I get giddy every time the Winter Olympics return, probably even more so than the Summer Games.

But, I don’t think I’m in the majority and, I don’t really understand why.

Recently, at a family gathering, we had a discussion about which of the Olympics we preferred.  I was surprised to learn that most people there had a partiality towards the Summer over the Winter Games.

And, in fact, some people seemed to even dislike the Winter version.

I heard comments like:  “boring”, “nobody cares but the athletes”, “they’re not cool”, “not real sports”, and “lack of diversity”.

This leaves me baffled.

While I understand the allure of the Summer Games, most every sport at the Winter Olympics to me is fantastic, unique, exciting, and ones that we should pay due respect to.  Certainly not dislike.  (Except for “Curling”.  I don’t get it).  Sorry Curling fans!

Here’s a list of the Sochi Olympic Games coming up in February from the official website:

Events in 15 disciplines of 7 winter sports:

  • Biathlon
  • Bobsleigh: Bobsleigh and Skeleton
  • Curling
  • Ice Hockey
  • Luge
  • Skating: Figure Skating, Short Track Speed Skating and Speed Skating
  • Skiing: Alpine, Cross Country, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, Freestyle and Snowboard

What’s not fun here?  (Curling aside..)

First, the Biathlon is crazy exciting to watch.  The sport entails cross country skiing with precision rifle shooting.  The summer version is similar, but running instead.  Since the athletes are on skis, the winter version becomes much more dynamic to me due to the added element of weather.

The individual Biathlon competition has the male athletes covering 20 km (12.5 miles) and the women 15 km (9+ miles).  At timed intervals, each shoots at small targets from both standing & the prone position.  Every missed target shaves a minute off their overall time.

There’s also a “Sprint” version whereby the men race 10 km (6+ miles), and women 7.5 km (4+ miles), each with two shooting rounds – one prone and one standing. For every missed target, a competitor must complete a 150-meter penalty loop.  Ouch.

But, the real fun is the “Mass” Biathlon when 30 athletes take off at the same time.  The men compete over 15 km and the women do 12.5 km.  Check out this video from the 2006 Turin Olympics of showing just how hard it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMp9ICLKYl8&feature=player_detailpage.

The same can be said for the Bobsleigh.  The Sochi site describes it as “a sport that involves high-speed mountain descent on a sled”.  Coolness is not an issue here.

In Bobsleigh, men compete in two-person and four-person competitions & women in two-person.  The track itself is made of concrete and is ice-covered.  It has one straight section and one labyrinth (three turns in quick succession without a straight section), extends 1200 to 1300 meters long and has fifteen curves.  Speeds exceed 120 km/h (about 75 mph) and some curves can subject the crews to as much as 5 Gs!

Then there’s the Luge.  Sochi says, “It involves sliding at high speeds on single or two person sleds on a special track with artificially frozen ice.”  Two people?  Yeah, it’s dangerous & weird.  Luv it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41tlIBNg9Cg&feature=player_detailpage#t=53

Luge competitions include men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles… and new for the first time ever at the Olympics, Sochi teams will compete in a Relay race. This will consist of teams from each country: A woman (singles luge), a man (singles luge) and two men from the doubles luge.  At the finish each athlete must touch a special touch-pad.  When the third member of the team reaches the exchange zone and hits the touch-pad, this will determine the team’s total time.  Can’t wait to see this.

But, probably most exciting of the sled sports is “Skeleton.  Sochi describes it: “Competitors aim to drive a one-person sled in a prone, head-first position down an ice track in the fastest time.”  Watch this video and see if this is boring, uncool, not a real sport, or lacks diversity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=J2lvhgVimy0.  Whoa.

And, then there’s the Skiing.  Alpine consists of 5 events including the “Downhill” whereby the athletes go down the longest course & highest speed (over 75 mph); the three “Slalom” events (skiing between poles or gates); and Super Combined.  Gosh, that looks like fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=-oA-50ZEJZw#t=16.  Hopefully Lindsey Vohn will be healthy enough to compete in this Olympics.

I also love the “Ski Jumping”.  How anyone can do this is beyond me.  Check out this helmet cam version:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIJ-80KTuTA&feature=player_detailpage.

What about “Freestyle” skiing which includes “Ski halfpipe” and “Ski slopestyle” added to the Olympic program in 2011?  And Snowboarding?  There are 6 events involving tricks, speed, and artistry – what more could you ask for?  A little Shaun White anyone? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGzqxNkt3q0&feature=player_detailpage#t=3526.  Chills.

As for Figure Skating, it may be the “oldest discipline in the Winter Games” and as such, many out there do not enjoy the traditional aspect of it (mostly men).  But, as a sports fan, consider this: It’s one of the few sports that combine artistry and athleticism.  When it’s done well, it’s magic.

To digress about Figure Skating for a moment, I think the Olympic committee should consider adding events in what’s known in the amateur world as “Interpretive Skating”.  It is particularly robust in Canada as a new branch formerly known as Artistic Skating.   According to Skate Canada’s Manual:  “The Interpretive Program provides an avenue within which skaters can develop their ability to interpret music without the pressure created by the demand for technical difficulty in other programs. 

With that definition, I feel Interpretive Skating could really help garner more fans to Figure Skating as a whole and excite younger people who may be turned away by more flashy sports. I think of Kurt Browning who was a pioneer of this type of skating. Remember this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RtL68KBBhY&feature=player_detailpage#t=18.

Still, I haven’t even mentioned Speed Skating & Short Track Speed Skating yet.  Speed skating is the more traditional and older of the two sports.  Similar to the Summer version on feet, it consists of the following events: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m for both men and women, women’s 3000m, men’s 10,000m and Team pursuit for men and women.

Short Track Skating is the “type of speed skating in which the athletes compete to cover a 111.12 meter oval ice track as quickly as possible.”  Apolo Ohno made this sport come to the limelight after winning 8 medals (two gold, two silver, four bronze), the most Winter Olympic medals to any American.  I always love to watch this fiercely competitive sport.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pxjLaSp6Bs&feature=player_detailpage

Last but not least: Ice HockeyThe Olympics version has no fightingFinally, I can watch and enjoy the sport.  There’s something about the different countries competing against one another that changes the stakes for me with hockey this way.  I’m actually looking forward to this as well.  Canada is the reigning champion and favored again at Sochi (NHL consideration) with Russia a close second.

In the end, what it comes down to for me when choosing to elect the Winter Games as my favorite over Summer, is the element of weather.  I love the extra challenge it provides the athletes.  Ice and snow are their stage and they perform on it.  The result is some very unique, challenging, dangerous, and diverse sports that we just don’t see every day.  They are certainly not “boring” and are just as real as any Summer sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Gymnastics, Swimming, and Track & Field too.  But, it’s time we recognize Winter athletes for their unique athletic abilities, fighting spirit, nerve, and guts.

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Source : Sochi Olympics

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