The most important thing to remember when preparing for a fantasy Olympics draft is never to let patriotism get in the way.
OK, let’s back up a second. I know what you’re thinking. A fantasy what? Olympics?
With as much time as men (and women) spend in fantasy football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues, is it really necessary to make up a fantasy Olympics league?
The answer is yes. It is.
Allow me to explain.
I got the idea before the 2010 Vancouver Games. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person ever to organize fantasy Olympics, but it’s not like you can just log on to cbssports.com and join a league. This required grunt work. Old school style. The league needed to be built by hand, from the bottom.
First task was to figure out what the rosters would look like. The good thing about the Winter Games is there are far fewer sports and events than in the Summer Games. So it was easy to craft a roster that in some way encompassed each sport. The scoring system was simple: five points for a gold, three for a silver, one for a bronze. In team sports, points were doubled, the logic there being that individuals can medal in multiple events, whereas a team like hockey can only potentially grab one medal.
So I got together with seven friends in February 2010 and we sat around drafting athletes like the Linger Brothers (luge), Kim Yu-Na (figure skating) and Petter Northug (cross-country skier). We had no idea who 99 percent of the athletes were we drafted. But it didn’t matter.
We never laughed more or had more fun doing a fantasy draft. And the Olympics were never more intriguing. We found ourselves glued to our TVs and computer screens following all the action. The England men’s curling team gave me more agita than the Mets have in years. I hung on to every move in Yu-Na’s gold-medal figure-skating routine like an anxious, proud parent.
I ended up winning the league when the Canadian men’s hockey team won the gold medal to cap off the games. Our league nearly came down to the gold medal hockey game determining our champion. But I had just enough points so that a silver medal for Canada would still clinch the victory, so I was able to allow myself to root for the U.S.
As the Winter Olympics ended, the countdown toward the Summer Games began.
Monday night, armed with Sports Illustrateds, newspapers and iPads, we gathered for our first-ever fantasy Summer Olympics draft.
We picked 12-person rosters consisting of two swimmers, two track athletes, two gymnasts, a canoer/kayaker, a beach volleyball team, a water polo team, a basketball team and a flex, which could be someone in any other sport.
The draft order was determined by picking names out of a hat. In many ways, this was the most crucial part of the draft. The top two picks were slam-dunks: swimming sensations Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, both of whom are practically guaranteed a bevy of medals.
Unfortunately for me, I got stuck with the fourth pick. So I grabbed U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, a favorite to win gold in the all-around as well as a team gold. It was a risky pick for the first round. I could have gone with a sure bet like the U.S. men’s or women’s basketball team. But I liked the idea of an individual first.
For the second round I stuck with the Americans and drafted Rebecca Soni, a swimmer who’s favored in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. A three-time Olympic medalist, Soni is poised for a breakout Olympics.
And now back to my original point. Don’t let patriotism cloud your vision. If you want to draft all Americans, feel free. But don’t expect to emerge victorious.
As the draft evolved, I ended up taking only two more Americans: gymnast Gabby Douglas and track star Sanya Richards-Ross (who’s married to former New York Giant Aaron Ross).
I eventually made a move toward the Down Under, picking up both the Australian women’s water polo and basketball teams (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write). Both could end up facing the U.S. for gold. For my tennis player I went with the hometown hero, Andy Murray.
My fourth overall pick went to the Brazilian beach volleyball team of Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva. And if you wanted to leave this column now to Google image search their names, I wouldn’t blame you.
The tricky part of these drafts is pronouncing many of the names.
“We’ll take Liu Xiang,” my friend Pat hesitantly said at one point, unsure if anyone had already taken the 110-meter hurdler.
“No, I took Sun Yang,” Sean quickly replied.
Later in the draft Pat and his brother Ken selected Chinese gymnast Yang Wei.
“He’s 5-foot-3, 120 pounds and pure heart,” Pat told us.
All true. The only problem they later realized, Wei retired in 2009. Whoops.
Late in the final rounds, Ken tried picking a gymnast who had already been taken in the first round.
“Is this guy available — Ley-Bron James?” Grant said, mocking them.
That’s like trying to select Drew Brees at the end of a football draft, Grant added.
My final pick was for my flex position — meaning I could take just about anyone.
I settled on Im Dong-hyun, South Korean archer extraordinaire. With a name like that, how can you go wrong?