Seven Must-Watch Winter Olympics Events, Recommended by Grantland’s Panel of Winter Sports ‘Experts’
Over the next couple of weeks, a person in your life is going to pretend like they know a lot about up-and-coming figure skaters, understand the physics of the ski jump, and have always been down with Latvian skeleton boss Martins Dukurs. If you want to be bored to death, feel free to get your Olympics info from that person. They are lying to you. This is the only Olympics guide where your guides are also on the journey, man! We are learning as we go. Because I think when Babe Ruth and Franklin Roosevelt invented the Olympics, that’s exactly what they had in mind. So without further ado, here’s your not-totally-informed, but-leaking-with-passion guide to seven must-watch Olympic events. Let the games begin.
To find out when these events are playing on your television screen, consult NBC’s handy Olympic televison guide.
by Chris Ryan
What is it? Pretty straightforward. An icy track, a running start, a leap onto a sliding slab of steel, and then you sort of let your need for speed do what it will. Skeleton has a cool name, and the sledders wear cool helmets. It takes place on a toboggan or bobsled track. I guess it’s upside-down luge, or maybe luge is upside-down skeleton. Either way, these speed demons steer with their feet, can reach speeds of 90 mph, and can face enough G’s to make them look like Dan Aykroyd or Chevy Chase in Spies Like Us.
Despite originating in the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous environs of St. Moritz, skeleton is for the children. Wait, no, that’s probably dangerous. Scratch that. Skeleton is for the people. Wikipedia lists the necessary equipment as follows:
• Alpine racing helmet
• Skintight racing suit
• Spiked shoes
• Elbow pads
True skeleton heads are welcome to dress up like your man, Martins Dukurs, but I feel like if you can scrape together some skinny jeans, a henley, some baseball cleats, Horace Grant specs, and a slab of plywood, you’re basically a certified skeleton racer.
Warm-ups for training involve imitating John Cleese in the “Ministry of Silly Walks” Monty Python sketch.
And you’re going to need it. You basically have to have the strength and stamina to push a heavy piece of steel down an icy track for about 50 yards, and then leap onto the thing, and get your stuff together fast enough to navigate this death ride. Despite its long history, skeleton was reintroduced as an Olympic sport after a long absence only in 2002. There’s a men’s and women’s competition. The winner is the racer with the lowest total time over the course of four runs. Why am I talking to you like you’re a skeleton racer? You’re probably not! But you should definitely watch it.
Why Should You Watch? Um. It’s called skeleton, for starters. That’s about as exciting a name for a sport as you can get. I guess it would be more accurate to call it “Stomach Luge, at Pants-Crappingly Fast Speeds With No Steering,” but that doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The thing I like most about skeleton (named for the Norwegian word for sled, though there are apocryphal stories that the sport got its name because the first person who tried it was nothing but a skeleton by the end of their run) is that it looks the most like regular sledding. Now, I really like sledding, but the one thing you always want when you’re sledding is that taste of skin-peeling danger and sound-barrier-shattering speed. Usually, it’s just you, some cheap piece of plastic you bought for the occasion, and a hill that is actually covered in dog crap. Skeleton is just regular sledding, plus danger, minus dog crap, plus speed. Algebra, son.
Now you might be reading this and wondering, Are you just dancing around the fact that this thing is incredibly dangerous and we’re really only watching to see someone scrape their face off? There’s apparently been only one fatality. And there’s something kind of cool about how racers have to work through “crashes.” Check out this compilation of skeleton accidents (probably NSFW language in here).
It’s “safe,” but dangerous. Which is pretty much all you could ask of your prime-time NBC entertainment. Just think of it as an episode of Hannibal.
You should watch it because it’s human beings racing on ice at ridiculous speeds. Why wouldn’t you watch it?
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
This is what skeleton looks like from the perspective of the racer.
Sochi Favorites: Probably the aforementioned Dukurs. This dude is a boss. He just won his fifth straight overall World Cup men’s skeleton championship. People have called him the Usain Bolt of skeleton.
Well it would have been Canadian Jon Montgomery, pictured above. He won gold in Vancouver, but he’s not competing. Instead, I’m going to go with American Katie Uhlaender. I like her hair, she seems like a good hang, and she has a touching story.
