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10 sporting events you have to see live
Because the real glory of athletic competition is being able to say, "I was there!"
Oh, stop complaining.
Yes, it's a pain to score tickets, the parking and concessions fees are mafia-like and mooing your way through the shuffling crowds is horrible.
But, like the Grand Canyon, Himalayas or supermodels, the full majesty of some sporting events can be appreciated only when you're standing in their presence.
The drama and spectacle that surrounds these events matters just as much as who wins and loses.
10. Phoenix Open, Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
When you think of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments, you don’t think of the Phoenix Open.
Which is precisely why this one has turned into the rowdiest tournament on the PGA Tour, a tourney at which golf's normally polite fans behave more like they’re at an NFL football game. For proof, watch this.
Event vets like to set up in the Birds Nest, a beer-fueled party zone that has featured music from the Goo Goo Dolls, Will.i.am and 1980s cover bands and where muffled "golf claps" give way to demands for encores and more action.
9. Melbourne Cup, Melbourne, Australia
Known as “the race that stops a nation,” this Australian horse fest attracts some 110,000 people to suburban Flemington race track on the first Tuesday in November.
It's the world's richest two-mile handicap.
In Melbourne, it's almost as big as Christmas. Race day is an official public holiday.
It's also the country's biggest gambling day, with more than A$100 million ventured on the race.
"For a large proportion of Australians this is the only time they bet on horses and for many it is the only time they gamble at all," according to Australia's Responsible Gambling Advocacy Centre.
What you'll see beyond the thousands of hopeful punters clutching their gambling tickets: women in big hats and fancy dresses, men in suits (tacky, classy, every style in between), plenty of hard-galloping thoroughbreds and quite a lot of beer and champagne.
Elaborate flower displays and "Fashion on the Field" are also important parts of the event, with generous prizes going to best-dressed men and women.
8. Euro 2012, Poland and Ukraine
For Europeans, this football tournament is arguably as important as the World Cup -- complete with just as many stars (Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, etc.) and international powers such as Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
It’s also just as big a party. Exhibit A: Ireland made the cut this year.
But the action in the stands is the most fun.
With the ceaseless chanting and singing, rival fan bases are as entertaining as the players, whose goal celebrations in recent years have become increasingly creative and amusing.
It's possible to rent a car and tour all eight venues. Or set up HQ in Kiev, where the final will be played.
7. Hong Kong Sevens, Hong Kong, China
It’s the biggest tournament in the world for the rugby sevens series. It’s also Hong Kong's biggest sporting event of the year.
Finding a ticket through official channels to this epic weekend tourney is tough, but we've never met anyone who with a little effort hasn't been able to get in. (Hang around outside the stadium and you're bound to make friends.)
If you can handle it, the best spot is the 40,000-seat stadium’s South Stand. Here, fans dress up like fictitious or real-life characters -- SpongeBob, recently disgraced public figures, etc. -- and dance and drink in the aisles while having one hell of a party.
The rugby is also pretty good, thanks to a new format introduced in 2012 that allows for much tighter contests.
Matches come fast and furious. The fourteen-minute games (two seven-minute halves) speed by with a verve and intensity that captures the imagination of even the most novice fan.
6. F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
What do you get when you stage a Formula One race in an area with lots of money and a passion for speed?
A futuristic track, sold-out crowds, post-race concerts and the first place in the world to watch a floodlit, day-to-night F1 race.
The Grand Prix came to Abu Dhabi only in 2009, and the novelty definitely hasn't worn off for the Grad Prix circuit's infamous party crowd. Temporary clubs like Amber Lounge tend to attract A-listers (if you aren't even a B-lister, you'll have to finesse your way in), but hotel lounges are well oiled for the grandstand crowds.
If Abu Dhabi is too far to go, the Singapore night race is also spectacular.
Formula One races under lights are impressive, as are the associated concerts and activities staged around the event. The highlight is the sight and sound of the cars streaking through the incredible city circuit.
5. Four Hills Tournament, Germany and Austria
If there’s one thing Germans love more than beer and football, it’s ski jumping. Seriously, check it out here.
The biggest ski-jumping party -- and one of the most watched ski events on European television -- is the Four Hills Tournament, which takes place over four different courses in Germany and Austria in late December and early January.
The competition -- which famously revolves around New Year's parties -- starts in the German town of Oberstdorf, then moves to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany and Innsbruck and Bischofshofen in Austria.
Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands follow the excitement, packing the slopes by day and area clubs and restaurants by night.
A wealth of German and Austrian jumpers, as well as an atypical (for ski jumping) "knock-out" system adds to the drama.
4. 2014 World Cup, Brazil
It’s the world’s greatest soccer tournament, held in a land with the world’s coolest people. So, kind of a big deal.
Cultural implications are vuvuzelan in scale, as throngs from rival nations around the world swarm together to ... well, no one is ever quite sure what will happen in the stands or the after-parties. The spontaneity of a mammoth world frenemies party is as intoxicating as the games in which, to quote American sportswriter Bill Simmons, "Everything means something."
For 2014, matches will be held in twelve cities. Sao Paulo is the site of the opening match. A sleepy little coastal town called Rio de Janeiro hosts the final.
For a preview, you can check out Brazil a year early for the Confederations Cup, an eight-team tournament staged in four cities in June 2013.
2014 World Cup, various cities, Brazil; June 12-July 13, 2014
3. El Superclasico, Buenos Aires, Argentina
No one does passion like South America.
So when cross-town football teams Boca Juniors and River Plate -- the most popular and successful teams in the country -- square off in Buenos Aires, it’s the most fierce rivalry in all of sport (the Old Firm game between Celtic and Rangers in Scotland is a close second).
There’s name-calling, chanting, singing, dancing, eating, drinking, fireworks, streamers, banners, fights … and then the games start.
2. All-Ireland Hurling Final, Dublin, Ireland
Each September, 81,000 people pack into Dublin’s Croke Park to cheer on participants in the culminating match of a provincial hurling championship series between the best teams in Ireland.
It's one of the biggest sporting events in the country, with a history of gambling that "dates back to antiquity."
Don’t worry if you don’t know what’s going on. You'll figure out all you need to know about the fastest and oldest field game in the world and the pursuit of the trophy -- the magnificently named Liam McCarthy Cup -- from the cheering and anguish of fans.
Many in attendance roll in on a wave of Guinness and poteen from the Irish provinces with strong attachments to competing teams -- meaning you just might find the "real Ireland" without leaving the bleachers.
Two or three onlookers have been known to gather in local pubs after the match to drown their sorrows or celebrate their wins.
1. 2012 Summer Olympics, London, England
Call it what you want: a sports fan’s paradise. A competition for national pride. Sixteen days of rain.
Bottom line, it’ll be the biggest party the United Kingdom has ever seen, replete with the world’s most popular games -- basketball, football, team handball (!) -- celeb-studded crowds and pubs packed with visitors from 205 competing nations.
The main press center alone will constitute a small town, with more than 20,000 credentialed media descending from around the globe.
The city is expecting some five million visitors for the Games, a large majority of which will be held in the Old Park in Stratford in East London.
To the athletes it might be all about the games. For the rest of us, it means the world.
First published April 2012, updated October 2012