Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Guide to Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games!
- Alpine Skiing – Different ways to get down the mountain quickly
Downhill – Standard, who can make it down the fastest skiing
Super-G – Downhill meets Giant Slalom. Wider gates than in Giant Slalom, but with fewer turns and, therefore, higher speeds. Tuck and roll! Except that if you’re doing the latter, you’ve wiped out.
Giant Slalom – Skiing between gates that are spaced at a greater distance to each other than in slalom, but closer to each other than in Super-G, making Giant Slalom actually medium slalom.
Slalom – Paying homage to pong, slalom skiing involves weaving between closely-spaced gates, requiring quick turns. If it snowed on Lombard Street in San Francisco, the U.S. team would practice there. And the Chinese team, too.
Super Combined – Variety fun pack consisting of downhill and slalom offers the best of both worlds. For versatile skiiers only.
- Freestyle Skiing – Less about getting down the mountain, more about showing off fancy ways to do it
Aerials – Skiiers go off of jumps and do turny-flippy things that seem impossible, but if you grew up on a mountain, apparently, it is possible. Fearlessness/certifiable insanity is required.
Moguls – An early German invention for torture, moguls are a series of bumps the skiier must bounce down like a Plinko chip while destroying their knees. To make it even more interesting and challenging, skiers encounter a couple of jumps in their mogul run.
Ski Cross – A timed race where competitors start simultaneously and battle each other in a ridiculous obstacle course that features jumps, rollers and banks. Come for the unintentional tripping, stay for the wipe outs!
- Snowboarding – Feet together, now!
Halfpipe – Not into speed? Chill out with the Halfpipe. 50% less pipe than recreation use requires, the Halfpipe is a giant U-shaped block planted on the mountain. One at a time, snowboarders perform routines consisting of acrobatic jumps, twists, grabs and tricks on the inside of the snow tube ramp structure while moving from one side of the halfpipe to the other. Riders are judged on the height, style and success of their tricks.
Parallel Giant Slalom – Two snowboarders race head-to-head down a course, navigating through a series of gates. Why snowboarders specify “parallel” while skiers do not is unknown. It should be called Giant Slalom Duel. That’s a marketing brainchild right there.
Snowboard Cross – Also known as Snowboarder-X, Boardercross, or Boarder-X (depending on preferred slang dialect), the event is the same as Ski Cross, but with snowboarders.
- Curling –
When no one was looking, ice shuffleboard snuck in as an Olympic game. PETA would lose it over Sled-dog racing, so a much less offensive game was added to the repertoire. Two teams of four players each take turns sliding heavy, polished granite
advanced hockey pucks with a handle down the ice towards the “house.” The “house” is the target-looking thing at the end of the bowling alley lane. The purpose is to complete each end (like an inning in baseball, which is the delivery of 16 stones) with the stones closer to the center of the house than the other team’s.
Two sweepers with brooms accompany each stone. It is not that they are too impatient to wait for the Zamboni to come clean the ice, it’s that they want to help direct the stones to their resting place. Teams use stopwatches, judgment, prayers, lucky underwear, and direction from their teammates to guide the rock along.
Where is the athleticism in this event? You may be wondering. I have no idea. Tug of War was a Summer Olympic event from 1900-1920, so they’ve never really been too picky about what games are played on the world stage. By the way, there needs to be a petition to go around to bring Tug of War back. Story titles like “Germany Wins War,” “Pulling Strings: Inside Tug Strategy,” “Koreans Can’t Go Nuclear in This War!” or “Isroidis?” would be just as entertaining as the “sport” itself.
- Figure Skating –
Gymnastics for ice! Flexing their flexibility, skaters complete both a short program of required steps, jumps, spins and combinations, and then a longer free skating program, both set to usually drab music. The free skate is worth two-thirds of a skater’s final score and allows the competitors to demonstrate their creativity, innovative moves and technical ability. To watch, follow the shiny glitter as it glides, bounces, twirls and jumps around the ice.
In the pairs version of ice capades, one male and one female skater perform in unison, incorporating throws (to date, only men throwing women) lifts (to date, only men lifting women), and synchronized jumps. I challenge a pair to have the woman pick-up, chuck and hula-hoop the man partner. Turn the gender roles around a little bit. Pairs is exciting because one skater can ruin it for their partner, which always makes for quality entertainment. Unfortunately, couples are judged together. This means there is no place for swingers to be formed from the better parts of pairs. Mixing and matching is prohibited, which is the same prudish thinking that forbids same sex partners in pairs figure skating. Sorry civil rights!
Like watching a male flight attendant, sometimes viewers wonder the sexuality of the skater until they remember that male figure skaters are assumed gay unless they prove otherwise, or are Chinese.
Oh yeah, and then there’s ice dance, which is like pairs skating, except without the impressive ability to do overhead lifts and jumps. It’s the minor leagues of figure skating, but the major leagues of Lady Gaga-inspired eccentric costumes.
- Ice Hockey –
Sentimentally still considered one of the four major North American sports, Ice Hockey is a team sport where skaters use sticks to pass a puck around, aiming to get it into the opposing team’s goal. The game is a fast-paced and physical. Pushing, shoving, and anything else that would be considered a foul in basketball are not only allowed, but encouraged. Cheap shots, like tripping, elbowing and high-sticking, are punished by a two-minute time out break where the player is alone in a little box to just sit there and think about what he’s done.
