For roughly the entire month of February, the world’s attention will be fixed on PyeongChang, which is located in The Other Korea, which in case anyone didn’t know, is South Korea, not North Korea. There have been two Koreas since 1945. One is known for reliable cars and electronics and is a bustling modern city, the other enjoys watching soldiers stutter-march as tanks and rocket launchers roll down Main Street.
The Olympics will be an opportunity for South Korea to show the world just how much they really appreciate ice dancing. It’s also a chance for NBC (and its various cable and streaming affiliates) to somehow make the fourteen-hour time difference vanish to avoid social media spoilers. It’s all very complicated but the big, showy events will be shown live (mostly) as there is nothing a skater loves more than triple lutz salchowing at 6:00 am so that Americans can watch them on TV at a convenient hour.
I love the Winter Olympics, I really do, more so than any other televised sporting event. It’s cold in New York right now and it gets dark around 5:30 in the afternoon, so it’s the perfect time to watch hours of obscure sports on TV. This couldn’t have come at a better time.
The winter games have fewer disciplines than the summer games and since most of the events aren’t really games in the conventional sense (think of them more as feats), this makes them easier to follow. It’s also simple to know who to root for since the athletes are sorted out by country, except for Russia which has Russian athletes but they represent themselves, not Russia because Russia is being punished for doping their athletes. If any of them win gold in an event, they will not play the Russian national anthem, but as I understand it, they will play Who Let The Dogs Out by the Baha Men.
So, I’m going to take a break from watching women’s hockey at 10:00 in the morning on a Saturday and let you know what you can expect over the next few weeks:
Hockey. Everybody knows what hockey is, and just about everybody knows about the Miracle on Ice that happened at the 1980 games in Lake Placid when Team USA beat the heavily favored Soviets. I saw that game on TV and it was amazing. It’s been thirty-eight years since then, yet it is still next to impossible to see a hockey game on non-cable TV, even though the season runs from September until April and probably longer. Putting it another way, they don’t delay 60 Minutes for a hockey game. The U.S. is a Big Three sports country (football, baseball, and basketball) and hockey comes in at a distant fourth. Sometimes I wonder if soccer laughs at hockey in the United States. The Olympics will be a chance for hockey fans to cram a bunch of games into a short amount of time—kind of like football fans do on a Sunday.
Women and men both play Olympic hockey, although not together. Once they are on the ice, either team can be equally exciting to watch, as they are all skilled players. The legendary hockey fights are a bit different with the women’s teams, though. When they throw off the gloves, they stand there wagging their fingers at each other and will make fun of the other woman’s weight, her uniform, her hair, her make-up, and her boyfriend. Smack talk such as “those pads make you look hippy,” and “those bangs make you look like you’re wearing cafe curtains on your head” are common. After a few minutes, they all skate off and have a glass of chardonnay and watch The Bachelor.
Skating. Ice skating, in some form or another, is probably the biggest Olympic draw for spectators because people seem to enjoy watching tiny, flexible skaters in sequined, low-cut costumes who can pull their foot up behind and over the back of their head and spin around in a sparkly blur. And these are just the men. The women do all this in heels.
Skating is divided up into different categories, including singles, pairs, triplets, twins conjoined at the head, freestyle, mime and my favorite—that thing that Apolo Anton Ono used to do really fast in a circle. It’s crazy fun to watch speed skaters because their thighs are bigger than their entire torso and they go about thirty-five M.P.H. on skates that look like katanas strapped to sneakers. They also drag their fingers on the ice, which creates flames. It’s very dramatic.
Skiing. I’ve skied exactly twice in my life and my area of expertise was the horizontal spin with legs in the air move. I think it’s called The Turtle or perhaps The Break Dancer. These Olympic skiers don’t do that and if they do fall, it’s a spectacular cartwheeling affair that usually results in a torn ACL or some such painful knee injury. It’s always the knees. The Russians have been banned from skiing because it was discovered that they have dipped their skiers in liquid titanium to avoid knee injuries.
My favorite skiing event is ski jumping, where a skier will fly down a ramp and then burst off into the atmosphere before finally landing in Tokyo, six-hundred and thirty-seven miles from PyeongChang. It is the only Olympic event that requires a passport.
I also enjoy the biathlon, which takes the drop-dead boredom of watching miles of cross-country skiing and combines it with guns. I mean, wouldn’t any sport be improved if the players had to stop what they are doing and plink off targets with a .22 caliber rifle? I know soccer would be a lot more interesting if they added rifles.
Skiing also includes some X-games events, which are really nothing more than Shaun White trying to add another fifteen gold medals to his collection by defying gravity, physics and common sense. That probably won’t happen because White is now a thirty-one-year-old senior citizen while the up and coming X-game athletes are kindergarteners who have been on snowboards since they were fetuses.
Curling. One word. Awesome. Two words. Freaking awesome. Curling combines the skill of sliding a heavy, polished rock across the ice with an absolutely maniacal rubbing of the ice with a Swiffer. This year, they’ve added a new wrinkle to make it even more challenging—washing dishes. I don’t know how curling isn’t more popular than football.
Luge and Skeleton. Luge and skeleton are events that have no other purpose than to be weird Olympic sports. These are essentially guys who enjoyed sledding as kids and took it to the next, insane level. I love watching it, but sadly for them, I don’t think they impress women in bars too often with, “Hey, I’m the bad boy your mother warned you about. I’m a professional sledder.”
Here’s how one can tell luge and skeleton apart.
Luge is the event where a guy lays on his back on a tiny sled and launches himself feet-first down a hill faster than the maximum speed limit for a car on the expressway. He has to hold his head up so he can see where he is going while withstanding G-forces of up to three times his body weight. This explains why a luger will have a neck larger than a speed skater’s thigh. The luge driver will hurtle down a banked, icy track, steering with pressure from his legs, while hitting speeds of up to ninety miles per hour. After all this, he could still lose by 1/1000th’s of a second and just miss dying by a fraction of an inch. It’s remarkable and is only slightly less dangerous than skydiving with a lace parachute.
There is also a two-man luge event, where one guy will lie on his back and then another guy will lie on his back on top of the first guy, and they will both fly down the track, knotted together by their legs. This sounds difficult, but not as difficult as telling your father that you’re the bottom man in the two-man luge.
What makes skeleton different? Skeleton takes all of the danger of luge and does it face first, on a steel sled that is prohibited from having any steering or braking mechanisms, so who’s taking the bigger risk? Skeleton racers or luge racers? Certainly, not the crybaby quarterback for the New England Patriots who plays football for millions of dollars, that’s for sure.
Bobsled. Take two or four people, have them shove a big, high-tech sleigh a few yards to get it going and then watch them all jump in and tuck down on top of the person in front of them. After that, they all hang on for dear life while the driver steers this thing with ropes and pulleys. While not as risky as luge or skeleton, bobsledding is a lot more than yodeling guys racing in a canoe with runners. Put it this way—the Germans and the Swiss regularly hand the U.S. teams their hat in this event, and we have some pretty talented athletes. On the plus side, there’s hot chocolate, a campfire and s’mores at the bottom of the hill for everyone.
PyeongChang has been preparing for this for years, and all of this fun will be coming to your television, phone or tablet over the next few weeks. If you’re at all interested in backstage drama or in men and women training their entire lives at what is often just a hobby, then the Winter Olympics is for you. It’s also an opportunity to view a nation of people in a different light and perhaps learn something about their rich culture and geographic landscape. I know I’ll never get to South Korea, so it’s fascinating for me to see this.
I also know I’ll be watching every chance I get and if I could justify $160.00 for a custom Ralph Lauren Team USA, I’d be dressed for it too.