The Misunderstood Sport of Sitting

By Carol Denney, Sports Critic
Friday August 17, 2012 - 05:53:00 PM

The flap over Olympic dressage as a sport obscures an even more misunderstood athletic pursuit: the subtle, unpretentious sport of sitting. 

It may seem simple to the untrained eye, but this understated sport and the dedicated athletes who train throughout their lives to perfect the art of sport sitting in all its varieties and styles deserve more respect. 

Berkeley has agreed to partner with the International Olympic Committee to host an exciting Olympic Sport Sitting event later this summer which somehow got left out of the London games. 

As we prepare for these riveting local games and the tourism they will inevitably attract, the various styles and techniques of sport sitting are worth reflection. The world of sport sitting evolves, as all sports do, but former sports sitting judges agree that with a little direction even an amateur eye can recognize a variety of techniques which dramatically distinguish the performances. 

1. The classic. Fans of the classic cite its long history and undeniable celebrity, but the style of classic sitters has made it a crowd favorite for decades. Participants, often in gloves and pearls, walk purposefully and directly toward a chair and simply sit down, occasionally crossing ankles or removing hats with a definitive flourish. The classic has won the gold for teams more often than any other style, but newer forms of the sport are getting their due, such as; 

2. The punk. Sports fans were riveted in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games when a spikey-haired young man in ripped clothing strode toward a chair, took it by its back, and smashed it repeatedly until it became a pile of broken sticks. Judges’ objections initially complicated the medal round, but “the punk” finally won undisputed gold that year and changed the sport forever, as did; 

3. The Martha Graham. Common today, the unusual gestures and garb of modern dance-influenced athletes who seem to commune with and become the chair have finally won both popular respect and an occasional bronze from judges who recognize, as the sport of sitting evolves, that the Martha Graham integrates athleticism, clarity, and originality, as does; 

4. The militia. This crowd-pleaser introduced a team dynamic to the games in 2004 when several armed, uniformed soldiers stormed the stage and “captured” a chair with weapons trained on the chair and the judges while a full military band played the beloved “Gallant and Gay We'll March Away” (1886) composition for trumpets and drums by John Philip Sousa. 

This is only a brief sample of what the citizens of Berkeley will enjoy when the Olympic Sports Sitting games come to town. Get your tickets early; the competition will be vigorous this year!