Did you know the summer Olympics include competitions in canoeing, BMX racing, handball, trampoline, and judo? Maybe you didn’t, but fans of those sports definitely do, and you might encounter those big brains and need to play along.
It’s hard to keep track of all the events and key players in a major event that happens once every four years—or, in this case, five years after the last one—but still, it’s the hot topic for the next few days, so you have to at least try to fake it. Here’s how to pretend like you know what’s going on in the Olympics—or any major sporting event you haven’t been following.
Become a morning television person
Millennials and Gen Z-ers are cable-cutters, which we already know, but there’s a benefit to being someone who watches morning television while the Olympics are going on: NBC’s Today is all over the coverage, since NBC has the American rights to it.
Because the Olympics are taking place in Japan and there’s a considerable time difference, the morning show has a duty to reveal all overnight happenings. Use this to your advantage. Morning TV is all about feel-good content, so you’ll get updates on medals and interviews with American athletes’ parents even if you only devote a few of your precious morning moments to this mission. Parental interviews are especially useful if you’re trying to acquire a bunch of biographical facts about an athlete you just heard of. By watching just a sliver of this coverage, you can figure out where they’re from, how they got into their sport, and what they like to do besides train and generally be a beast in the ring or on the court or… whatever.
Use Twitter to your advantage
During any big event, look to Twitter trends—that includes when a movie trailer drops, when the Video Music Awards are on, and, yes, when the Olympics are happening, where the trending list will tell you the basics of what you need to know to keep up with the conversation.
When an American athlete does well or poorly, they trend. It’s really that easy. In most cases, some kind soul over at Twitter will write a little blurb about the trend, so you don’t even need to click on someone’s name to figure out what sport they play or why they’re generating so much buzz.
Sometimes, the athletes trend for reasons other than their performances. Zero in on these instances—like when Sha’Carri Richardson was prevented from competing this year because she tested positive for THC or when Simone Biles bowed out this week and cited mental health concerns—because you don’t need to know any gritty sports details to participate in cultural discourse. If you have opinions on weed or mental health, you can talk about this stuff with ease, even if you don’t know how fast Richardson runs or what gymnastics maneuvers Biles is best known for.
Educate yourself on the Olympics the old-fashioned way
If you’re on your way to a sports bar to meet your Olympics-obsessed friends right now and need immediate guidance, stick to Twitter trends. If you have some time to devote to learning about the event, though…read up.
There’s a reason people go nuts for this every four years: The Olympics are interesting and fun. The athletes can be lovable or intimidating, the stats can blow your mind, and it’s cool to learn about subjects you usually go almost half a decade without thinking about. In the four years you weren’t thinking about some obscure sport, a handful of athletes were thinking about it nonstop. They worked really hard for this, so you can learn a thing or two from all their effort.
Because the Olympics are such a big deal, media outlets prep coverage for months in advance and they call in their brightest minds to do it. Go to the homepage of any outlet you like and dig in.
“My advice would be to read the tweets or work of smart folks,” said Dakota Schmidt, a basketball writer from Wisconsin. Schmidt admits that he doesn’t know much about the Olympics himself, “minus the situation regarding Simone Biles and Team USA men’s basketball and women’s soccer struggling a bit.”
Stick to what you know
“Follow the old-fashioned method of saying that a particular team or athlete is overrated or the GOAT,” joked Schmidt. “If you do that enough, you might be featured on TV.”
He has a point, though you probably won’t make it onto the small screen: While there are plenty of experts on TV and in the media offering up well-crafted analysis, there are also quite a few people spouting off some pretty basic opinions. Punditry, whether delivered on air or on a bar stool, is essentially a time-filler in between the action. You don’t have to know every detail of every sport to kick back, watch some fast-moving balls, and take note when your country gets a new medal. You can just relax and enjoy the show, offering up standard critiques and insights like, “Wow, she’s fast.”