How each Olympic event would destroy you

Believe it or not, we estimate that shooting is the safest Olympic sport in which to compete. Lars Baron/Getty Images

The Olympics feature the greatest athletes in the world competing in some of the most demanding physical events known to man. Yet that doesn’t prevent all of us at home from sitting on our couches and doubting the validity of certain sports or thinking, “I could have made it to the Olympics in that if I had ever tried.”

It’s an Olympic tradition. A tradition of delusion. Because we couldn’t compete in any of these events. In fact, many of them would kill us.

Maybe it is time to take a realistic look at these sports from the couch-dweller point of view. Here is every Olympic sport ranked from easiest and safest to hardest and most dangerous for the average schlub -- assuming the average schlub tried his or her best in every event, saw it through to the conclusion and wasn’t rescued by paramedics.


Your Saving Grace: If you’ve ever shot a gun or even played an arcade game with a gun, this is essentially the same thing.

How It Would Destroy You: You’d finish last. And by a mile. But it would be really hard to get hurt shooting -- provided you don’t hold the gun the wrong way, of course.

Table tennis

Your Saving Grace: It’s pingpong. You played this exact sport in your basement growing up.

How It Would Destroy You: You would be humiliated 11-0, 11-0, 11-0 in front of fans and a TV audience, but there is no possible way to get hurt playing table tennis -- that is, as long as your little brother doesn’t leave his skateboard on the floor nearby and you accidentally step on it.


Your Saving Grace: You wear protective gear, and they don’t use real swords.

How It Would Destroy You: There really is no way to get hurt fencing, save a sprained ankle. But it probably would be pretty humiliating to know that if they did use real swords, you would have been decapitated in about two seconds.


Your Saving Grace: Another sport you’ve probably played before, albeit for fun at a family reunion.

How It Would Destroy You: Similar to table tennis, you would get shut out -- although the size of a badminton court would give you a slightly better chance at returning a shot or two. Unfortunately, badminton has far more movement than table tennis, so your chances of tearing or pulling something spike significantly.


Your Saving Grace: Relative to most sports, it’s not physically taxing. The skill part obviously is being able to shoot with accuracy, but holding up a bow, pulling back the string and releasing it can be done on the first try.

How It Would Destroy You: Your shoulders, arms and hands would quickly tire; you’d likely become covered in blisters, brush burns and bruises; and you might accidentally shoot someone.

Cycling: Track

Your Saving Grace: Everyone has ridden a bike!

How It Would Destroy You: Your legs would kill you for days, unless you were lucky enough to blow out a quad or hamstring before the race ended. In that case, only one of your legs would kill you for days.


Your Saving Grace: A friend of yours growing up probably had a trampoline you played on.

How It Would Destroy You: Remember that time your friend landed awkwardly and smashed his face on the frame? Now it would be your turn, only on worldwide television.

Rhythmic gymnastics

Your Saving Grace: This is basically dancing, right? Everyone has done that, albeit with varying levels of rhythm.

How It Would Destroy You: Well, it’s not just dancing, assuming you don’t do a lot of jumping and tumbling when you dance. (And if you do? Knock it off.) But probably the only way to get seriously hurt doing rhythmic gymnastics would be if you got so twisted up you accidentally strangled yourself with a ribbon.

Field hockey

Your Saving Grace: Field hockey isn’t nearly as violent and dangerous as ice hockey.

How It Would Destroy You: Well, if you are an American male, playing field hockey might open you up to a whole bunch of ridicule. Beyond that, your back would kill you from bending over, and you’d likely end up covered in bruises from getting hit with the ball and sticks.


Your Saving Grace: You’ve probably played tennis before.

How It Would Destroy You: You’d get crushed, 6-0, 6-0, and you’d be sore and exhausted. Oh, you’d also probably take a few 100 mph serves off the face.

Synchronized swimming

Your Saving Grace: Ha! What a hilarious joke sport, right?

How It Would Destroy You: You know what’s even more embarrassing than participating in a hilarious joke sport? Being the worst at a hilarious joke sport.


Your Saving Grace: It’s not complicated. You try to wrestle someone to the ground.

How It Would Destroy You: In about five seconds, you would be flat on the mat, probably with an arm or leg pulled or folded in a manner from which it would never recover.


Your Saving Grace: Everyone lifts weights. Maybe not in a gym. But see that thing over there? Pick it up. Boom. You just lifted something with weight.

How It Would Destroy You: Remember, the rules here are that you have to try your best. Trying your best as an untrained weightlifter would leave you with a nice collection of hernias and maybe a broken or dislocated limb or two.

Canoe sprint

Your Saving Grace: Row, row, row, row. What’s so hard? Plus, you get to sit down for this one.

How It Would Destroy You: You probably wouldn’t be able to move a muscle in your upper body for about a month after this.


Your Saving Grace: Same as the canoe sprint, only this time you have people helping you.

How It Would Destroy You: Same as the canoe sprint, only this time you’d have to deal with the withering glares of your disappointed teammates.


Your Saving Grace: You probably have played soccer before.

