The 2014 Winter Olympics were declared open
by President Vladimir Putin on Feb 7th. This is the most expensive Winter Olympics to date
-close to 50 Billion dollars are being spent on it! The opening ceremony was spectacular, showcasing
modern Russia to the largest gathering of countries in the Winter Olympics ever!
5 snowflakes suspended in a beautiful display. It all came together beautifully – that is,
barring a small technical hiccup – one of the 5 snowflakes failed to convert into an
Olympic ring while the other 4 did so gracefully for the grand finish. It was beautiful nonetheless! I hope you watched the opening ceremony and
plan to watch all the games. For 16 days in February, over 3,000 participants
are in Sochi to play the 2014 Winter Games. There are fifteen sports that are a combination
of individual and team versions of a few main sports. But can you guess what all these sports have
in common? No they are not all held outdoors. Guess again? No they are not all about going
downhill as fast as you can. Guess again? Right! They all involve frozen water – ice
or snow! Coming, to the actual sports – there are really
only three main types of winter sports: Skating on ice
Skiing on snow Sledding on snow Let’s look at some of these in more detail.
First my favorite in the category of ice skating – Figure Skating!
Figure skating is called that because ice skaters leave marks or figures on clean ice.
Early skaters noticed that they could draw on the ice — shapes like a circle or a figure
8! Some of the shapes are easy to understand, like the circle. It takes practice and skill
to make it perfectly round and end up exactly where you started. The Olympic skaters are
so good that circles are too simple – they make complex and beautiful drawings in their
competitions! So figure skaters draw figures on the ice.
In addition to drawing on ice, figure skaters can do tricks like spins and jumps. At the
Olympics, skaters perform their special skating routines choreographed to music – It is treat
to watch. Maybe you’ll even get to see your favorite song interpreted by a figure skater. Next…If you like races – you will enjoy
speed skating. The point of figure skating is grace and precision.
But speed skating is pretty much just about speed. That’s why it’s called speed skating.
Form is important as long as it makes you go faster than the other skaters. Speed skating
at the Olympics has different formats, such as short track and long track speed skating.
But the purpose is pretty much the same — go faster than anybody else. And then, there is Curling
The sport of curling doesn’t get started for a few days after the opening ceremony, but
once it starts, it seems to keep going almost to the very end.
So what is curling? No it’s not a game of hairstyling with irons. Actually, it is an
old sport played on ice with rocks. Seriously. Rocks. Granite rocks actually.
Does this sport feature breathtaking speeds? Ah no. Does it involve out-racing and out-muscling
your opponent’s. Er, no. So what makes it a sport? Well there is a lot of skill in placing
the stones to get the highest score and there’s a lot of strategy involved. The game is like
Shuffleboard on ice. Teams have to “throw” the rocks close to the target and their teammates
help by clearing and sweeping the ice around the target, so the stone comes closest to
the target. The team with the largest number of stones closest to the target wins. That’s it with the ice sports!
Next let’s look at some snow sports. First, Skiing – Freestyle
This is another sport that starts on the first day of the Olympics. Freestyle skiing is like regular skiing, but
freestyle basically has no rules. The idea is to get to the bottom of the mountain as
fast as you can without killing yourself or anybody else. There is no nicely groomed path.
In places you don’t even ski on the snow — you fly through the air! Sounds crazy huh? The other favorites are Alpine and Cross Country
Skiing Alpine skiing is just a fancy way of saying
downhill skiing because that’s what the contestants do — ski down a hill — a steep hill. They
go very fast. In fact, they can go over 90 miles an hour! Imagine that! Without a seat
belt! Yikes. The point of alpine competition is to get to the finish line as fast as you
can, so skiers will be going as fast as their skill, their equipment, and the snow allow. An interesting twist to the skiing events
is the Biathlon The point of the biathlon is to ski cross
country over a long course, then stop at designated spots and shoot at targets that are at different
distances. The skiers shoot either lying down or standing up. The winner is the fastest
skier. But what about the most accurate shooter? Doesn’t that count for more than just speed.
Well… yes — and no. The point is that at each shooting station, each shooter has to
hit all five targets. If you miss, you have to ski a penalty loop for each missed target.
So the winner is still determined by who finishes first. And, my favorite Skiing event – Ski Jumping
Also starting early in the Olympic Games schedule is the sport of ski jumping. The idea of ski
jumping is to glide down a long and very steep ramp then spring into the air and fly as far
as you can. Because the skiers are going really, really fast and because the ramp is pretty
far from the ground, every skier who reaches the end of the ramp does some actual flying.
If you’ve ever pretended you can fly, you’ll want to watch these competitions. A new edition to the Olympic games is Snowboarding
Snowboarders can do pretty much anything skiers can do — like racing downhill on a groomed
course in what is called the slalom, or doing tricks. Trick snowboarding is like freestyle
skiing but snowboarders call it slopestyle. There is even snowboard contests where four
snowboarders compete at the same time to see who is fastest. Finally, let’s look at the sledding competitions. The most popular winter time activity around
the world is sledding. All it takes to sled down a hill covered with snow is something
to slide on. That something can be a luge where one or
two people slide down the hill feet first and face up on sleds with no steering and
no brakes. Sounds like fun huh? Luge riders can get up 90 miles per hour. Naturally, the
luger with the fastest time wins. Or you can sled down the hill lying face down
and going head first. The shape of this type of sled looks like a human skeleton and that’s
why the event is call the skeleton. Or you can ride inside a bobsled (Europeans
call it bobsleigh). Just like the other sledding sports, the object is speed. Unlike the other
two sledding events, bobsleigher can steer and they have brakes. They also ride in sled
that exposes only their heads. Sounds a little scary! Players in the bobsled are moving back and
forth to increase their teams speed and viewers can see their helmets “bobbing” – hence the
funny name. So – which one is your favorite? Watch the
Olympics and let us know!