Weird and Wonderful Sports of the Winter Olympics

What you should really be watching during the Pyeongchang 2018 coverage

Curling, or “Shuffleboard with ice”

By Katarzyna Wicik, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Norway’s curling team and their multicolored pants are infamous in the Winter Olympics.

This isn’t your grandma’s shuffleboard, folks. Curling is the punchline of many a Winter Olympics joke and is oft-discounted as a sport overall, but regardless of how ridiculous the premise may seem, it is fascinating to watch. Broom in hand, players slide across the ice with the curling stone. Other team members then swipe the ice in front of the moving stone with their brooms in order to indirectly control the stone’s movement and get as close to the target as possible. If it doesn’t sound fascinating now, wait until you feel the tension of a close match, where the stones’ distances from the target center are too close to call and must be officially measured using advanced measuring tools. Sure, it may look a little absurd at first, but watching just a little snippet of curling is interesting enough to make you stay for the rest of the match.

Why to watch: Norway’s curling team has the best uniforms


Skeleton, or “Danger sledding”

By Jeon Han
Skeleton racers take off along an ice track, positioning themselves on sleds head-first.

At first sight, skeleton just looks like professional sledding- but you couldn’t reach these speeds at Riverview. Skeleton racers start by running along the ice track pushing their sled in front of them, trying to get a fast start. The racer must then jump stomach-first onto the sled, landing in a position with legs dangling off the sled behind them and face just centimeters above the ice. From there, the skeleton sled can reach average speeds of 77 miles per hour or more. While speeding down the track, the racer is also in charge of banking sharp turns to make it through the dozens of curves on the track- which requires expert coordination and weight shifting. Due to the fast speeds and high risk for crashing, skeleton was actually banned as an Olympic sport from 1948-2002. The sport has more safety precautions now than its original run, but skeleton remains a thrilling and nail-biting sport to watch.

Why to watch: Seeing the racers take on turns while sliding on their stomachs like penguins is incredible


Biathlon, or “Ski, then shoot”

By DVIDSHUB, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Biathlon skiers take on cross country slope courses whilst carrying their shooting rifles on their backs.

What makes cross country skiing exciting to watch- seeing the participants stop to shoot targets in the middle of the race. Skiers travel along the typical cross country ski route full of hills and turns through the host country’s natural landscape. At various points in the course, skiers must make their way to the shooting platforms off-course and hit a series of targets using a rifle that is carried with them on their backs while they ski. The way participants manage to glide smoothly off-course and get into a shooting position on their stomachs- skis still on- is truly commendable.

Why to watch: It’s like watching two sports at once


Luge, or “Feet-first danger sledding”

By Tim Hipps, Courtesy of US Army Site
Like skeleton, luge entails participants flying down curved icy tracks at incredible speeds.

Just in case you can’t get enough of advanced sledding in the Olympics, there’s the luge. Much like skeleton, luging involves riders on small sleds sliding at incredible speeds down a curving ice track. However, unlike skeleton, lugers are positioned on sleds on their backs, riding down the ice slope feet-first. With average speeds of 87 miles per hour or more, and no breaks on the sled, luge is also an incredibly dangerous sport. Watching the riders take sharp curves at breakneck speeds in those final gold medal matches may just make your heart stop a little bit, but it is worth watching.

Why to watch: Doubles and relay races make the sledding even more exciting


Ice Dancing, or “Ballroom on ice”

By David W. Carmichael, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Ice dancers at the Olympics perform together with perfect synchronization and ease in full costume.

Sure, figure skating gets a lot of coverage during the Winter Olympics, but have you ever caught a pairs ice dancing event? Within the figure skating discipline, ice dancing combines figure skating elements with parts of classical dance. Routines are focused less on lifts and complicated triple spin jumps, and more on the overall musicality and synchronization of the duo. Competing partners must dance together while performing trademark ice dance moves (like the “twizzle” spin), but there is a catch- the partners cannot be away from each other for more than five seconds at a time. This forces participants to cooperate on the ice to perform gold medal-winning dances, which are typically around 4 minutes long. Combining the skill of figure skating with the graceful elements of ballroom dance creates a beautiful display to tune in to during the Olympics.

Why to watch: Ice dance routines often have more of a “theme” than figure skating, so you never know when you might catch someone performing in full tuxedo tails or a sweater vest