By Timo Holmquist, Contributing Blogger
The Winter Olympics are upon us! Every four years, a bunch of talented athletes compete in a series of heart-stopping events for the sake of international cooperation and the spirit of competition. And while nearly every Olympic event is mired in some form of controversy (the selection of snowless Beijing is a head-scratcher), most events produce blockbuster moments that stay with us for years.
The summer and winter Olympics alternate, so every two years, we have an Olympics. The last summer Olympics were in 2020, so 2022 brings us the winter edition. There are winter Olympic staples like alpine skiing and hockey, but they only tell a partial story. Tucked into the two-week bonanza are lesser-known events that run the gamut from fascinating to downright bizarre. Let’s check out five lesser-known winter Olympic sports.
1. Ski Jumping
We’ll start with an event that’s been in the Olympics for years and is fairly well known but fascinating nonetheless. Unlike the downhill races, ski jumping is in a league of its own. Competitors start at the top of a massive ramp, gain an incredible amount of speed, and then leap into the air to see how far they can fly before landing in a base area. The ramps used in the 2022 Olympics come in two sizes. The normal hill is roughly 377 feet tall, and the larger hill is 446 feet tall. Watching athletes soar into the sky at highway speeds is a practice in anxiety management.
Another unique event at the Olympics—biathlon combines two seemingly unrelated disciplines; cross country skiing and target shooting. Racers have to make it around an exhausting cross-country course, stop at predetermine shooting stations, work to control rampant breathing, and make five successful target shots before getting back to skiing. Missing targets add time, which is a costly penalty since the lowest overall time decides the winner.
Curling is a team sport played on ice. Two teams take turns sliding granite stones towards a target painted on the ice with an inner and outer circle (Houses). You get points based on where the stone stops.
One player slides the stone from one end of the ice, using the space between the start line (Hack) and a subsequent line (Hog Line) to generate momentum. Holding onto the stone beyond the Hog Line is considered illegal.
As the stone takes off, two team members follow with brushes. The friction between the stone and the ice causes it to slow down, so the job of the sweepers is to brush the ice in front of the stone to allow it to travel farther. The two sweepers stop brushing when the “skip” (aka captain) thinks the momentum is good enough to get the stone into the target area. If the stone stops in one of the houses, it stays there. However, the other team then goes and has a chance to knock their opponent's stone out of the target area. It’s a strange and thoroughly entertaining sport.
In the same realm as luge, racers use a sled to fly down an icy course shaped like a frozen half-pipe waterslide with twists, turns, and a downhill pitch. Skeleton differs from luge because, unlike luge (where a competitor lies on the sled face up), one solo competitor takes off at a run, holding their sled in front of them and dives onto it stomach first in order to get more speed. Racers then hold on for dear life as their sled sends them through the course. Athletes often exceed 80 miles per hour, and crashes can be particularly scary to watch. It’s a high-stakes sport with nearly zero padding for the racers (except a helmet) and a reliance on aerodynamics to get the fastest time.
5. Double Luge
Rounding out our list, we have the double luge. This one is strange because it involves two people. One team has two members, lying more or less on top of each other on one sled. Aside from the goofy-looking visual—with more weight, you can attain a faster speed than racing solo. The heavier luger is usually on the bottom, and their contribution is simply being heavier. The driver, or the lighter person, is tucked in-between the legs of the other person and responsible for “driving” or steering the sled. There are strict weight limitations to keep everyone within the same competitive range.