I’m also into whoever this is:
by Shea Serrano
What Is It? Basically a thing where humans ski around with guns on their backs and then every so often they stop and shoot those guns at things. White men and women seem to be especially good at this, particularly if they are from Norway, because I guess they don’t have cars or police there.
Why Should You Watch? I am not a fan of the cold, and I am not a fan of skiing, and I am not a fan of guns. But! I am a fan of watching people do things that I cannot do, and since I am lazy and out of shape and uncoordinated I am quite certain that, were I to try it, this particular activity would kill me. I imagine you’re probably the same way. Plus, remember that movie Vertical Limit? Most of that took place in the snow, and that was a fun movie. Oh, and so did the best training montage of all time (in Rocky IV), so.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
I was looking for cool biathlon videos to build the case for watching biathlons. I suppose I was hoping to find some videos of guys doing cool shooting tricks — like maybe a guy shoots a perfect shot and then drops down into the splits to celebrate, and then the announcer would be like, “There’s Radmanovic again doing his bad-boy routine.” Or I was also hoping to find one where, like, everyone was cruising along racing, and then a bear jumped out from the woods and started chasing them and they were trying real hard to get away all panicked, but then one of them was like, “Wait, we all have guns,” and then they all stop and turn around and start shooting at the bear, and the bear is like, “Whoops.” But I didn’t find either of those. Best I could do was a video that was actually titled “Cool Biathlon Video.”
This is a video of a tank biathlon, which is not nearly as intimidating as I was hoping. I don’t know. It’s just that tanks are a lot slower in real life than I was expecting. I think the rule is that if you can outrun it, then you don’t have to be afraid of it. A cheetah biathlon: That’s a winner.
Sochi Favorites: There are 11 separate biathlon events, so it’d seem like pretty much everyone who’s participating is going to win at least one gold medal. That’s not going to be the case, though, because, and I can’t overstate this, Norway crushes at the biathlon. It’s basically the favorite to win everything. Tora Berger is the HNIC (Head Norwegian in Charge, obvs) on the women’s side (she’s predicted to win the 10km pursuit, the 12.5km mass start, and the 15km individual) and Emil Hegle Svendsen is the HNIC for the men’s (12.5km pursuit, 15km mass start and 20km individual). I hope Tora and Emil win gold medals and then are so overcome with joy that they sleep with each other to celebrate and then Tora gets pregnant with a super biathlon baby. And when the doctor is delivering the baby he shouts at Tora to push and Tora is like, “No need,” and then she opens her legs and Biathlon Baby comes skiing out in full biathlon. That’s the Norwegian dream.
My Favorite: I’m rooting for an upset because upsets are always the best. So I’m praying for Martin Fourcade from France and Darya Domracheva from Belarus to sneak into the Norwegian Castle of Doom and steal a gold or two.
Long Track Speedskating Team Pursuit
by Rembert Browne
What Is It? Remember O.J.? And that white Bronco versus the entire LAPD? Awesome. It’s essentially the exact same as that, if it were on the ice, and instead of straightaways on the freeway, they were chasing each other in a loop. Oh, and the reason for the pursuit isn’t a crime. They’re actually just racing for their country. Other than that, it’s O.J.
Why Should You Watch? You’ve got to watch this, because it’s high drama, all the time. In the team pursuit, two teams (three skaters per country) are on opposite sides of the track. And then someone says go, and they start skating laps. And about every 20 seconds, the teams are typically crossing their lap mark (on their respective side of the rink) at the same time. And your team doesn’t win until all three skaters have crossed the finish line.
If you’re still confused, just imagine Luigi Raceway on Mario Kart, had Toad been hit by seven shells and then was suddenly half a lap behind. But then add two more Toads to make it team Toad pursuit. Do you get it yet? Now you do? Great, figured that would help.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
This is one of those sports that’s hard to describe, but is actually pretty easy to grasp, once you’ve watched it. Well, there is one confusing thing when watching it:
This is what you see on TV as the race begins. It looks like they’re right next to each other. But, upon closer review, it’s clear this is nothing more than an Olympic Pic Stitch. In reality, they’re on opposite sides of the rink, preparing to chase one another. They’re not really going in opposite directions. Maybe this was clear to you from the beginning? If so … CONGRATS? For me, it took four hours to figure out. We’re all different and learn at different speeds.
