sex to burnout from our top athletes, it’s almost like these games shouldn’t be happening at all. But happening they are, and we’re still watching. We asked Vulture staffers which events they’re most looking forward to, and, predictably, it’s the silly, scary, and downright strange stuff.
Artistic swimming, which, until this Olympics, has been known as synchronized swimming, may be the most routinely mocked Summer Olympic event of them all. I have absolutely no data to support this. I am merely going on instinct and the lasting impact of a famous 1984 SNL sketch starring Martin Short, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest that is still pretty hilarious — “Hey, you, I know you, I know you!” — unless of course you’re a synchronized swimmer.
Admittedly, this is a sport that looks a bit silly to the untrained eye, what with all the nose plugs and the splashing and the whole Sparkle Motion aesthetic. But it is hard. Executing the moves that these athletes have to execute requires enormous core strength and control of all sorts of muscles, and that’s if you’re outside of a pool. Add the weight of water and it’s that much more difficult.
On top of all that, just as in gymnastics, competitors have to make what requires extreme grit look graceful. And they have to do it while mirroring exactly what their partner (in the duet category) or multiple partners (in the team category) is/are doing at the same time. While men do participate in other artistic swimming competitions, they still don’t at the Olympics, making this the rare event fully owned by women. So my dude: Next time you make fun of artistic swimmers, report to your nearest local pool and try to bust a few simple dance moves in five feet of water, in unison, with a friend, then report back to me, mmm-kay? —Jen Chaney
I will always stop what I’m doing to watch Olympic diving, but it’s tough to know whether that’s because I love it or because I live in terror that one of the athletes will hit their head on the diving platform and the whole thing will transform into a crime scene. It’s mesmerizing! It’s life or death! It’s an absolutely bananas sport, and also one of the few sports where even imagining myself attempting to do it turns my entire digestive tract into gelatin. The big bonus of watching diving once every four years is that, unlike racquetball or fencing, it’s very easy to pretend you know what’s going on. Did they splash a lot? Ooh, that’s not good. —Kathryn VanArendonk
Like all the greatest Olympics events, dressage provides a window into a world I had no idea existed and find utterly incomprehensible, but nevertheless become extremely invested in for the short time it’s on, before forgetting about it for four years. Dressage is a sport in which rich people make their horses dance. I assume they’re rich, because no sport has ever looked more for rich people than dressage, which, in addition to the whole horse-having aspect, also requires its participants to kit themselves out in a top hat, breeches, and a swallowtail coat. It’s in this intensely uncomfortable-looking outfit that competitors sit on top of their horses while those horses perform some bouncy choreography to the sound of, say, the Beach Boys or The Lion King. I say “sit” because part of the whole deal of dressage seems to be that the rider is supposed to barely appear to be guiding the horse, making the sport look delightfully like one in which very dressed up people are slightly embarrassed to be finding their mounts doing a nifty little side-step across the arena. Then the announcers mutter about “elasticity” and “doubling coefficients for the pirouettes,” and then someone, often possessed of a double-barreled last name, wins, and no one knows why. It’s perfect. —Allison Wilmore
If Simone Biles got you hyped up for artistic gymnastics, share some of that energy with the men’s team. With Brody Malone, a 100 percent–muscle rising senior at Stanford and all-around U.S. champion, the men have a solid chance of earning a medal against Japanese, Chinese, and Russian competitors at the Olympics. While the women’s routines are controlled, graceful, and poised, most of the men’s events are about swinging your body around as hard and as fast as you can. Not to say the men aren’t exhibiting incredible feats of athleticism, strength, and precision. Just that it’s incredibly fun to watch them rotate their stirrups around as they hold themselves up on something called a pommel horse or hang upside down on rings like buff kindergarteners. Take, for example, Yul Moldauer from the U.S. Men’s team, (along with Sam Mikulak, Shane Wiskus, and Alec Yoder, an event specialist). He sticks landings with apparent ease, no matter which way he flings himself and celebrates with a rousing “LET’S GOOOOOOOOO” every time. Not to mention the bro handshakes they give each other once they get off the mat. “Brody, dude, you’re an animal, bro,” has been uttered on the sidelines. The stakes may be lower but the flips are crazy high. The boys will be having a blast at the Ariake Gymnastics Center. Tune in every time you wish Simone Biles could just yell “GOAAAAAT!” —Zoë Haylock
I would like to go on record that I was a(n extremely casual) soccer fan well before Ted Lasso charmed his way into my heart, but there’s no denying that watching the entire first season at least four times during quarantine made me appreciate the beautiful game all the more. Both simpler and harder to understand than American football (I’ll never get the offside rule no matter how many times I watch Bend It Like Beckham), soccer is often dismissed as boring by Americans, who point to the fact that matches usually end with only a handful of goals. But that’s ignoring all of the nuance and drama that comes from the near misses, the penalties, the defensive plays, and, of course, the fashions (have you seen Megan Rapinoe’s hair??). It’s the most popular sport in the world! Get into it! —Emily Palmer Heller
Dude. How could you not watch surfing? Everybody’s at nature’s mercy, everybody’s hot, and it’s the first year the sport will be included in the Olympics, with athletes catching waves about 60 miles from Tokyo at Tsurigasaki Beach. I’ve never even tried to surf — I really don’t have the strength for that — but I still feel like I’ve been training to get invested all my life. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where the ocean was close at hand and cold as shit; the few surfers I knew were pretty much stoner adrenaline-junkie jocks, the neoprene-clad skaters of the sea. Like all my friends, I was extremely influenced by Blue Crush and spent my tween years trying and failing to look natural in a pair of Roxy board shorts. Apparently the waves at Tsurigasaki might be kinda bogus, but they still look terrifying to me. I’m rooting for Mahina Maeda, who’s from Hawaii but is surfing for Japan. Oh, and when she was 16 she became one of the youngest women (girls) ever to surf the big wave at Nazaré in Portugal. Think you can do this, bro? —Madeline Leung Coleman