My Top 10 Winter Olympic Events

This month, the twenty-third Winter Olympic Games are behind held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Whenever the Olympics come around, it’s always exciting, and just like most of the world, I tune in. I tend to see more of the Summer Olympics because I’m home most of the summer, but I tune into the Winter Olympics when I can to cheer on the U.S. team and other notable athletes. I figured that since it’s that time of year, why not devote the monthly Top 10 list to Winter Olympics XXIII!

Let’s hope this list goes for the Gold!

 

#10 – Skeleton

As I compiled this list, I was surprised by how much fewer events there are at the Winter Olympics than the Summer Olympics—not only in overall number, but in subsets of events (men’s vs. women’s, different distances, etc.). I didn’t expect this event to make the list because it terrifies me more than any other. I like bobsledding—spoiler alert! You’ll see that later on the list—but doing it individually on a sled that you don’t sit in but ride on your stomach head first, well, that’s just bonkers. Lots of respect for the Olympians willing to do this at high speeds.

 

#9 – Speed Skating

I’m not very good at ice skating. Well, let me clarify that I haven’t ice skated in years, and it really wasn’t the skating that was the issue; it was stopping. So I’m not very good at stopping. Or slowing down. Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by speed skating. They skate fast around the ice track! I love the way speed-skaters swing their arms back and forth on the straightaways to keep their balance. Around turns, they keep their inner arms in place on their backs to help navigate the turns. It’s great physics, and that’s going to be a recurring theme on this list. If there’s good physics in the event, then it probably makes the list.

 

#8 – Slalom Skiing

I remember a skiing video game for my Atari when I was younger, and I always enjoyed doing the slalom events. Now, I have a natural aversion to skiing, mainly because I fear one leg going one way while the other goes the other, so I’ll keep it to the video games and the athletes. In researching for this list, I learned that once, the poles the skiers had to pass between were much more rigid, thus making them have to clearly pass their entire bodies between the pairs of poles of the course. In the early 1980s, when I was young, the poles were replaced by lighter ones with a hinge at the base. Thus, the skiers only have to navigate their skis and feet through the gates, and that’s why we see them often knocking the poles aside with their bodies.

 

#7 – Snowboard Cross

This is the newest event on this list, added to the Winter Olympics in 2006. I think it’s cool that the Olympics have modernized, adopting the snowboarding events, some of which are crossbreeds of skiing, surfing, and skateboarding. Though I’m impressed with some of the stunts that can happen on a snowboarding half-pipe, I don’t understand the scoring. Boardercross, as this event is also called, is a race, and that alone makes it more exciting. The courses have turns, jumps, steep and flat sections, and sometimes the racers collide with each other. Now that’s wintery fun!

 

#6 – Luge

I already listed Skeleton earlier in the list, and this is the slightly less scary (to me) version of it. Instead of being face down and head first, the rider(s) is/are face up and feet first. Yes, there are both single-person and double-person luge events. The sled they ride is super small and low, so it boggles my mind how two people can fit on one of them. But still, the event is really cool, and I bet it’s making you wonder when bobsledding will appear on this list.

 

#5 – Ski Jumping

Told you that there’d be some good physics-related events coming up! I love assigning projectile motion problems to my AP Physics classes, and there’s always a ski jump problem or four. As I said earlier, I have an aversion to skiing, and the impact after the jump frightens me even more, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the talent they have. At the end of last school year, my AP Physics class entered a science department bulletin board contest, and my students went with a Winter Olympics theme, with the ski jump and the rest of the events on the list as five out the six they displayed and explained. Did you know that the landing zone is purposely on a hill to reduce the upward force during the impact with the ground?

 

#4 – Figure Skating

My ex-wife is a big figure skating fan, and whenever the Winter Olympics came on, she’d watch. In that time, I saw many great performances, and some unexpected upsets based on the big names predicted to win. I saw both Tara Lipinski (1998) and Sarah Hughes (2002) win Gold over Michelle Kwan (silver, then bronze), and even before that, Oksana Baiul win Gold over Nancy Kerrigan’s silver in 1994. But beyond that, there’s a great physics lesson in conservation of angular momentum here, which my students displayed via a flipbook. As a figure skater spins, they decrease their moment of inertia when they bring their arms in, and that causes their rotational speed to increase!

 

#3 – Bobsledding

Here it is. Did you think I was going to make it #1? That would have been far too obvious. Bobsledding has always been an event I’d love to try. Yes, the sled hits high speeds and almost goes completely on its side on some of the banked curves, so yes, there’s danger, but since it’s sitting down inside the sled with three other people, I don’t have the same trepidation I’d get from either luge or skeleton. And let’s face it, Cool Runnings, the slightly fictionalized account of the Jamaican national bobsleigh team is a fun movie.

 

#2 – Ice Hockey

I was nine years old during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid when the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team pulled off the “Miracle on Ice” and beat the Soviet Union team in the penultimate game of the round-robin medal round. They still had to beat Finland to ultimately win the Gold Medal. Making this even more memorable for me growing up was the fact that Mike Eruzione, the captain of the team and the scorer of the winning goal, lived in my hometown! My elementary school music teacher wrote a song about how he scored the winning goal. Hockey has always been one of my favorite sports, second only to baseball, so it’s fitting that it’s #2 on the list.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE WINTER OLYMPIC EVENT…

#1 – CURLING

I didn’t know what curling was until my freshman (or maybe sophomore) year of college. In fact, a handful of my friends didn’t know what it was until one other friend showed us a VHS tape of this uniquely awesome sport. If you don’t know what it is, imagine shuffleboard trying to get your disk in the center of the target, but instead of it being a disk, it’s a big stone with a handle. And instead of sliding it on a board, you’re sliding it on ice! And to keep it going or alter its direction or slow it down, two of your teammates sweep the ice with brooms! If you haven’t seen this sport, make sure you catch it…if you can. In the six times that curling has been an Olympic event (in 1924 and from 1998 on), the United States has only medaled once (bronze, 2006). Maybe this will be the year we can dethrone three-time gold medalist Canada!

 

So does this list get a medal? And how many will the United States team get this winter? Go USA!

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