I"ve been thrilled by the outstanding performances of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps; I've enjoyed every medal every New Zealand Olympian has won; and I've savoured the new Olympic sports added to the programme like triathlon and marathon swimming.
That said, I don't care two hoots what happens to New Zealand's two BMX riders going for gold this afternoon. I couldn't care less, because BMX riding is simply not an Olympic sport.
I was talking about this yesterday with CP, discussing why their success or otherwise means nothing to me, and she reckoned it's not just a matter of tradition that means sports like soccer and tennis, and BMX and beach volleyball shouldn't be at the Olympics -- and it's not just because they're demonstrably silly that so-called sports like synchronised bloody swimming should be sent packing forthwith -- it's that the essence of Olympic sport is that it highlights perfection in the essentials of every sport.
Genuine Olympic sports, she argued, are the abstracted elements of sport -- you can run and jump and leap around playing soccer, for example (and if you're good enough you can do it on a world stage in its own right), but only at the Olympics are the essential elements of running fast, jumping high and leaping around gymnastically abstracted from all other sports, and the world spotlight shone upon the champions in these fields.
I suspect she's on to something here, that real Olympic sports are genuinely Olympian in their abstraction. At the Olympics, we thrill to the sight of the world's fastest man (and wasn't he outstanding!), as we should.
This is clearly an order of abstraction higher and more Olympian than the thrill of seeing a chap bending a soccer ball around a wall of defending players (and I apologise sincerely to readers for any confusion I may cause by using the word 'abstraction' in the same sentence as a reference to David Beckham), or kicking said ball to each other for ninety minutes. If she's right, then the more abstract the sporting feat, the stronger are the grounds for its Olympic inclusion; and the more specific it is, the more the grounds for exclusion.
If she is right, and I think she is, then we can formulate a new 'epistemological razor' by which to ensure the Olympic are restricted to their essential sports, and not multiplied beyond necessity.
Athletics, for example, contains the abstract elements of most sports, and is therefore the core of the Olympics -- as are sports that involve shooting things, throwing things, leaping over things, punching other people while they try to punch you back, and lifting heavy weights. And cycling, for all it looks like it might be too specific, is basically about riding things fast -- the abstracted essence of the means by which human-powered machinery can be made to go fast -- so that has to be there too.
But BMX cycling? That's just too specific, and therefore far too un-Olympian.
That said, I do of course wish New Zealand's two BMX Olympians every success, but I trust they'll forgive me if I don't tune in to hear how they got on. After all, if we come to accept sports like BMX and synchronised bloody swimming as part of the canon of Olympic sports, then come 2012 and the London Olympics we'll be seeing arguments from the English that pub sports like snooker and darts must be included.
And down that way, madness surely lies.