22nd Winter Olympiad – A Primer

My first post about the Olympics dates back to 2002. At the time I was lamenting about the \”X-ification\” of the Winter Olympics. 12 years later my feelings haven\’t changed.

The Sochi Olympics are set to start on February 6th. These promise to be the most tense games since the Cold War with the specter of Black Widow Terrorists, Russia\’s anti-homosexual laws, the national tragedy that is USA\’s wardrobe , etc.

But let\’s focus on the games. I love the Olympics, but especially the Winter Olympics. We here in the States don\’t get to see a lot of ski jumping or biathlon, so anytime that\’s on TV, I\’m all over it. Of course there will also be wall to wall coverage of the X-games portion of the Winter Olympics where the US might have a chance to medal. But I digress…

The games continue to evolve. Here\’s a breakdown of the current sports and events you will see over a fortnight and a third:

Alpine Skiing – includes the Slalom (the slowest of the races where skiers go quickly back and forth between gates that look like poles), the Giant Slalom (the back and forth that is a little faster than Slalom where skiers go between gates that are two sets of bi-poled flags), Super Giant Slalom or \”Super G\” (the back and forth that is even faster, but longer, and uses the same gates as Giant Slalom), Downhill (essentially skiing as fast as possible down a course with very little back and forth, but the course is still marked with the flag gates), and Combined (which is made up of own Downhill race and one Slalom race). There is a Men\’s and Women\’s division for both. Clear as snow?

Biathlon – Cross Country Skiing plus shooting! What\’s not to like? The main differences in the events within Biathlon are the distances skied, whether they stagger the start or not, and if it\’s a relay race or not. You\’ll also see them switch back and forth from shooting standing up to shooting lying down. For every target you miss, you have to ski a penalty lap which always makes me think of high school gym… if you goofed off you\’d quickly hear \”Take a lap!\”… and off you went. Where was I… oh yes. The men have 10km, 12.5km, 15km and 20km races. The women have 7.5km, 10km, 12.5km, and 15km. The men\’s relay is a 4×7.5km, while the women\’s is 4x6km. There is also a mixed relay with 2 women and 2 men. Not a lot of mixed sports in all of the Olympics. Biathlon and Figure Skating in the Winter Games. Equestrian and Tennis have mixed events in the Summer Games.

Bobsleigh – What we would call Bobsled here in the US. Pretty straight forward competition here. Men have a 2-man and 4-man race. Women only have the 2-man race. They actually still call it \”2-man\” on the women\’s side. I\’m ok with that, because I\’m not a fan of changing the names of manholes to be personholes. Sometimes \”man\” doesn\’t mean \”men\”. Welcome to the wonderful English language!

Cross Country Skiing – Basically all the excitement of the Biathlon, but without the shooting (i.e. excitement). You can see the various events here. They\’ve added the \”Sprint\” and \”Pursuit\” events in the last couple of decades to add some excitement to the sport, but if you catch this on TV you\’ll see a lot of people skiing through the woods… still pretty cool, but not as cool as the Biathlon which is much closer to James Bond skiing through the wood and being shot at in For Your Eyes Only. The scene where he is skiing down the bobsled track being chased by a guy on a motorcycle is pretty awesome. But I digress… Pretty standard split between men and women with the women having shorter event than the men. There is also a \”Team Sprint\” where the team consists of two members. Seems like just a way to add another event since cross country events outside the Olympics don\’t have this event.

Curling – Quite possibly my favorite event at the Olympics. Described often as Shuffleboard on ice (which is kinda true). Curling has the feeling of softball (a sport where you stand around a lot, and you could drink or smoke while playing), but requires a fair amount of skill and strategy. Still not sure it belongs as a winter sport, but if freestyle skiing is in why not this? Straight up Men\’s and Women\’s tournament for this sport. Sadly they decided against a mixed tourney… boo IOC!

Figure skating – Pretty standard and well known set of Men\’s, Women\’s, Mixed Pairs, and Mixed Ice Dancing. They Olympics website also tries to confuse you with something called \”Mixed NOC Team mixed\”. That is only held at the \”Youth Games\” and is for a pair that is not from the same country.

Freestyle Skiing – Events for people who wish they were as cool as snowboarders, but think snowboards are lame and for those who don\’t have the talent to ski. Men\’s and Women\’s events consisting of Aerials (launch yourself in the air and do as many tricks/twists/flips and try to land on your skis), Mogul (the one with all the bumps where it looks like the skiers are going to blow out their knees), Ski Cross (a timed race without judging down a course with jumps and banks… kinda like motocross, but on skis), Halfpipe (exactly what you think), Slopestyle (new this year, and is essentially skateboarding on a fabricated course, but on skis).

Ice Hockey – Men\’s and Women\’s. \’Nuff said.

Luge – Similar to Bobsleigh, but instead of an enclosed bullet looking sled, this is more like the sleds of the 60s and 70s with metal runners and no protection in case of a crash. There is a men\’s and women\’s side, plus men\’s doubles and a mixed team relay. Men\’s doubles is one of the best events because you pile two dudes on a tiny sled. Fun to watch, try to keep your jokes to a minimum. The mixed team relay is new this year. Consists of one man, one woman, and a doubles pair. When one finishes, the next is notified at the top to start, and so on.

Nordic Combined – One part ski jumping and one part cross country skiing. But only for men. The only thing of interest with this sport is that one event is called the Gundersen. There is the individual event called the K90(70m), another event called the SPRINT K120 (no idea why that needs to be capitalized), and then a Team/Relay (Team as in, the whole team takes a jump; Relay as in, they take turns cross country skiing). The K denotes the average distance covered by the jumpers for the Ski Jump (so 90 meters or a bigger jump of 120 meters). Glad they make this sport accessible for new people to understand. This sport has been part of the Olympics every year since 1924 and only seems to serve the purpose of ensuring that Norway wins some medals. Perhaps if they truly \”combined\” the two where an athlete would cross country ski over to a ski jump, jump, then continue cross country skiing afterwards… now that might be an event worth watching!

Short Track Speed Skating – Essentially roller derby on ice. The best thing this sport has going for it right now is this. Men\’s and Women\’s divisions in this sport, but with the men having one more event; the 500m which is basically a sprint to the death. Now that Apolo Ono is known more for his dancing and subway commercials, I don\’t know how many Americans will care about this sport.

Skeleton – Luge, but head first, and a different kind of sled. And somebody at least had the common decency to not try and do a doubles skeleton. You could also describe the sport as: Luge, but with better chance of death.

Ski Jumping – The women only get one event and it\’s off the smaller of the two jumps (K90). The men get K90, K120, and a Team K90. Regardless of which event it is, it\’s cool to watch… and not just because we\’re all hoping for another \”agony of defeat\” moment. Ok, maybe we are.

Snowboard – Added several Olympics ago so the US could win more medals and young people would care about the Winter Olympics. Men\’s and Women\’s events consisting of: Parallel slalom (two racers start at the same time and go down identical courses next to each other), Giant Parallel Slalom (ditto, but longer), Halfpipe (yup), Slopestyle (even more like skateboarding, doing ollies and mctwists off of rails), and Snowboard Cross (again, think motocross, but on snowboards).

Speed skating – Men\’s and Women\’s events of varying lengths, plus a team pursuit, which in this case is a team of three. The Netherlands typically dominates this sport. Since they have no mountains, but lots of canals, they get a lot of flat skating in the winter.

So there you go… you are now educated (8.6) on the sports of the Twenty-Second Winter Olympiad. Enjoy!