A games of ice and ire

 
 

The 2014 Winter Olympic games are scheduled to take place from February 7th to the 23rd, in Sochi, Russia. These games are without a doubt the most talked about winter games in recent memory. Despite all the negative press that the Winter Olympics are receiving, the games will be going ahead as planned, with some specific sports more likely to catch the public’s eye.

Luge

Luge was introduced into the games in 1964. It is a small one or two person sled in which one sleds supine (face up) and feet-first. Steering is done by flexing the sled’s runners with the calf of each leg or exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat.

It is one of the most dangerous sports in the Olympics and the athletes who race down the icy, high-banked track can travel at up to 140km/h. Lugers compete against a timer and are timed to a thousandth of a second, making luge one of the most precisely timed sports in the world.

German athletes dominate the competition, winning 70 medals across 39 events since its inception. At the 2010 games, Felix Loch of Germany made history as the youngest gold medalist in Olympic luge history. In the four years since, Loch has matured and grown as a competitor and it’s scary to think what he could be capable of at these games.

Loch is one of Germany’s strongest contenders for a medal and you should expect to hear his name a lot over the coming weeks.

 

Speed Skating

Speed skating has been featured as a sport in the Winter Olympics since the first winter games in 1924, while the women’s events were added to the Olympic program for the first time in 1960.  It is essentially a competitive form of ice-skating in which the competitors race each other around a track.

Few people in the sport have ever been as dominant as Canadian long track speed skater Christine Nesbitt. The 2010 1,000m gold medalist and three-time World Champion has had an enormously successful career. Why then, is she going into these games billed as an underdog?

Nesbitt’s story is one of the most fascinating aspects of this year’s games. Since winning her gold medal, she has broken an arm after being hit by a car and been diagnosed with coeliac disease. This has led to a series of frustratingly sluggish skates on the international stage and she is currently performing way below her best.

Her competitive fire has never been in question, as Nesbitt showed when winning her gold medal; coming from behind in the last two laps to win. This is what made her practically unbeatable in those years when she dominated the sport. A podium place remains well within her grasp and it will be very interesting to see which Christine Nesbitt turns up.

 

Alpine Skiing

Alpine skiing is one of the most popular sports in the Winter Olympics and gets a large portion of the television coverage. It made its Olympic debut at the 1936 games in Germany with a men and women’s combined event, featuring a downhill and two slalom runs.

Winning in alpine skiing is based on two factors: speed and composure. Particularly when it comes to slalom, skiing downhill at those speeds and remaining on the right course is extremely challenging. Nowadays, alpine skiing at the Winter Olympics consists of five disciplines: downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super G, and combined.

Despite being 36-years-old, skier Bode Miller is one of the USA’s top contenders for a medal. Miller’s career has been filled with extraordinary highs and disappointing lows.

Tipped for multiple medals in 2006, he returned home empty-handed, but he followed this with three medals in the Vancouver games four years later. He may be getting on in age, but expect the always exciting Miller to be up there challenging to repeat his 2010 heroics in what could be his final Olympic games.

 

Snowboarding

Snowboarding was first included in the 1998 Olympics in Japan. It was one of the five new sports to be added to the Winter Olympic program between 1992 and 2002. In 1998, four events, two for men and two for women, were held in two specialties.

The first was the giant slalom, a downhill event similar to the slalom in skiing. The other was the half-pipe, in which competitors perform tricks while going from one side of a semi-circular ditch to the other. As of 2014, there are now ten events, five for men and five for women.

In the men’s half pipe event, Americans have taken six out of a possible seven medals since its introduction. This is largely thanks to double medalists Shaun White and Seth Wescott.

It’s impossible to talk about the Winter Olympics without mentioning Shaun White at some point or another. The two-time gold medalist is the best snowboarder in the world and there is no doubt he is a heavy favorite to bring home his share of medals during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

White holds the record for the highest score in the men’s half pipe at the Winter Olympics. He set it in 2006 and improved on his own record in 2010 to 48.4 points out of a possible 50. It will be interesting to see whether he can further improve this incredible feat at this year’s games.

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