The Weirdest Sports Explained in the Winter Olympics
The 2018 Winter Olympic Games have begun, it’s time to cheer for our athletes. The problem is, it’s hard to figure out what the hell is going on in some of these events. Why are so many people skating at once? What is curling? Is ice dancing the same as figure skating? And, oh, does this lady have a gun?
Mass start speed skating
Speed skating is not something new, unlike mass start speed skating. The event will debut in Pyeongchang and is the closest professional figure skating to a roller derby. Competitors cannot intentionally interfere with each other, but the way the race is organized almost makes contact inevitable. Competitors have very little room to work at 6,400 meters – there are up to 24 skaters on the track for six skaters in a team pursuit – and the race structure encourages constant competition for positions.
Basically, imagine a group of skaters trying to draft one after the other and change position on a circuit that is too small for them all, and you get the idea. How Aivan Blondin, one of Canada’s Mass-start skaters, will put him :
“The rules are that there are no rules, so you really can’t be disqualified unless you drop your gloves and start beating someone …”
In general, this is a typical race. The first three skaters to cross the finish line go to the podium, but the rest of the places are calculated on the basis of the points system. The skaters who win the “bonus rounds”, namely rounds 4, 8 and 12, earn points that determine who will finish in fourth to sixth place. But you really don’t need to know all of this to enjoy the event.
Biathlon is nothing new – in fact, it’s very old – but it still confuses the casual winter sports fanatic who only watch during the Olympics. Basically, biathlon is kind of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The roots of the activity are outdoor skills that were once critical to surviving snowy winter climates like Scandinavia.
Again, this is just a race with different rules and weapons. Competitors are required to ski on the cross-country ski trail while stopping to shoot five targets with their specially manufactured 22-gauge rifles. In addition, they must shoot targets from both prone and standing positions, depending on the station at which they stop. Not only is it important to skate quickly on the track – the competitors strive to achieve the best overall timing – but the shooter’s accuracy when shooting is also important. Poor shooting adds them the extra distance they need to ski (usually in the form of a loop that returns) or extra minutes to their total time as punishment. It is important to know that while watching, as the first competitor to approach the finish line may not actually come first.
Ah, curling. Everyone’s favorite winter sports event. It’s like a friendly retirement community shuffleboard game exploded to Olympic proportions. In the game of Scottish origin, players slide granite stones across the ice towards a target made up of four concentric circles. Two teams of four players take turns moving one of their six to eight stones (or “stones”) towards the goal. At the end of each round, which team has the stones closest to the center of the target receives points. Quite simple if you’ve ever played shuffleboard or bocce.
The most interesting aspect of curling is the role of each team member:
- Skip : This is the team captain who determines where to move the stone and how hard it should be pushed.
- Thrower : This is the person who actually pushes the rock away and glides on the ice according to the skip’s instructions.
- Sweepers : These two players sweep the ice in front of the rock to influence its path.
The sweeping that everyone seems to enjoy is in fact absolutely necessary. This ensures that small objects do not interfere with the trajectory of the shot, and reduces any friction that the rock might hit against the ice. Mixed doubles curling will make its debut at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang this year. In this version of the game, there are only two players on each team, a man and a woman. To shorten play time, teams only throw five stones per round (or “end”), and there are only eight rounds instead of the usual 10.
Mogul, part of the freestyle competition at the Olympics, is one of my favorite experiences. It has speed, it has cool aerial stunts, and it always looks cool. If you’re not sure what event I’m talking about, this is where the skier seems to have his knees pressed into his chest over and over again, and then they do an awesome somersault. The name of the competition comes from the course itself, which is heavily “paved” or built with a series of artificial bumps that resemble the embankments that form when skiers push snow as they make sharp turns downhill. The term comes from the Bavarian word “mugel”, which literally means a hill or small hill.
The bumpy track also has two small jumps in which competitors must perform vertical or inverted tricks. However, these pleasant aerial maneuvers only account for 20% of the competitor’s score. The rest depends on speed (20% of their points) and how well they handle tycoons, which is a whopping 60% of their points. It’s a very technical event, but a lot of fun to watch.
Dancing on Ice
Everyone confuses the Ice Dancing competition with the pair figure skating competition, but they are not the same thing. The biggest difference is that there is no jumping in ice dancing like there is in figure skating. That’s right, there are no triple axels here. In fact, jumping is a violation of the rules.
In general, ice dancing has more in common with ballroom dancing than figure skating. Certain rhythms and steps are used, competitors often hold each other in a traditional ballroom style, and there are mandatory elements for each competition. For example, the main theme of the short dances of the 2018 Olympic Games is “Latin.” Each team must perform the same sequence of rumba steps, and the Latin theme must be reflected throughout the program. In the past, these must-haves have included swing, polka, and even hip-hop. Free dance gives participants more creative freedom.
Judges strive for technical excellence and fine art style in scoring. Their overall assessment reflects these two main components of both short and free dance. All you really need to know is around 200 points or more, which is good.