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Memphis Zoo Olympics, aka Memphis ZOOlympics, is underway online

Lighthearted “competition” begins with California sea lions in freestyle dance and ball jump

MEMPHIS, Tennessee —

Local 24 weekend sports anchor Jessica Benson was staring down her 19th straight day with no live sports. "I was beginning to wonder if I would ever enjoy the thrill of games, matches, and races again," bemoaned Benson.

But thanks to the Memphis Zoo, sports fans like Benson can dive into a new kind of "competition."

The Memphis Zoo Olympics, or Memphis ZOOlympics, began today with the zoo's California sea lions competing in freestyle dance and ball jump.

"A big part of our mission is creating adventures," said Memphis Zoo Chief Marketing Officer Nick Harmeier. "Obviously we can't do that inside the zoo, so we're trying to do it virtually."

All week the Memphis Zoo will roll out videos of their animals competing on their social media pages. This week, fans can expect to see hippos swimming the distance, cheetahs running the distance and turtles taking a long time to go any distance.

"A lot of it is just taking the animals' daily enrichment activities where the zookeepers get to engage with the animals and keep them active," said Harmeier.

The voice of the ZOOlympics is 35-year sports broadcasting veteran Greg Gaston.

"It's a little unique to say the least," said Gaston.

Usually this time of year, Gaston calls University of Memphis baseball games. But now, you can find him tuning up his play-by-plays skills calling sea lions doing freestyle dance. Monday, Buttercup won the gold.

"(She's) a tremendous sea lion," said Gaston. "She worked hard in the off-season."

While life has changed dramatically for us humans, life for the animals at the Memphis Zoo has essentially stayed the same. The biggest change is that they don't have any visitors.

"You walk around and it's kind of neat," said Harmeier. ""When you walk around the animals almost run up to you like, 'Oh my gosh! Where have you been!"

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