What the puck? If you don’t know about hockey by now, you’re never going to know.
- Speed Skating –
Also referred to as Long Track Speed Skating, skaters race the clock as they do laps around a 400 meter oval ice rink. Their skates look like rulers.
- Short Track Speed Skating –
Imagine NASCAR, but with people skating in a circle. The crashes are just as good. No fireballs, but still good. Short Track skaters race against each other, not the clock. Unfortunately, competitors never really try to leap frog each other. But they can pass each other, and they do wipe out. It’s intense and it’s quick, like sex when you’re a teenager.
Bring out your guns! From the Greek word for “two tests,” the Biathlon requires skills of cross-country skiing and shooting. There are different variations of this event that originated as an exercise for Norwegian soldiers. Can’t you picture some Viking Norsmen drill sergeant requiring those who miss their shots to pace around on their skiis, or as they’re called in Norway, shoes?
The Biathlon may have been adapted for use by Ski Patrol Academy. Athletes ski into the shooting range, put down their ski poles and take five shots at a metal target. Each target has five plates, fixed in a straight row, which the athlete must hit. Missing a target plate can be costly: depending on the event, a missed shot means either one minute of added time or skiing a penalty loop, known as a shame circle.
Can be individual or team relay-style. To my disappointment, they do not use the gun as a relay baton. Safety matters. Shoot responsibly.
- Cross-Country Skiing
If you thought golf was a long walk spoiled, consider the thrills of Cross-Country Skiing! Like running a marathon, the endurance required is impressive, but not fun to watch. The gravity that the downhill provides is a more exciting factor than the flatness that flatness provides. On the plus side, if you live in the midwest, or any other area lacking varied land gradients, you’ve got yourself a version of skiing!
Racers use two basic techniques in cross-country skiing: classic technique, where the skis move parallel to each other through tracks in the snow, and free technique, where skiers propel themselves in a manner similar to speed skating (but with significantly less risk of injury). Free techniquers push off with the edge of their skis, use shorter skis and find their strategy is slightly faster than classic. Traditionalists call these people “cheaters.”
Coming soon! Snowboard wiggle, jiggle and jump cross-country events! Snowboarders don’t need no stinkin’ poles!!!
- Ski Jumping
Athletes ski down a long ramp, and voluntarily launch themselves into the space at high speeds and altitudes. Once in the air, jumpers assume the V-style, adjusting their position to maximize lift while minimizing drag. Competitors are evaluated on distance and style. Barring extreme goofiness or terrible landing, the skier with the longest jump will usually have the highest style points.
The skis used are wide and long, like the balls it takes to do this. Those with fear of heights need not apply.
This sport makes the summer track event, long jump look really, really weak. There is a water ski version that requires more than twice as much as a jump and a skier by requiring a rope and a boat as well. That’s twice as complicated.
- Nordic Combined
Cross-Country Skiing, meet Ski Jumping, Ski Jumping, meet Cross-Country Skiing. This ying and yang duo of events gives life to Cross-Country Skiing while dulling down Ski Jumping. Proving that first is not the worst, the jumping portion occurs before the free technique cross-country race. The break between the jumping and the cross-country race can be as short as half an hour or as long as a few hours. Either way, more than enough time to tune out before the cross-country part.
The jumping results provide the starting seed for the cross-country race, with the athletes beginning seconds or even minutes after the best jumper. Using pack-racing strategies, the skiers cluster into “trains” that chase down other athlete trains. Clusters may or may not be formed out of political alliance. The winner of the Nordic combined event is the first athlete across the cross-country finish line, which you read about the next day cause you didn’t watch. Never on prime time for a reason.
Teams of two or four (date or double date… even numbers, not odd like the sport itself), make timed runs down a narrow, twisting, banked, iced tube-looking track in a gravity-powered, eco-friendly batmobile-type sled apparatus. While sledding down snow can be fun, it is far more dangerous, exciting and fast to sled down ice. To start, the team pushes their nuclear bomb-looking container for 50 meters before jumping in and taking the ride down the roofless tube of sometimes death.
Invented by some bored Swiss people who wanted a toy beyond their army knives, racers lay face-up on an open fiberglass sled, push themselves out of the starting gate and race down the same tube their bobsled friends use. Luge is the name of the sled, it is the french word for sled, so give it up to the Swiss for some originality and ownership of the event, as well as the name of the sport. After the initial push, racers use spiked gloves known as hand cleats on the ice surface for extra acceleration before lying down on their backs with their feet stretched out in front of them in order to be as aerodynamic as possible. The sled driver steers by flexing the calf of each leg or exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat. Luge racers brake by sitting up, putting their feet down and pulling up on the sled runners. If they want to win, however, they don’t brake much, they opt for prayer and/or luck.
Sledding? Pish! How about just sliding? Some other Swiss people saw the luge and raised the stakes. Heading face down on their stomachs, sliders use a boogie-board with no brakes or steering mechanism. Freefallin’! To start, the slider grasps the handles on either side of the sled and sprints for approximately 50 meters before diving head first onto the sled. Somehow, this sport has not translated to a summer variety, which would likely be called Water Sliding.
Enjoy the Olympics!!!
Originally published on February 24th in Citizen News (Sherman, New Fairfield Edition)