By Elisa D. Keller
(WORLDNOW) -- Thanks to the 2012 Olympics in London, many Americans are spending a lot of time glued to their TVs and web-streaming devices this summer.
Classic events like running, swimming and basketball are often the prime-time favorites, but nothing brings attention to non-mainstream sports such as archery, beach volleyball and this year's controversial favorite – badminton – like Olympic competition.
But what's even more interesting is the fact that the Olympics feature some sports that many American watchers didn't even know existed. Yes, during the Winter Olympics there's the requisite "curling" jokes – brooms, ice and heavy stones? Comedy gold! – but the Summer Games have their fair share of weird events, too.
1. Race Walking
Yes, there's plenty of fan interest for sprinters, distance runners and hurdlers. But what about their slower counterparts?
If you can believe it, those middle aged ladies you see speed-walking around the park before bathing suit season are actually doing something athletes spend years of their lives training to do properly. Of course, Olympic race walking competitions are 20 and 50 kilometers in length (12 and 31 miles, respectively) which means they require a heck of a lot more endurance than your average walk around the park.
The hardest part? Making sure you're moving as fast as you possibly can without breaking contact with the ground and therefore "running." Talk about concentration!
Does this really need explanation? A relative newcomer to the Olympics, in this competition, athletes do somersaults while flying through the air on a trampoline. It's like a trip to the circus, with less flashy outfits.
This event is kind of like the NASCAR of bicycle racing. Athletes race around a circular track, working toward the lead position by picking and choosing the right moments to surge. While short races of 12 to 16 laps can be fast and exciting sprints for home viewers, the longer endurance races of 200 laps can appear to be taking place in slow motion. Needless to say, this may not make for the greatest television.
I was one of those kids who stayed up until all hours watching the U.S. women's gymnastics competitions during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, holding my breath and crossing my fingers for gold. But once in a while, the gymnastics you were expecting to see would be supplanted with a comparatively strange dance routine featuring floating ribbons, bouncy balls and spinning hoops. This, I learned quickly, was "rhythmic gymnastics."
While it may not involve the same amazing level of strength and athleticism as traditional gymnastics, it requires a lot of coordination and balance, and is definitely pretty to watch. Yet, for some reason it has never caught on with the crowds of American fans who love the similarly artistic sport of figure skating.
If you were not familiar with equestrian events prior to this year's Olympics, you probably are now thanks to Mitt Romney. His wife Ann had a horse by the name of Rafalca in this competition and it's caused a bit of a ruckus. Why, you ask? Well, a sport involving million dollar horses prancing around to music doesn't exactly scream "Average Joe."
Commonly described as "horse ballet," dressage requires dedicated training by the riders, who, funnily enough, wear period garb as a uniform, complete with waistcoats and jaunty hats. If the guy on the Monopoly box participated in an Olympic sport, this would definitely be the one!
Elisa D. Keller is the Health Editor at Worldnow.