Twelve-hundred hours of televised events later, the Summer Olympics are officially over. From the first moment of the opening ceremony to the final fireworks at the closing, thousands of athletes gave their all in the quest for that ever-elusive gold medal. Sports such as fencing and team handball will sink back into obscurity for another four years, quietly biding their time while their more popular counterparts steal the limelight.
But now is the time—your time—to join in the fun. Instead of gazing at the blank television screen, wishing you could watch another riveting rhythmic gymnastics routine, get out there and embrace some of the Olympics’ underappreciated stepchildren for yourself. The Wasatch Front may be considered a destination point for winter sport enthusiasts, but opportunities abound throughout the Salt Lake Valley for participation in the sports of the Summer Games.
Fact: Utah has been in a drought for six years. Fact: That shouldn’t stop you from picking up a paddle and giving kayaking a try. Utah Kayak offers lessons throughout the valley and will have you paddling in no time. You may have to practice in the pool a few times before racing down the white-water slalom course in Beijing in 2008, but once you can roll that kayak you’ll be well on your way to greatness. Kayaking is becoming more popular every day, and new kayak parks are planned along the Weber River. If white-water paddling seems a little intense, you can try flat-water canoeing instead, which provides the thrills of rafting without the spills. utahkayak.com, 801-244-4424
“Team handball is the fastest way to become an Olympic athlete,” said Giuliana Marple, coach of the University of Utah’s club handball team. Marple, who won gold in the event at the U.S. national championships, said that the sport is so new in the western United States that many athletes can quickly reach elite levels; the University of Utah team placed fourth at a national championship in April. The new sport is a hybrid of soccer and basketball in which seven-member teams dribble and pass the ball across a court roughly the size of a basketball court; teams score points by throwing the ball into a large net guarded by a goal keeper. The University of Utah offers a class every Tuesday from 3-5 p.m. Community members can enroll as non-credit participants in the class, or just show up to see what the game is all about. HPER-West, Room 116, University of Utah campus.
Swashbuckling swordplay more your style? Take up fencing, which involves all the fun of sword fighting without the risk of getting impaled. The United States won its first individual fencing gold medal ever in Athens, and now you can get in on the action. Wasatch Fencing is a nonprofit club that offers instruction in the activity for kids and adults, and it even has a national team for more serious fencers. Garry Bryant coordinates the adult programs for Wasatch Fencing and says novice fencers can learn the basics of epÃ©e-style fencing in as little as five to 10 minutes. Bryant says that fencing is a perfect sport for people of all different ages and fitness levels. Show up on Wednesday nights at 8:30 for a quick beginner lesson; all equipment is provided. 353 Market St., Kaysville, 801-497-9765.
Not to be confused with the game played in basements around the world, table tennis is a highly strategic game involving the use of tricky spins, killer serves and serious players. George Majors is president of the Wasatch Front Table Tennis Club and calls table tennis “the quickest sport of anything I play. It’s really a mental game.” The Wasatch Front Table Tennis Club meets every Friday night from 6-10 p.m. for friendly competition and instructional clinics during the school year. Clinics start at 5 p.m. Players of all levels and experience are welcome to attend. Riverside Stake Gym, 947 W. 200 North, Salt Lake City, 84116.
Shooting & Archery
Ready, aim, fire! Target shooting is more than just a diversion for those nonhunting season times of year; it requires skill, grace and precision. Try it out for yourself at the Lee-Kay Center for Hunter Education. According to T.J. Robertson, assistant manger at the range, the best way for beginners to get involved is to take a hunter education class (yes, you can learn about guns and marksmanship at the class even if hunting is not your thing). The facility offers all types shooting, ranging from trap and skeet to target shooting and even archery. They also plan to host competitions throughout the year. Lee-Kay Center, 6000 W. 2100 South, Salt Lake City, 972-1326.
So the next time you’re tired of the treadmill and bored with the bike, consider honing your skills at various activity centers along the Wasatch. All Olympic athletes have to start somewhere. Imagine yourself on the pedestal with the national anthem playing. Your quest for gold could begin today.