How It Would Destroy You: A slide tackle by an elite-level player would hurt. A lot. Luckily, after seeing your skills in a match, your teammates probably would stop passing you the ball and you’d get to just jog around for the final 88 minutes. You can jog for 88 minutes, right? No? Well, that’s an additional problem.


Your Saving Grace: If you’re American, you probably don’t know the rules. So you can just run around yelling, “I’m open! I’m open!”

How It Would Destroy You: Someone will throw the ball off your face to shut you up.


Your Saving Grace: Walk to the edge of the diving board or platform and hop off. Gravity mostly takes care of the rest.

How It Would Destroy You: If you tried to do flips or spins, or anything other than falling straight into the water, you’d be setting yourself up for a colossally painful belly flop. For those scared of heights, the platform dive is a nightmare. You might want to wear a swim diaper with your Speedo.


Your Saving Grace: This might be the easiest sport in the Olympics! Just sit there, and the horse does all the work.

How It Would Destroy You: If you can stay on the horse, you’re in good shape. If not? You might get stepped on by a 1,000-pound animal. That’s not really a risk in, say, table tennis.

Modern pentathlon

Your Saving Grace: Pistol shooting, fencing, 200-meter freestyle swimming, show jumping, 3-kilometer run. Chances are you’ve done at least one of these before.

How It Would Destroy: What a random collection of sports. You would be left with a random collection of physical and mental scars.

Cycling: BMX

Your Saving Grace: Everyone has ridden a bike!

How It Would Destroy You: If you could get up enough speed for any of the jumps, you would instantly crash and possibly get run over by all the other competitors when they lapped you the first time.

Cycling: Road

Your Saving Grace: Everyone has ridden a bike!

How It Would Destroy You: Do you have legs that look like these German cyclists' legs? No? Then you’re probably not going to make it up the first hill without getting off your bike and walking it up. And that’s not even the hard part. The hard part is going down the other side of the mountain without shooting off the side of a cliff at 60 mph.


Your Saving Grace: Basketball is a classic American sport, so there’s a good chance you have played this before and are even fairly good at it.

How It Would Destroy You: You’re not good at it. “But I played in high school and college, and still play in rec leagues!” No. Sorry. You’re still not good at it. Not compared to Olympic players, the best in the world. So while you might not be risking the physical destruction some of these other sports might provide, basketball might be the worst for you mentally, crushing your delusion that you can handle yourself on a basketball court. “Yes! A wide-open shot!” No. Swatted 17 rows into the stands.


Your Saving Grace: At the very least, you have played this before in gym class or at a family reunion. You might have even played for your high school team. You can do this!

How It Would Destroy You: Before a single game was over, your nose, arms, hands and fingers would be shattered thanks to the ball rocketing into your frail body.

Beach volleyball

Your Saving Grace: Bump, set, spike. Add sand. Nothing too difficult, right?

How It Would Destroy You: See how regular volleyball would destroy you. Now also injure every muscle in your legs thanks to having to jump off sand.


Your Saving Grace: Most everyone can swim!

How It Would Destroy You: Most everyone can also drown. Especially those of us who aren’t good enough to swim in the Olympics.

Cycling: Mountain

Your Saving Grace: Everyone has ridden a bike!

How It Would Destroy You: Tumbling down an entire mountain probably would leave you in a bad way.


Your Saving Grace: You probably know someone who has competed in a triathlon. What could be so hard?

How It Would Destroy You: It’s incredibly hard. Can you run a mile? OK. Good for you. Unfortunately, you have to swim a mile, then bike 25 and then run six. Hospital stays in the middle of the race get you disqualified.

Track and field

Your Saving Grace: Running, jumping and throwing things. Everyone can do that.

How It Would Destroy You: Let’s keep this simple by focusing on the decathlon. You would have no problem completing the running events: 100 meters, 400, 1,500. The issues begin with the hurdles. They’d bruise or break you. But the hurdles are better than the pole vault, which, with no training, is basically suicide.


Your Saving Grace: Unless you know judo, very little.

How It Would Destroy You: You would be beaten up by a skilled martial artist.


Your Saving Grace: Unless you know taekwondo, very little.

How It Would Destroy You: You would be beaten up by a skilled martial artist.


Your Saving Grace: Almost everyone has thrown a punch. Fighting almost comes naturally.

How It Would Destroy You: Regardless of weight class, if you lasted 20 seconds without being knocked out or having your neck snapped, it would be a huge upset.


Your Saving Grace: You can probably do a cartwheel.

How It Would Destroy You: Trying to do flips, spinning around on uneven bars, attempting to leap off a pommel horse. There is not an element in this sport that wouldn’t remind you to update your will.


Your Saving Grace: The wind and the sail are your friends.

How It Would Destroy You: Assuming you were even able to captain your boat away from the dock, a deep-sea drowning would await you.

Canoe slalom

Your Saving Grace: Water and gravity will move you down the course.

How It Would Destroy You: The water and gravity also would move you to a watery grave, but not before you cracked your head off a few gates and cement walls.

Water polo

Your Saving Grace: None.

How It Would Destroy You: In every possible way, because it clearly is designed to torture the competitors. Whoever invented this sport should be tried at The Hague.