But I digress. Here’s the video of that race, the finals of the 2010 Vancouver Games, USA vs. Canada.
Some thoughts I originally had were:
• What’s the point with having three?
• Seems silly, they always seem to be going to same speed.
• What’s the liability of three?
• What could POSSIBLY happen, right?
And then I saw this race, from the same Games, perhaps the ultimate advertisement for team pursuit:
In case they blocked YouTube and/or miracle bloopers at your workplace, here’s what just happened. My girl Anni Friesinger from Germany falls on the last lap, causing this bag of hilarity:
Because all three have to cross, and she has fallen, it looks as if she’s lost it for her country. She’s distraught.
And she has every reason to be. Just look at this:
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But wait? What is this?
Oh my god oh my god she fell and still crossed first. And this blunder got her team into the finals, a finals in which they won gold. THIS.
This is the best of sports.
Sochi Favorites: On both the men’s and women’s sides, the favorite are the Netherlands. They’ve got everything: hobocops, human fire hydrants, a bulldog that looks like Wilford Brimley, screaming babies in Mozart wigs, and groups of guys in Afros wearing graduation caps. They probably can’t be beaten, even though they’ve come up short in 2006 and 2010.
My Favorite: Since Falling Anni has retired, there’s no real reason not to vote for Team USA. But I’m a little biased, seeing as I bet my life savings that it would win gold in every event. It’s what happens when you make patriotic Olympic bets after all those Super Bowl commercials.
by Sarah Larimer
What Is It? Remember when you were a little kid and you went sledding, and you found that one hill in town that was super steep and also possibly crossed an iced-over creek, and it was the very, very best because you were just out there, living life? Yeah, so that’s sorta like luge, only luge is about a zillion times faster. Essentially, we’re talking about a completely bonkers amusement park ride on ice. Like, one that definitely does not follow state standards, and should have been shut down in the mid-1980s. On. Ice. Luge! It’s great! Let’s all get into it.
Here is a thing I learned about luge from its Sochi event page: “Luge is the French word for sled, and historical discoveries point to the use of sleds as early as AD 800 by Vikings in the Slagen countryside near the Oslo Fjord.” VIKINGS. Rad, right? In these Games, there are singles, doubles, and — for the first time ever! — a team relay, each held on a track with 17 to 20 turns (depending on the event), all of which sounds dope. We should also note that the Sochi course is reportedly safer and slower than in previous years.
Why Should You Watch? Look, these Olympians are obviously crazy talented, but I feel pretty confident in saying that luge is the sport you will watch this month and secretly be all I could maybe do that even though you’re eating Cheetos and the very thought of going outside in winter without like four pairs of socks and a giant puffy coat makes you sad.
That’s because it basically looks like some dude is just lying really still on a sled. I mean, I watch it every four years, and every four years, I think I could maybe do it, and I have never even mastered the ability to be really still! Luge is way harder than it looks, though. And a bit nutters. But also super fun. Anyway, watch luge to convince yourself you can be an Olympian, even if that’s a lie. Everyone needs dreams, guys.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
Hey, look! It’s the Sochi course!
For comparison, here’s the luge at St. Moritz in Switzerland, which is famous and wonderful.
Sochi Favorites: Ugh, here’s where things get kind of boring. I did some investigative reporting on this and it turns out Germany is really, really good at luge. Whatever. Everyone has their thing, I guess. I’m really good at reciting useless hockey facts on cue and also making grilled cheese sandwiches. Germans are apparently really good at rocketing down tunnels of ice. Seriously, though, if you had any doubt, here is the lede from an article that is actually headlined “In Olympic Luge, It’s Germany, and Everyone Else:”
Asked a pair of simple questions about German luge dominance this week, U.S. Olympic slider Chris Mazdzer didn’t hesitate with his answers.
So, how can Felix Loch be beaten at the Olympics?
“He crashes,” Mazdzer said.
And is there a way for Natalie Geisenberger to lose?
“Same exact way,” Mazdzer said. “Or not showing up.”
Not exactly a winning attitude, U.S. Olympic slider Chris Mazdzer, but thank you for your honesty.
