A few years back, I bought tickets to an event that showcased some of the most athletic, hard-working and talented people in the world. The men and women I saw were in peak physical shape and performed maneuvers which normal people could only accomplish in their dreams. And it was while watching the New York City Ballet perform 'The Nutcracker' that I realized something: Diving isn't a sport.
If you believe the old poolside adage, all divers are failed swimmers. I don't subscribe to that belief, because I know of at least one diver who was also a failed volleyball player. This is not to say that divers can't be good athletes, mind you; it's just that few good athletes ever decide that their talents are best used on a springboard.
Let me presuppose that you've never been to a dive meet. If so, I envy you. I wish I could go back to that simpler time in my life, when I too had never been subjected to the mind-numbing monotony that is a diving competition. Here's what goes on:
1. Diver gets on diving board.
2. Diver stands on diving board for approximately 30 seconds, "concentrating".
3. Diver jumps off board, contorts body in various ways and enters the water.
4. Judges try and remember everything about the 1.7-second action they just witnessed and assign a score to said action.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 approximately 145 times
If diving happens to appear on the channel you're watching over the next three weeks and your remote isn't within feasible reaching distance, pay careful attention to step #2. The amount of concentration exerted by divers before their dive is baffling. When doctors go into surgery, they don't stand over the patient for 30 seconds visualizing the movement of their scalpel, they get right in there and do their thing. They are about to cut somebody open and move around internal organs, yet don't need to concentrate 1/30th as long as Xu Minxia before she's preparing to do an inward two-and-a-half tuck?
But that's not the problem with diving. It's a problem, just not the problem. No, the reason diving isn't a sport is because of the judges. It's hard to pay any credence to an activity whose outcome is decided entirely by people sitting down at a table. If that was a criteria for a sport, then chess and eating at Burger King would be Olympic events.
If a competition can't be determined on the field of play, it's not a sport. Disagree all you want, but I like my sports with a winner who earned it, not one who gets to the top of the medal stand thanks to a high degree of difficulty. A good rule of thumb: If it takes a calculator to figure out who's winning a competition, then that competition is merely an athletic activity with a somewhat-arbitrarily-chosen winner.
Mikhail Baryshnikov once said that he rejects comparisons with Fred Astaire because, "dance is an art. There's no such thing as 'the best'." Diving and other sports of its ilk fit in the same category. They are highly-refined activities that take tremendous talent and skill to master. But that doesn't make them sports.