Trietley: Oddities in the Winter Olympics

By Greg Trietley

The Olympics allow the American viewer to enjoy some rarely appreciated sports. Ski jumping,… The Olympics allow the American viewer to enjoy some rarely appreciated sports. Ski jumping, skeleton and alpine skiing go from weekend fillers to primetime events, with casual fans around the world pretending to know why that triple lutz had a dreadful hammer toe.

But perhaps the best of these overlooked sports is biathlon. Unlike the Summer Olympics’ modern biathlon, the winter version contains neither running nor swimming. No, the Winter Olympics biathlon mixes cross-country skiing with rifle shooting.

The biathlon might be the greatest combination of activities since chess-boxing or trampoline-basketball. It’s the wintertime equivalent of merging marathon running and archery — which sounds so awesome that someone created that, too.

Skiers stop at stations to take their shots before continuing on the course. Norway invented the sport 150 years ago as a military exercise. Forget guerrilla warfare: If you see a bunch of rifle-toting, spandex-wearing men traversing the tundra, you run.

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Male biathletes competing in the individual competition cover 20 kilometers (12 miles) in less than 50 minutes, shooting at targets as small as two inches in diameter from 160 feet away. Judges tack on an extra 150 meters to their races for each target they miss.

But as fun as it is, the biathlon isn’t the only sport that the Winter Olympics bestows upon us. Here are some others:

Curling

Biathlon is skiing plus shooting, but curling is shuffleboard — on ice. Ice makes everything better, from bumps on the head (possibly from biathlon) to too-warm lemonade. It’s the best explanation I have for why curling is an Olympic sport but shuffleboard isn’t.

Curling is the awkward cousin, the kid that’s made fun of because he’s a little chubby and falls over for no reason. In an Olympic Village packed with jacked 20-year-olds, a middle-aged curler sticks out like a sore thumb.

But the sport — sure, I’ll call it a sport — plays out like a good, unthawed baseball game. Who doesn’t love placing high guards in the 10th end? With such nuances, I’m thankful teams get timeouts to talk it out.

The best part of curling, though, is the yelling. Curling gives everyone a microphone. Everyone. Viewers can always overhear “Hurry! Hurry hard!” and “Yup! Yup! Whoa! Oh yah!” along with foreign equivalents.

Unfortunately, America hasn’t done well in curling this Olympiad. Curler John Shuster failed to convert four different game-winning shots, and the United States started 0-4. Die-hards disavowed their allegiance, even slandering Shuster’s Wikipedia page with things like “[Shuster] currently works as a quality control specialist for Toyota” and “Shuster said he draws inspiration from Bill Buckner, Brad Lidge, Scott Norwood and the city of Cleveland.”

Women’s Hockey

Women’s hockey is for the hockey fans that couldn’t live on just three men’s games per day.

It’s hockey minus hockey. Body checking is not allowed, and there is no fighting. You watch as one player wants to wallop another as they head into the corner but has to pull up. Take this as a warning, NHL: If you ever take fighting out of the game, eventually you’re going to have chaos.

Chaos in women’s hockey takes the form of “North America crushes everyone.” The Canadians beat Slovakia 18-0, Switzerland 10-1 and Sweden 13-1. The United States seems to pass as hard as the other nations shoot.

The International Olympic Committee dropped softball from the Summer Olympics because of uneven play, and that might sound like a good idea for women’s hockey, too. Announcers, though, will remind you how much improvement the other nations have shown.

It’s a Catch-22. Nations will only fund women’s ice hockey if it’s an Olympic sport, but if it’s an Olympic sport, Canada will destroy them in competition. Oh well, it’s fun to watch.

Speedskating

Speedskating headlines the Olympics, and the skaters receive a lot of publicity. Apollo Anton Ohno rivals skier Lindsey Vonn as far as Olympic stardom goes.

The sport looms even larger in the Netherlands based on Sven Kramer’s ego after he won gold. A reporter asked him to state his name so the recording wouldn’t later be misidentified and so his name would be pronounced properly.

Kramer’s response: “Are you stupid? Hell no. I’m not going to do that.” Okay, Sven.

Skijoring, Bandy and Glima

The Olympics had all of these events as demonstration sports at one time or another, but none continue to this day.

Skijoring merges sled dog racing with cross-country skiing. Replace the sled with skis and you have the general idea.

Bandy combines hockey and soccer. The sport has a soccer-sized ice surface, features 11 players per side and even has corner strokes.

Glima, meanwhile, is Icelandic folk wrestling. “Glima” means “struggle,” and the Icelanders call it that because the wrestling is done standing up. There really is no way to explain it.

The only way to understand it is to watch it. If we’re lucky, maybe someday glima, bandy and skijoring, like curling and the biathlon, will show up in the Olympics — and on our televisions.