So, just focusing on the singles competition, Loch has been on a sled since he was 5 years old and has come to completely dominate the sport, becoming the youngest men’s singles gold medalist in 2010. Look at how happy he was!
Geisenberger took bronze in Vancouver and won her second consecutive women’s luge championship title last month. Wikipedia tells me that “at age six her family moved to the city of Miesbach where Gert Schabbehard of the local Club RRT Miesbach introduced her to the sport at age 10.” So there’s that.
My Favorite: Because I am both a girl and an American, I will point you toward two members of Team USA: Kate Hansen, a 21-year-old first-time Olympian, and 27-year-old Erin Hamlin, competing in her third Games.
Hansen’s Twitter bio includes the following important facts: “I know all of Beyonce’s choreo by heart and I wear spandex for a living.” Also! According to this article, “Her dad got her started as a fun thing to do together when she was 10.” LOL WHAT.
The fourth video that comes up with you search for Kate Hansen on YouTube is a clip of Hansen playing an Usher song on a ukulele. Completely support this. Great work, Kate Hansen. Does Team Germany have someone who plays Usher on the ukulele? YEAH, DIDN’T THINK SO.
As for Hamlin … I’ll just leave this here:
USA! USA! USA!
by Sean Fennessey
What Is It? Like halfpipe, but down a hill decorated with an obstacle course called a terrain park that is covered in rails, jumps, and in Sochi’s case, giant matryoshka “nesting” dolls. The goal is to pull off as many tricks with as much ease and grace as possible while also achieving the highest altitude. It’s like skateboarding on ice. This event is crazy, even by crazy Olympic standards.
Why Should You Watch? Slopestyle is a new event at the Olympics, just one more immersion of the X Games’ popularity into the ever-evolving slate of Winter Games. It features both snowboarders and skiers — personally, the skiing blows my mind, as the skiers use twin-tips and often land backward. Skiing while facing forward is not easy. Ice skating backward at one mile per hour is not easy. Walking backward without ramming into things is not easy. Repeat: These people ski backward.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
Oh my heavens. At last month’s X Games, Olympic hopeful Nick Goepper flew down this mountain backward on skis, executing triple flips to the tune of a 95.00 score. I advise watching this video while listening to this Future song.
Sochi Favorites: After Shaun White pulled out earlier this week, the snowboarding portion of the event has become more of a free-for-all. Canadian Mark McMorris is battling a rib injury. Max Parrot took gold at last year’s X Games, but he’s not a sure thing. But he is capable of doing things like this without looking like he gives a damn about bone structure, gravity, the medical sciences, or man’s inhumanity to man. On the women’s side, Torah Bright and Jamie Anderson will likely battle for gold. They are also freaks of nature.
My Favorite: Since the skiing has my heart, Goepper is my guy. He is 19 years old, his nickname is “Heartthrob,” and he skis backward better than I walk in a dimly lit room.
by Andrew Sharp
What Is It? All right, nobody on the email wanted to take figure skating, so screw it, I GOT FIGURE SKATING. And you already know what figure skating is. It’s the closest thing sports has to American Idol, complete with millions of moms who will get way too into it over the next few weeks.
Why Should You Watch? Here’s the thing about American Idol. Nobody is immune. You can act above it and mock the people who get into it, but if you watch for 30 minutes, you will get hooked. That’s figure skating. Go ahead and try to be cool, get into some edgy bullshit like luge or curling, act like you don’t even care about the pairs free skate.
But then next Wednesday, you’ll be watching the pairs just like everybody else. You’ll rise with each triumph, and crumble with each failure. Same with the women’s free skate a week later. There will be enemies, heroes, there will be pairs where you’re like, Are they sleeping together? There will be inexplicable downgrades for people you love, and you’ll get all pissed off just like everyone else. You are no better than your mom.
The announcers are half the fun, too. Figure skating broadcasts are not actually much different from Best in Show in real life, which sorta sells itself. Finally, 2014 is the first year of team skating in figure skating, which will look a lot like the team competitions in gymnastics. The finals for that are on Sunday this weekend.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome: Everything I know about figure skating I learned from The Cutting Edge, so you should probably watch that at some point this weekend. But there’s also this video of Tara Lipinski dancing to The Big Lebowski theme.
