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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Cupping, gripping and the cheeseburger shortage in Rio

Miami Herald

RIO DE JANEIRO – So far we are winning the Olympics. As I write these words, the United States is leading the world with a total of 26 medals, 25 of which were won by swimmer Michael Phelps, who is dominating his sport, as well as several other sports, through a combination of natural ability and weird giant polka dots on his skin.

This makes the other swimmers nervous. They see the dots and think, “What the hell is THAT?” (Yes, the other swimmers think in English.) They’re afraid the dots are contagious. Sometimes they refuse to even jump into the pool with Phelps, leaving him to swim the race alone and collect all three medals.

In fact the dots are harmless. They’re caused by “cupping,” a medical technique originated by ancient Chinese doctors, who discovered that if they applied cups containing heated air to a patient’s skin, they created a vacuum that enabled them to extract money from the patient.

“Ha ha!” these doctors would exclaim, when they got together with the other doctors on the ancient Chinese golf course. “These people are actually PAYING us to make them look like victims of a squid attack! Say, do you think they’d be stupid enough to let us to stick needles into them?”

Speaking of the Chinese: They’re in second place with 17 medals, which means they are our big Olympic rival and we hate them. Our former big rival, the Russians, are in fifth place with 12 medals, which apparently they stole from other nations because they’re not allowed to compete in the actual athletic events.

Speaking of which, I went to see the Olympic judo competition. It was not what I anticipated. I anticipated people flinging each other around, breaking boards with their foreheads, leaping high into the air and decapitating their opponents with their feet, performing motorcycle stunts, etc. I was anticipating ACTION, such as you see in martial arts movies with titles like Ninja Kung Fu Dragon Terminators of Mortal Death.

But Olympic judo is not like that. Olympic judo is a serious discipline with strict rules emphasizing etiquette and safety. There is no decapitating in judo. There is also no punching, kicking or head-butting. Instead there is garment-gripping. If you are looking to watch two people spend a WHOLE lot of time gripping each other’s garments, judo is the sport for you.

Perhaps you think that sounds boring. But let me tell you something: When you see Olympic judo action live, with medals on the line and the crowd shouting encouragement, it is, in fact, kind of boring.

I think the problem is the garments. Judo contestants wear what appear, to the uninformed eyeball, to be men’s pajamas. These are fine for sleeping, but not suited for being gripped by an opponent. The garments keep getting disheveled, and the contestants keep having to fix them; then they go back to gripping each other, and their garments get disheveled AGAIN.

Every now and then, amid all the gripping and garment-fixing, somebody scores a point, but it was never clear to me why. So I decided to look up the rules of judo on Wikipedia, where I found this statement, which I am not making up: “Biting the opponent’s gi is prohibited.”

I should HOPE so.

Speaking of biting: After the judo competition, I wanted to get something to eat, but the concession stand was basically out of food. This is not just a Rio Olympics problem: This happens at every Olympics I have ever been to. Here’s how I picture the meeting where Olympic planners determine their concession strategy:

FIRST PLANNER: How much food do you think we’ll need?

SECOND PLANNER: Let’s see. We’re expecting seven million spectators over 17 days, so I’m thinking a total of six cheeseburgers?

FIRST PLANNER: Let’s not get crazy.

SECOND PLANNER: You’re right. Four cheeseburgers.

But other than the food shortage, these Olympics are going great, and the best is yet to come. I refer, of course, to Chinese trampoline gymnast Dong Dong.

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