Hard Lessons At the Olympics, Like The Metric System | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Hard Lessons At the Olympics, Like The Metric System

Play associated audio

Olympic winners like gold medalist Claressa Shields have said the games were a learning experience, but what were they learning? Hard work? Sure. Sportsmanship? Maybe. The metric system? Certainly not.

U.S. judo competitor Kyle Vashkulat competes at 100 kg, which he knows means he weighs 220 lbs. But does he know height?

"We were in a sauna, and the guy's telling us the height of the boxers, and he's like, 'Yeah, this guy's like, 1.7 meters' — and we're like, 'How tall is that?'" Vashkulat says, laughing.

Nick Delpopolo, a judoka who wrestles at 73 kg — which, of course, is 161 lbs — also has distance deficiencies. Like if someone says something is 10 km away.

"Uhhh, that's about a little over 3 miles, I know that," Delpopolo says.

Off by about 100 percent. Now it is true that Delpopolo was bounced from these games for ingestion of marijuana, but that surely didn't affect his math skills.

If you want the testimony of a straight shooter — literally — take Jason Parker, a sergeant in the U.S. Army. As a sport shooter on the U.S. Olympic team, Parker measures distances in meters. But is he good with kilograms?

"No, not really," he says.

So the distance athletes don't know metric weights. The weight athletes don't know metric distance. And degrees in Celsius seems to be the universal baffler. But an argument can be made that these young athletes, so consumed by one task, don't have the time or eclecticism to know all.

Perhaps U.S. gold medalist Dan O'Brien, decathlon veteran, is metrically proficient. Does he know how much, say, 78 kg is?

"No not at all," he says. "I just kind of roughly think two-thirds of that added on, you don't double it but, no.

"I'm in the weight room at the gym, I pick up the 36 kilos and start doing some benches and stuff, and — no. It's frustrating."

There is perhaps one reason this matters. Track and field is relatively unpopular in the U.S., maybe because its feats are measured in a way that is meaningless to most Americans.

Wouldn't it be more impressive to say that the gold medal hammer throw went 87 yards? Then we could picture Eli Manning standing on the 13-yard line and tossing a 16-pound steel ball clear to the end zone. And while Monday Night Hammer Throw won't soon be coming to ESPN, it could help the sport heat up a bit, if not reach a full boil, which is what — 600 degrees Celsius?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Handmade Signs From Homeless People Lead To Art, Understanding

Artist Willie Baronet is on a 24-city, 31-day trek across the country this month, buying handmade signs from homeless people. He says the project has changed the way he views homelessness.
NPR

Rust Devastates Guatemala's Prime Coffee Crop And Its Farmers

Central American coffee farmers are facing off against a deadly fungus that has wiped out thousands of acres of crops. Coffee companies like Starbucks are pooling money to support them in the fight.
NPR

When Did Companies Become People? Excavating The Legal Evolution

The Supreme Court has been granting more rights to corporations, including some regarded as those solely for individuals. But Nina Totenberg finds the company-to-person shift has a long history.
NPR

What It's Like To Own Your Very Own Harrier Jump Jet

The Harrier Jump Jet is known for vertical take-offs and landings. It also has an accident-prone track record, but that didn't dissuade one pilot from buying his dream plane.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.