By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
The United States has long established itself as a top competitor in sports, especially at the summer Olympics. According to the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. has won over 2,500 medals since the 1896 games in Athens, the most of any country. In fact, the closest country in the all-time standings to the U.S. no longer exists. The Golden Era of athletics for the Soviet Union saw them amass 1,010 medals, an impressive haul until you consider that the U.S. has that many gold medals alone.
Look at an event like men’s basketball. It’s a sport invented in the States and dominated by teams full of NBA stars for the past 20 years, excluding the team that would only manage bronze at the 2004 games in Athens.
But despite the U.S’s supposed stranglehold on Olympic dominance, there are still three sports that they have been unable to figure out. Badminton debuted at the 1992 games in Barcelona where the gold medal was won by Indonesia.
“Badminton has a very rich history in the United States,” according to USA Badminton Association.
And while a rich history of hitting the birdie around with your cousins during family barbecues might seem to be enough for Olympic competition, the U.S. has shockingly never made it to a medal round of the competition. Asian countries have dominated the sport, with China as the current leader at 41 medals.
Like badminton, table tennis is another event that hasn’t transcended in status from casual game to competitive sport in the U.S. Also like badminton, China has dominated, taking 28 out of a possible 32 gold medals since the event was added back in 1988.
When it comes to miniature-scale-net-and-ball games, the U.S. just doesn’t seem cut out for it. And that’s fine; neither event has broken into the mainstream in the States and neither really embraces the pure athleticism American athletes usually bring to the games.
But the fact that the United States has been so extraordinarily bad at handball seems much more inexcusable. The game is a hybrid between basketball and soccer. European countries have dominated the sport since it was added in 1972. For this year’s Olympics, the U.S. didn’t’ even qualify. Denmark won gold this year.
That’s why for Tokyo 2020 the United States needs to try something different. If we want to stay on top of the medal table, we need to maximize the haul from each event. For handball, the solution is simple. The game is about passing a ball, dribbling and shooting into a net. We already have athletes who can do that. We just need to use the players from the basketball team who are already at the Games (they barely break a sweat during their own games anyways), and supplement the team with NFL quarterbacks who are in need of off-season conditioning.
By the time we have Cam Newton firing a ball into the hands of a driving LeBron James, the medals will be as good as ours.