Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What, no beer pong?

Canoe polo, the "Billiards Babe" and something called, er, fistball? Welcome to the World Games.

Global Post, July 16, 2009

TAIPEI — Call it the "other" Olympics.

Every four years, in the summer following the Olympics, some of the finest athletes on the globe assemble for one of the world's most obscure sporting events: the World Games.

World Games athletes are often just as dedicated as Olympians. But for one reason or another, their chosen sports are non-Olympic.

Some are former Olympic sports that got bumped due to changing tastes and times (tug-of-war, softball). Some aren't taken seriously enough on a global scale (Sumo wrestling, bodybuilding).

And others sound like something from a Monty Python skit – canoe polo, korfball (that's Dutch basketball), fistball (similar to volleyball), tchoukball (don't ask, it's a ball sport).

Since 1981, World Games athletes have competed in the shadow of their far better-known Olympic counterparts. This year these games are seeking a bigger spot in the sun, with more athletes, events and spectators than ever.

Organizers say 4,800 athletes will compete in 31 sports, compared to just 1,265 athletes in 18 sports at the first World Games in Santa Clara, California.

The 2009 World Games also have a geopolitical twist: they're being hosted by Taiwan — the "other" China — a year after Beijing hosted the Olympics.

China views self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, to be unified by military force if need be. Of late, the two sides have enjoyed warmer relations, under a new, China-friendly president here. But there's a limit to such coziness: China still frowns on any official suggestion that Taiwan is a state. So, while 77 Chinese athletes will compete in the World Games, China boycotted Thursday night's opening ceremonies.

Due to China's sensitivities, Taiwanese athletes must also compete as "Chinese Taipei", under a special flag – even though they're on their own soil (Taiwan is not allowed to fly its national flag at World Games venues).

That's the result of a compromise struck to allow Taiwan to participate in global sports events.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou presided at the World Games opening ceremony in Kaohsiung — Taiwan's "second city." It's an industrial port metropolis once notorious for its pollution. But in recent years it's something of a make-over; its "Love River" waterfront area is now a tourist draw.

Kaohsiung has pulled out all the stops to raise the World Games' — and Taiwan's — profile on the world stage. It's built two new stadiums and dredged a lake that will be used in water sports. "Sport marketing is one strategy Taiwan is using to promote itself," said one World Games official.

But so far the results have been mixed. Some of the World Games' trappings seem derivative.

Take the Kaohsiung World Games' mascots — twin, pink and blue droplets named "Gao-mei" and "Syong-ge." They look like what might result if one of Beijing's Olympic mascots mated with a Teletubby.

And a much vaunted new stadium — built at a cost of $150 million — has been derided as a knock-off of Beijing's Bird's Nest.

Still, the stadium, designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, is Kaohsiung's star achievement. Despite an exterior that recalls the Bird's Nest, it boasts a curvy horseshoe shape. And it's the world's most "green" stadium, with 9,000 solar panels that provide 80 percent of the stadium's energy needs.

Will Kaohsiung's push win more respect for the World Games?

That remains to be seen. As of Thursday, only 60 percent of available tickets had been sold — a poor showing compared to last year's Beijing Olympics, which sold out its 6.8 million available tickets.

Below, a preview of the action, drawn from information on the official World Games' website.

So let the games — the other games, that is — begin. Here's a handy guide on what to look for.


Look for U.S. athletes Jack Huzcek and Rocky Carson to dominate in racquetball, Natalie Grainger to go for the gold in squash (she's currently ranked #2 in the world), and a medal run by U.S. bowlers Chris Barnes and Stefanie Nation.

Unfortunately, the Games do not have a broadcaster in the U.S., a Games spokeswoman said.


Artistic roller-skating (July 21 and 22): Look for the Italians to dominate this event. Naturally.

Billiards (July 22-26): In this closely watched event, it's the "Billiard Babe" — Austria's Jasmine Ouschan (a 2005 gold medalist) against the "Pool Queen" — Taiwan's own Chang Shu-han.

Bodybuilding (July 18 and 19): A crowd favorite looks sure to be the Bahamas' Paul Wilson, known to his fans as "Mighty Mouse."

Dragon boat (July 17 and 18): Despite its Eastern origins, the Germans are the team to beat. Look for a strong showing again this year.

Canoe polo (July 17 and 18): Taiwan's team has momentum, coming off a recent win in the Asian Canoe Polo Championships.

Fistball (July 17 through 20): The Austrians are favorites in this event, which is similar to volleyball.

Korfball (July 17 through 21): Dutch for "basketball." The twist: baskets (korfs) are 11 1/2 feet off the ground (compared to 10 feet in basketball) but can be approached from any direction, and teams are co-ed. The Dutch dominate, not surprisingly, but Taiwan will try to knock them off their perch.

Latin dancing (July 24 and 25): Yes, it's really a sport — one of three "Dance Sports" at the World Games (the others are "Standard" and "Rock 'n Roll"). A Russian duo is ranked #1.

Sumo wrestling (July 17 and 18): Germans are strong here too -- one top contender is Nicole Hehemann.

Synchronized trampoline (July 20 through 22): Expect the Japanese power duo of Shunkuke Nagasaki and Masaki Ito to go bounce-for-bounce with the French team of Martiny Sebastien and Pennes Gregoire.

Tug-of-war (July 18 and 19): Taiwan's women's indoor team, profiled here, will defend its world crown.

And here's a full schedule of all events (all times Taiwan local time, GMT +8, 12 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. time).

Original site

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