Winter Olympics are a thrilling adventure
Every four years, I turn into a winter sports fanatic.
I can’t figure out why. I’m not even a little athletic and, although I spent most of my life in the Northeast, I’m not that person who rejoices when the first snow arrives. I’m more likely to be the one cursing under my breath as I brush snow off the car roof while dreading the effect winter weather has on other people’s ability to drive.
But every Winter Olympics, without fail, I’m parked in front of the TV, getting way too invested in the athletic achievements of people whose names I didn’t even know a few hours earlier and probably won’t remember the following day. Snowboarding, alpine skiing, bobsled, speed skating, I love them all. (Sorry, biathletes. I just can’t seem to muster a lot of enthusiasm for your sport).
This is an exclusively Winter Olympics phenomenon for me. I enjoy the summer games too, but it’s just not as thrilling. I know what running, jumping and swimming are like. I’m not going to ever do any of those things — and definitely not at anything remotely close to a competitive level — but I know how the basic mechanics work. But take some of those same root skills and add ice and boom! I’m fascinated.
My favorite sport in the Winter Olympics is, without a doubt, skeleton.
For the uninitiated, skeleton is basically luge, but instead of lying on their backs and riding a sled down an icy track feet first, skeleton sliders lie on their stomachs, keep their arms glued to their sides and head down the track face first. And all this happens at speeds of up to 80 mph, on a sled with no brakes or steering system. Sliders rely on subtle, often imperceptible, adjustments of their bodies to maintain control of a sled that places their chins just inches off the surface of the ice.
With so little room for error, it’s amazing to me that anyone ever makes it to the finish line, although the majority of sliders do. And when
they don’t, oh boy are the consequences dramatic and terrifying. Even the name of the sport is intimidating. If all of that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I’m not sure what will.
It takes a different breed to zip up one of those unforgiving body suits and do a running bellyflop onto a tiny sled. I was bred for couch surfing in a baggy T-shirt that hides a multitude of culinary sins. But, as long as sliders are lining up to barrel down that track, I’ll be watching.
Like Andrea, I suffer a similar Olympics-related illness, though my cyclical obsession is always with figure skating.
Whether it’s singles, pairs, men’s, women’s, free skate or ice dancing, I’m rendered dumbfounded every time I watch any figure skating event.
I’ve always held a quiet love of and appreciation for figure skating ever since I was young. There’s a vague recollection in my brain of watching the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and marveling at the men and women performing beautifully choreographed routines on ice. There are firmer memories of being fascinated with Evan Lysacek during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The things these men and women are able to achieve while slicing through ice that’s only an inch thick on shoes with literal blades on them (what!) is impressive and not only a little bit terrifying.
Never mind performing tricks and flips and spins so fast they make me dizzy watching—just keeping upright on ice would seem difficult enough. I once went ice skating in high school, and I considered it a victory that I only fell flat on my butt once.
Figure skating in itself is a physics problem in real life. In order to perform any of the specialty tricks they do in competition, skaters must achieve both a proper speed and a proper height in order to perfectly land a lutz, toe loop or axel. In order to perform the jumps and land without falling, a certain velocity and rotation must be achieved simultaneously, or else they will fail and potentially hurt themselves.
This year Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition. Before that, Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner were the only other two American women to complete the jump in competition, with Harding’s historic jump taking place in the 1991 Skate America competition and Meissner’s at the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
No American man has yet to complete a triple axel in competition.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know the difference between an axel and a lutz upon watching them, but just watching these athletes spin like a whirling dervish on ice is enough to keep me watching every four years. I’ll be holding my breath every time they jump, too.