Casting for the gold

One of my favorite columnists, Bernie Schultz, recently wrote about the Olympics and posited the idea that if shooting sports were included in the games, maybe fishing should be there, too. It was an interesting idea.

I thought about the concept of anglers competing for medals in the summer games, considered which species might be worthy of chasing for international glory and even speculated on the means by which angler athletes might find a level playing field in Rio de Janeiro, Athens or Atlanta. It was just a little mental exercise, but it was interesting — to me, at least — and made me look at the sports that comprise the Olympics in a different way.

A specious problem

The first hurdle (pun intended) that fishing would have as an Olympic sport would be choosing which species to target. Yes, they could take the approach that a fish is a fish is a fish, but that would unduly favor the host country and its anglers that would be more familiar with what swims in area waters.

The alternative is to target a single species ... or genus, to be more precise. It might seem a nice idea to make it the Micropterus crew, but it would definitely be unfair to the many nations that (sadly) have no bass. (Personally, I consider any country without bass to be severely undeveloped — primitive even — but my opinion has been historically undervalued almost everywhere I've offered it.)

In case you didn't know, the brown trout is about as well traveled as the largemouth bass, if not more so, and it lives in a lot of the places bass cannot. Maybe the brown trout is better suited to the games than the bass. Either way, it's undeniably true that no species would be appropriate for every Olympic stop.

The right ride

If fishing were an Olympic sport, how would the anglers get around? If trout were the quarry, they might wade streams, but if it were bass would they walk the banks or cruise around in state of the art bass boats?

And if they used boats and motors, would each country have access to Tritons and Mercurys or Skeeters and Yamahas? Would we — the good ol' U.S. of A. — even have access to some of the equipment if it was designed and made in another country? I'm not sure Ranger would be excited about building a boat that Chinese anglers would use in competition. And what if it broke down? Would it cause an international scandal? Would there be allegations of sabotage and foul play?

That last question was rhetorical, by the way. Of course there would be allegations of wrongdoing. That's the way of the world, especially between countries that don't always see eye to eye. It's a morass I'd just as soon skip.

King of the mountain

Even if those concerns weren't enough to leave me content that fishing is not a part of the Olympics, I have one more that’s even more decisive for me. It helped me look at other Olympic sports in a different and more discriminating light. It’s probably best phrased as a question.

If you win the gold, are you truly the king (or queen) of the mountain?

At first blush you might say, "Yes, of course you are — you just won the Olympics!" But I'd like you to think about it for a minute or two, first in the context of some other sports.

If you were a tennis player — one of the very best in the world — would you rather win the gold medal at the Olympics or win Wimbledon?

If you were a soccer player, would you rather win the Olympics or the World Cup?

If you were a basketball player, would you rather win a gold medal or an NBA championship?

Golf and baseball are two of the sports vying for full Olympic status in 2016. Would you rather win the World Series or Masters or claim a gold medal?

If you can honestly say you'd rather have the gold in any of the above scenarios, you and I have a difference of opinion, and I think you’re in the minority. I'd maintain that the alternative is the true test of the best and that the Olympic version is a pale substitute.

And don't tell me that the athletes in these major sports (I'm not talking about badminton or rowing here) are out there to represent their countries because we both know it's not true. These are not the athletes making sacrifices. Their status as highly paid professionals affords them the opportunity their egos demand, and they're competing for their résumés, to hang out with friends (in the team competitions) and to check out the Olympic experience (Hope Solo made it sound pretty interesting).

Now consider fishing — and more particularly bass fishing. Would you rather be part of a two or five or 10 angler team vying for the gold over a week in Zimbabwe, or would you rather win the Bassmaster Classic?

I'll admit the gold medal would be wonderful, but it doesn't compare with the Super Bowl of bass fishing. It doesn't have the history. And what sort of quality competition could we expect from countries outside the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, South Africa and one or two others? Are the announcers going to be able to honestly say, "Watch out for the Uzbekistan team in lane five"?

On the other hand, when I watch the gymnasts, swimmers, divers, sprinters, high jumpers, hurdlers and many other of the athletes compete, I know that Olympic gold is the highest ideal to which they can aspire. The Olympics is their World Series, Wimbledon, Masters, World Cup, NBA Championship or — yes — Bassmaster Classic.

So count me out if you're looking for signatures on a petition to put fishing — and especially bass fishing — in the Olympics. I've seen better already.

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