Olympics in the Lowcountry
Ever notice that when Wimbledon or the U.S. Open is on TV, tennis courts get more crowded? Or when Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour de France, year after year for seven years, that the roads seemed to have more cyclists on them? Or during the Big Dance, you may get the urge to pull the basketball out of the closet for the first time in a year?
Well, the Olympics are here.
For more than two weeks, it will be hard not to tune into the world's greatest sports spectacle (3,600 hours of Olympic Games coverage on NBC, its cable networks as well as online streaming video). It equally will be hard not to be inspired. Part of that inspiration may be to get off the couch, or out of your activity rut, and try a few of the sports that you see on the tube or online.
And you may be somewhat surprised at the samplings of Olympic sports that are available right here in the Greater Charleston area.
For most Americans, badminton means tapping a "birdie" back and forth over a net in the backyard during a family picnic. But check out badminton at the Olympics. It's indoors and intense.
To play competitively, you need to run, jump, twist, stretch and strike. Play incorporates explosive moves, fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination. Studies have shown that badminton players keep the birdie, or actually the shuttlecock, in play twice as long as tennis players keep a ball in play. Even by general standards, the number of calories per hour burned playing badminton ranges from 280 to more than 600.
But where the heck can you play indoors in Charleston? The College of Charleston opens up its gymnasium at George and Meeting streets to the public, without charge, 6-8 p.m. Fridays and even provides rackets and shuttlecocks. (Gym use later this summer and fall depends on construction.)
Keep up to date by checking www.badmintoncharleston.com or calling Gene Sessoms at 953-5559 to confirm play times.
Beach volleyball is fairly new at the Olympics, starting as an exhibition sport at the '92 Summer Games in Barcelona and becoming official at the '96 Games in Atlanta.
In the last two springs, beach volleyball has been spotlighted in Charleston with the AVP Charleston Open.
Despite that, beach volleyball remains fairly low-key in Charleston, although there are fairly regular tournaments at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms during the spring and summer, and the opportunity for all skill levels to play in the spring, summer and fall with the Charleston Beach Volleyball and Social Club.
Games are played on Sullivan's Island near Station 22. Pickup games are 5-8 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 24. An eight-week "fall league" starts Aug. 31. Membership is required for league play.
For more, see http://charlestonvolleyball.net or call Jeff Hefel at 343-7802.
While competitive cycling's popularity ebbed and flowed with Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong in recent decades, it remains a popular international sport among industrialized nations and is one of the few sports that has been on the program of the modern Olympic Games, except for 1900, 1904 and 1908.
The cycling events of the 2008 Olympic Games will include road races, BMX, track and mountain events. The latter three will be held at Laoshan venues in the Shijingshan District of Beijing, while road cycling will be held at the Urban Cycling Road Course.
According to "American Demographics," about 90 million American adults ride a bike at least once a year, nearly 30 million cycle regularly for recreation and a few million even commute by bicycle.
Cycling is great exercise, burning 400-700 calories an hour, and puts little stress on the joints.
Charleston has a strong, varied cycling community: Social and competitive road riders, commuters, dedicated advocates all gather under one umbrella, the Coastal Cyclists bike club. All you need to know about cycling locally can be found at www.coastalcyclists.org.
Dragon boat racing
The ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing enters the world stage as a "demonstration sport" at the Olympics in Beijing.
A race team consists of 22 people, including 20 paddlers, one person to steer at the rear of the boat and a drummer, or caller, facing the paddlers. The drummer is considered the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat and leads the crew with the rhythmic beating of a drum to indicate the timing and frequency of paddling strokes.
Many credit its worldwide participation, estimated at 50 million, to the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver, Canada, after which the Hong Kong Pavilion donated four boats to Vancouver, and it sparked a modern international resurgence.
The sport came to Charleston more than five years ago when the Hollings Cancer Center initiated a wellness program for cancer survivors called Dragon Boat Charleston. It was such a success that it spawned a team, the Charleston Surge, www.charlestonsurge.org.
You may have to be a bit of a night owl to catch live TV coverage of sailing in the Olympics, even though it's already been in the news. As you may recall, the venue — the sea off Qingdao (which is 400 miles southeast of Beijing) — was covered in bright-green algae earlier this summer before thousands of soldiers, college students, fishermen and other volunteers cleared it.
Regardless, sailing has been an Olympic sport longer than most. It made its debut at the 1896 Olympics in Athens and became official at the 1900 Games in Paris. This year's Games feature 37 national teams competing in 11 Olympic classes.
Charleston, meanwhile, has a proud sailing tradition that appears ready to grow even more.
Several organizations provide sailing opportunities for people of all skill levels.
Charleston Community Sailing, which is based out of the City Marina, has a fleet of 13 Vanguard 420 sailboats, docked virtually under the James Island connector. Founded in 1999, CCS formed a nonprofit, community-based program to provide access, facilities and sailing instruction to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, skill levels and physical abilities. For more, see www.charlestoncommunitysailing.org or call 607-4890.
College of Charleston Sailing has a fleet of J-22 sailboats, a safe and responsive 22-foot boat that is among the most widely used instructional boats in the nation, that has been modified for instructional purposes, allowing for maximum learning situations and a comfortable sailing experience. See www.cofc.edu/sailing.
The Ocean Sailing Academy, at the other end of Patriots Point Marina (closer to the hotel), offers U.S. Sailing Association certification courses, such as basic keelboat, basic cruising, coastal navigation, ocean passage and focus classes. For more, see www.osasailing.com or call 866-971-0700.
Among the shooting events in the Olympics, there is pistol and rifle target shooting, as well as skeet- and trap-shooting competitions.
Want to shoot in Charleston and don't have a gun?
Your primary options are to go to two indoor gun ranges in the Charleston area: ATP Gun Shop & Range in Summerville and Trader World Gun & Indoor Range in North Charleston. Both rent guns. ATP rents a variety of guns for $5 all day. Trader World rents on an hourly basis, one gun for $15 and two for $25. At both locations, ammo is extra and varies in price.
Meanwhile, Partridge Creek Skeet Club on Highway 78 in Ridgeville offers skeet shooting, though you have to bring your own gun and ear protection. Though it's a club with memberships, it's open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Call Ron Bacha, who describes himself as "chief go-fer and trash picker-upper," for more details at 458-1691.
With superstars and superstar stories from U.S. Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin and Dara Torres, who have become household names, the sport will figure prominently in NBC's prime-time broadcast coverage. It's right up there with gymnastics and beach volleyball.
Watching swimming may get you into the pool for one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can do. It also burns 500-900 calories an hour.
Among the most popular pools for training are the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool (724-7346) and Medical University of South Carolina Harper Student Pool (792-6611) in downtown Charleston; St. Andrew's Family Fitness Plus (763-3850), W.L. Stephens Aquatic Center (769-8260) and the Jewish Community Center (571-6565) in West Ashley; the Richard L. Jones Center (884-2528) and Park West (856-2536) pools in Mount Pleasant; the Danny Jones Swimming Pool (745-1034) in North Charleston; the Summerville Family YMCA pool (871-9622); and Berkeley County Family YMCA pool (761-9622) in Moncks Corner.
Some of the pools are membership-based. Call for lap swimming schedules.