Listen up, International Olympic Committee: Your summer product needs some tweaking. Sure, the opening and closing ceremonies are always spectacular, and the networks constantly strive to find compelling "behind the scenes" story lines that will elevate the daily ratings.
But let's be honest. Many events aren't the kind that will keep younger American audiences glued to their Aeron seats in suspense. Times change. They always do. I grew up when ABC's "Wide World of Sports" was seen as cutting-edge programming. Now it evokes chariot races in the Hippodrome.
The modern games have made adjustments before. They dropped croquet, Indian clubs, and the tug of war decades ago. And while I realize that running around a track has a long and distinguished tradition, it just doesn't give a lot of viewers in the crucial 18-to-35-year-old demographic goose bumps. Many of their ideas about how sports and entertainment should blend together have been shaped by years of exposure to "American Gladiator," "Fear Factor," and "Jackass."
Here are a few simple suggestions to improve coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games:
Track relay sprinters would carry something other than a little baton to hand off to the next runner. Possible alternatives: bucket of water, extra-large pepperoni pizza, miniature shorthaired dachshund.
•Springboard and platform diving would require competitors to continue downward after entering the water and see who could bring up the most loose change from the bottom of the pool.
•High hurdles and steeplechase will have contestants running backward.
•In place of the javelin, there will be the Anything Throw. Participants may toss a rock, baseball, Frisbee, anything that fits in the human hand. Longest distance wins. Extra points awarded if a teammate catches the object.
•The Productive Marathon would turn a tedious long-distance race into a multitasking exercise. Participants must create an original work of art or marketable item as they run the course. Suggested activities: woodcarving, knitting, origami.
•In Maximum Resistance Swimming, instead of wearing skintight bodysuits or Speedo briefs, everyone competes fully clothed – tuxedos for men, evening gowns for women. Hats and gloves optional.
•The Ultramodern Pentathlon combines the traditional lineup of cross-country running, equestrian, fencing, pistol shooting, and swimming with two additional components: fire-walking and bungee jumping on horseback.
•It's time for tetherball to rise up and break loose from its playground roots. As a lifelong fan, I worried for years that it was becoming extinct and was elated to see it featured in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite." Competition can be one-on-one, mixed doubles, whatever feels right. No bullying or trash talking allowed, and all gold medals will be engraved with the words "flippin' sweet!"