The Top Athletes Who Aren't At The Olympics

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Todd Clever, captain of the USA Rugby national team. i

Todd Clever, captain of the USA Rugby national team, made his international debut in 2003 at age 20 in a match against Argentina. He joined the U.S. squad at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, held in France. Courtesy of Todd Clever hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Todd Clever
Todd Clever, captain of the USA Rugby national team.

Todd Clever, captain of the USA Rugby national team, made his international debut in 2003 at age 20 in a match against Argentina. He joined the U.S. squad at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, held in France.

Courtesy of Todd Clever
Megan Ceder at the annual Championship Gaming Series. i

Top-ranked Megan Ceder represents her team, LA Complexity, at the annual Championship Gaming Series. Courtesy of Championship Gaming Series hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Championship Gaming Series
Megan Ceder at the annual Championship Gaming Series.

Top-ranked Megan Ceder represents her team, LA Complexity, at the annual Championship Gaming Series.

Courtesy of Championship Gaming Series
Cricketer Steve Massiah i

U.S. Cricket player Steve Massiah scores a rare boundary against Australia during a match in Southampton, Wales, in 2004 Martyn Hayhow/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Martyn Hayhow/AFP/Getty Images
Cricketer Steve Massiah

U.S. Cricket player Steve Massiah scores a rare boundary against Australia during a match in Southampton, Wales, in 2004

Martyn Hayhow/AFP/Getty Images

The dazzling displays of physical agility and stamina at the Beijing Olympics can make it seem that the best athletes in the world are all collected in one place.

But as NPR's Robert Smith learned, they aren't.

Although this year's Games features 28 sports and more than 302 events, some top athletes are stuck watching the events from home. They play sports that aren't recognized by the International Olympics Committee.

Rugby

Todd Clever is the 6'4" captain of the USA Rugby national team, known as the "Eagles." He made his international debut at age 20 in a match against Argentina and represented the U.S. at the quadrennial International Rugby Cup last year in France.

Rugby, which originated in the United Kingdom, is a popular sport at American colleges. It is known as a fiercely competitive and rugged combination of soccer and American football. With its massive international following, the Rugby World Cup is one of the most popular televised sporting events — only the Olympics and the soccer's World Cup have a bigger audience.

Yet despite its popularity and the existence of national teams, rugby hasn't been played at the Olympics since 1924. Clever says it's disappointing to have to tell people that Team USA won't be competing at the world's foremost sporting event. At the same time, he acknowledges the challenge of hosting a rugby tournament in the midst of the Olympics.

Traditional rugby features 15-person teams and, as Clever says, it could take a long time to sift through a qualifying tournament at the Olympics. That said, the sport's organizers hope a version of Rugby featuring seven-person teams will make its debut at the 2016 Olympics.

Clever says audiences will come to appreciate it at the Olympics once they "get to know it" and watch it a few times.

Electronic Sports

Megan Ceder is among the world's top electronic athletes. Like other young athletes, she juggles life as a college student and a member of the team LA Complexity, specializing in virtual fighting games.

Ceder, 21, has broken numerous video game records in nearly six years of gaming, and she continues to train four to six hours day.

While video games might be considered a stretch as an Olympics-worthy sport, Ceder says she considers the level of skill and training needed to excel at electronic gaming to be on par with such sports as archery and shooting.

"We do something at a very high level. We train for a very long time, we have a distinct mental skill that not a lot of people have," she says.

In addition, as the graphical quality and sophistication of games has improved, video game championships have turned into spectator sports in some parts of the world. Ceder recalls friends who have gone to Beijing and been treated "like rock stars."

She says that if she had an opportunity to address the International Olympics Committee, she would highlight the global following for video games. In addition, Ceder says she believes these "electronic" sports can draw a new generation of both participants and audiences to the centuries-old Olympics tradition.

Cricket

Cricket may not be familiar to many American sports-watchers, but the baseball-like sport is another international phenomenon, with huge audiences in the United Kingdom, Australia, South Asia and the West Indies.

The United States also has a national cricket team, and captain Steve Massiah is among the ranks of the athletes left on the sidelines of the Olympics. Originally from Guyana, Massiah has played for the U.S. team since 1999. He says it's disappointing that the world's second most-popular sport after soccer is not represented at the Olympics.

Cricket has been played only once at the games, during the 1900 Olympics in Paris. It has a reputation for being a notoriously long affair, with matches lasting up to five days. But Massiah says the modern cricket match has changed. In 2003, a version of cricket known as the Twenty20 match was introduced in the United Kingdom. These competitions feature fewer pitches per inning, and a game can be completed in less than three hours — much like a traditional baseball game.

Massiah says the shorter duration should make cricket more palatable for American and international audiences. He says the game has yet to take off in the United States and that the majority of players on the U.S. national team are immigrants.

Still, he says, his teammates consider it "an honor and privilege to wear the American colors" and look forward to representing their new home on the global stage.

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