This returned no helpful results, but some further digging led me to Kim Yu-Na of South Korea. She won the gold in Vancouver in 2010, and all indications point to her as the favorite to repeat this year. So yeah, Kim Yu-Na is the LeBron of figure skating. Watch the throne.
My Favorite: I have four answers here after doing 20 minutes of research.
1. The LeBron Googling turned up one pretty creepy photo gallery for 18-year-old Gracie Gold. Creepiness aside, what matters is that I found out about Gracie Gold. This is her first Olympics, and she’s probably America’s best chance to medal in the individual rounds. Her name is GOLD, for god’s sake. She was born for this shit. For more, please consult this USA Today article, “Gracie Gold poised to grab throne as USA ice princess.”
2. Ashley Wagner is the woman who was supposed to be our star this year, but stumbled in the lead-up to Sochi, and then got grandfathered into the Olympics despite getting beaten in the American qualifying stages. This led to all sorts of conspiracy theories in which people said she only got in because of all the brands who’d already tabbed her as a marketing star this Olympics, and while that’s probably true, it’s gotta suck for Wagner to take center stage in the biggest events of her life while everyone whispers that she doesn’t deserve to be there. For this reason alone, you have to root for Wagner to prove the haters wrong.
3. Julia Lipnitskaia is the greatest threat to Yu-Na for the women’s gold. Are you ready for a 15-year-old Russian to become the biggest star in Sochi?
4. Evgeni Plushenko. Evgeni Plushenko! You may remember him, or at least the name. He’s 31 years old, this is his fourth Olympics as a member of the Russians, he’s coming off back surgery last year, and he has no business being here. He was beaten by a teenage skater in the qualifying stages, but then, in a “private performance” he convinced Russian officials to give him the spot as Russia’s representative in men’s free skate, and make him part of the team event. Of course we’re rooting for Plushenko. He’s the Cap Rooney of these games, surrounded by a sea of Willie Beamens. I would give anything for him to skate to “Use Me Up” by Bill Withers. Either way, I’m definitely #TeamPlushenko, and you should be, too.
Go shock the world, Evgeni.
by Rembert Browne
What Is It? This is all you need to know about curling.
It’s a sport you can play while drunk on Cîroc. It’s like cold, human shuffleboard, mixed with Crossfire (I think), Roomba darts, and a Swiffer commercial. There are “rocks” and “stones” and “houses” involved, which are all cool nouns. And, despite vague rules and strategic maneuvers, at the end of the day you’re just trying to get your pieces near the bull’s-eye at the end. I think.
Actually, I don’t really know. This video is much wiser than I.
Why Should You Watch? For one, it’s the chillest sport ever created. It’s like Olympic Netflix. And then beyond that, there is no sport more fun to watch when you only understand a third of the rules. I’ve been watching curling for several Olympics now, and still don’t really understand it. Sometimes the team I’m rooting for does something, and it seems good, and I cheer, and then somehow they don’t get any points. Or, somehow, they immediately lose. In curling, nothing is what it seems. And that’s fine. Because who doesn’t like a challenge? Whatever you do, don’t look up the rules for curling. Try to figure it out. Spend time attempting to figure out the scoring system. It’s fun and it’ll only take you six Olympics to master.
YouTube Evidence of Awesome
There are other, more serious curling clips, besides the Diddy one. Like this:
Laugh out loud. It’s easy to make fun of curling, but in reality it’s an amazingly high-skilled, strategic sport. Look at my guy Glenn Howard make the best shot of his career.
You see what he did there? Even without knowing the rules, I understand why it’s a good thing that his one red stone knocked out two of the other team’s yellow stones out of the center, leaving his red stone alone in the center. I can comprehend that as (1) very difficult, and (2) very good. That’s why
they I call him Glenn Howard Tha Gawd.
Sochi Favorites: Canada. The men’s team is looking to three-peat, while the favored, 2010 silver-medalist women’s team is hoping to stop Sweden from a three-peat of its own.
My Favorites: You heard it here first: Great Britain with the men’s and women’s curling sweep. My source on the inside tells me they’ve got what it takes. My other source even more inside the inside tells me that Drake OVO curling uniforms actually will do more to hurt than help the Canadian team.
Be on the lookout for the upset of the Olympics. It’s going to be big.