From February 7 until February 23, the world’s attention will be fixed on the beach resort city of Sochi, Russia. Why? What could take a subtropical area with an average winter temperature of ten degrees over freezing and turn it into a winter focal point? Manmade snow and the Winter Olympics, that’s what.
The Olympics will be an opportunity for Russia to show the world just how much (in this case fifty-one billion dollars) they really appreciate ice dancing. It’s also a chance for NBC (and its various cable affiliates) to somehow make the nine-hour time difference vanish to avoid Tweeted spoilers. It’s all very complicated but the big, showy events will most likely be shown on time-delay during prime time while the lesser events will be live on cable channel 5640 at 2:00 in the morning.
I love the Winter Olympics, I really do, more so than any other televised sporting event. In New York right now, it’s cold out, it gets dark around 5:30 in the afternoon and 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. As any English soccer fan can tell you, loyalties don’t run any deeper than that.
So, just in case you need an update on which events will be shown, here’s what you can expect.
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-four years since then, yet it still seems 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 just as 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 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,” is common. After a few minutes, they all skate off and have a glass of chardonnay.
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 these speed skaters because their thighs are bigger than their entire torso and they go about 35 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 once 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.
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 Berlin, sixteen-hundred miles from Sochi. 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 just about 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 something like this.
Skiing also includes some X-games events, which are really nothing more than a chance for Shaun White to add another fifteen gold medals to his collection by defying gravity, physics and common sense.
Curling. One word. Awesome. Two words. Freaking awesome. Curling combines the skill of sliding a heavy, polished rock across ice with absolutely maniacal floor sweeping. This year, they’ve added a new wrinkle to make it even more challenging—washing dishes. I’m setting my DVR already.
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 a kid 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 guy 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 1/1000ths 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 pretty hard, but not as hard 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, so who’s crazier? Skeleton racers or luge racers? Certainly not the padded guys who play 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.
Sochi has been preparing for this for years, and all of this fun will be coming to your television very soon. If you’re at all interested in backstage drama or in men and women training their entire lives for what is often just a hobby, then the Winter Olympics is for you. I know I’ll be watching every chance I get and if I could justify $85.00 for an official Team USA earflap hat, I’d be dressed for it too.
©Rick Garvia 2014 This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.