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Virtual Olympic Sports

Ironically, the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga race was canceled for 2020 the day after publishing my most recent post in which I lamented the fact that IRONMAN was so tight lipped about plans for upcoming races.

I think a lot of athletes are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that they have time to alter their plans, cancel hotel reservations and set their training sights on something else. Personally, I’m keeping my training plans just about where they’ve been. Back in May I told you about my TriRiot 70.5 race. I’m planning something similar for September.

Zwift Wants Olympic Glory

Here’s something I think is absolutely crazy: Zwift wants to make their video game an Olympic sport by 2028. In the hierarchy of things to do other than basic survival and earning a living, we have play, game, and sport. I do not have an education in psychology, sociology or anthropology so my discussion on these points may be completely out of touch but I’ll let you judge that for yourself.

Here’s how I understand play, game, and sport.

  1. PLAY: When we are bored we make up things to entertain ourselves. Maybe we do this alone. Perhaps we can convince the person sitting next to us (at the bar or in your car or in the doctor’s waiting room) to join us as we pass the time. One example might be counting the roadkill on a road trip with the family.

  2. GAME: Put a few obstacles in the way of a playtime activity and make up some rules. Games have winners and losers. For example, that guy changing a tire on the side of the road does not count as road kill and whoever can identify the most species wins (humans don’t count).

  3. SPORT: Get serious about your games. Get others involved. Make an app that allows all drivers on your highway to tally their road kill counts and offer prizes for the winners. As the old saying goes, “100 believers is a cult. A million is a religion.” A traditional view of sport might be something very physical like track and field or baseball or triathlon. However, look at some of the sports in the Olympics: shooting, curling, golf. What makes them a sport is not the extreme physical demands of the athletes. They are sports because:

  4. Each requires great skill. Yes, even curling requires skill; although that skill, I understand, is associated with drinking after practices and competitions.

  5. Each has a governing body, either nationally, internationally or both.

  6. Each has a shit-tonne of followers and devotees called athletes that either get paid to participate or pay to participate.

  7. Someone or some company sponsors the events, because a different shit-tonne of people may be watching what the athletes are doing and companies can capitalize on that audience even if their products have nothing to do with the sporting events.

Does the Zwift platform fall into any of those categories? Sure it does, but why would you cycle vicariously through a video game when we already have the real thing in the Olympics?

Video games and artificial training have gotten closer and closer to the feel and look of the real thing. From what I’ve read, some smart-trainers can simulate the feel of riding through the streets of Roubaix, France (cobblestone streets). Video displays can show us a a view of what it’s like to ride outdoors (some of us may have forgotten that experience during periods of isolation and lockdown).

Why do we need to approximate these experiences in the Olympics when the Olympics already has four types of cycling (road, bmx, mountain, track)?

We don’t.

Video platforms certainly have their place and are very valuable for simulating conditions that are not available to athletes, such as hills. There is one hill about 25 miles from my house, so I might be a good candidate for a simulation. Another good reason to use platforms like Zwift is to ride when the weather or local conditions (traffic, etc) don’t allow for a safe training experience.

My opinion on this subject is just that: an opinion. I’d like to hear the opinions of others so I can tell them that they are wrong. (kidding! just kidding there).

Does Zwift have a valid request to add their platform to the 2028 Olympics or is their desire completely self serving?

Until next time…

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