Winter Olympics: Ice Hockey, Cross-Country, and Reflections

The Olympics are over. I’m so glad I was able to go in person although, as you’ll read in a bit, the last couple days were frustrating. On my second to last day at the Olympics I went to both the Men’s Ice Hockey semifinals. On my last day there, I went to the Women’s Mass Start 30k Cross-Country Skiing race. Then I took an overnight train to Rostov-on-Don, a city in Russia about ten hours North of Sochi. After a day or rest, recuperation, and a little Olympics TV watching, I’m flying to Istanbul tonight.

The Men’s Ice Hockey Semis were the events I was most excited about seeing. When I first thought of going to the Olympics, they were the big investment I made in terms of money and emotion. Seeing the best four countries in the world was going to be great! After Russia lost to Finland, I was disappointed both because I felt bad for the host team and country (the Russians took this event so seriously that Putin apparently said that if the men’s hockey team won gold, no one would care what else the Russians won in the Olympics and if they didn’t, no one would care what medals the Russians did win) and I also felt robbed of what would have been an amazing experience to be in the stadium for an important Olympic home game. Nonetheless, I was excited to see Finland play Sweden and VERY excited to cheer on the U.S. against Canada.


It wasn’t until the U.S. lost that I realized how much I had invested emotionally in that game. I felt like crying. It felt like I had come thousands of miles to see this game and then we had lost. Not just lost, but lost 1-0 which means I never got to celebrate; there was never a moment of joy to look back on fondly. The team looked like it was moving in molasses from the first minute of play while the Canadians danced around on the ice. Ugh.

Here’s the thing: the Olympics are about so much more than sports. They are a travel experience of a lifetime for many. I talked to a woman whose son had competed for the U.S. in Snowboard Cross and she had never left the country before! For her and her son, the Olympics are an achievement to be proud of for the rest of their lives. The Olympics are a great way for cultures to mix and people to meet one another. The Olympics are an opportunity for the host nation and people to welcome the world to their shores proudly and show themselves to be a fine people — which the thousands of Russian volunteers and people of that region certainly showed me. The Olympics are also a commercial enterprise for its sponsors and broadcasters. But for sports fans… the Olympics are about sports and for me at that moment, the event that meant the most to me had just gone wrong. Ugh.

Now, a few days later, I’m beginning to get over it. Before I left Olympic park that night, I made sure to put everything aside and take a few minutes to just enjoy being there. I grew up watching the Olympics with my Mom on television and playing my Dad and Brother in an Apple IIe game called the Olympic Decathlon whenever I could wrangle a game out of them. I never really thought about going — I don’t like big masses of people, it’s expensive, etc. — but being there connected me with myself and my own history in a wonderful way. I’m glad I went.

Over time, my memories of the event and my memories altered by my photos of the event will take precedence in my head but I’ll also never forget the impotent feeling of watching the U.S. lose to Canada without ever scoring a goal. At the same time, I’ll never forget walking out of the bar in Manhattan where my boss and I had snuck off to watch U.S. vs. Algeria in the 2008 World Cup and reeling with disbelief at how amazing Landon Donovan’s extra time goal had been or riding in a taxi to Brooklyn with my friend James to a party at his house which he had skipped to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals the year the Penguins won the championship. I guess that’s part of being a sports fan.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. Oh — right, I promised to write about going to see Cross Country Skiing in person. Don’t do it unless you’re with a group and have a big supply of booze, flags, and ideally cowbell. You stand there for fifteen minutes and then some people ski by really fast for about ten seconds. Then you wait again.

Winter Olympics Day 4: Women's Curling Gold Medal Game

And on the fourth day of my Olympic adventure I went to see the Women’s Gold Medal Curling game. I have to preface this by saying that I thought it was a little dull most of the time. No wonder Canadians like it so much? Sorry, sorry, I’m just sore from their comeback against the U.S. in the Women’s Ice Hockey finals later that night. Dull or not, there was a lot to observe and learn from. Here are some of my observations.

Curling is the bar-game of Olympic sports. As such, even the best curlers in the world are pretty average looking when it comes to body type. It’s funny to imagine them living in the Olympic Village among the sex-crazed elite athletes trying to pick each other up constantly. The fans, perhaps mirroring their favorites, also seemed a little… perhaps decrepit? Maybe there are some conventions about staying quiet for the shots but even when there was cheering it was subdued and repetitive in nature.


One thing the curlers are absolutely elite at was communication. I think curling would be a great sport to use as a team-building activity. There’s one person who throws the stone, one who is standing near the target, and two sweepers. The two sweepers follow instructions without comment, primarily from the person standing near the target but also from the person who made the throw. There were a lot of screams of “Haaaaard” or “VERY HARD” and there was a visible difference between those two “settings.”

Curling, like Tennis, has alternating ends (games in tennis) when one team has a clear advantage over the other. In tennis, the player who is serving is expected to win the game. That’s called “holding” serve and losing a service game is called a “break.” In Curling the advantage comes from who goes first and who (therefore the other team) has the final shot. The team that has the final shot has the advantage and should earn at least a point. There were some ends like the sixth that went pretty much exactly the way you’d think it would go. The first team put a stone down, the second team knocked it off, repeat, repeat, repeat, until the last team to go took their final shot. This was exceedingly boring. But some of the ends were much more complicated with five or six stones on the board at once, creating interesting tactical and geometric conundrums.

Even sitting in the first row, I found myself looking at the big screen in the arena when there were multiple stones in play. It was showing the shot, familiar to TV, from directly above the target, looking down. Although you lose all sense that these are three dimensional objects, it really is the perfect view for insight into the tactics of the situation. It occurs to me that almost every sport is better live AND every sport is better on television. People have figured out, especially for sport like curling or speed skating that have very predictable movement, exactly where to put the cameras and how to move them to best convey the game to the viewer. You lose all that live, and while the atmosphere at the arena and the extra stuff you see during breaks or somewhere that would be offscreen is great, you often lose some sense of what is happening in the game itself.

Watching curling was interesting and I’m glad I went but it was the first of the sports I’ve seen here that didn’t make me want to join a league when I got home — Ice Hockey, yes, Speed Skating, yes, Curling? Not really. Today I’ll be watching some more Ice Hockey, this time Men’s. It’s the semi-finals: Sweden vs. Finland at 4:00 OT/7:00 ET and Canada vs. USA at 9:00 OT/Noon ET.


Winter Olympics Day 3: Speed Skating

Day 3 was a beautiful, mostly sunny day in Russia and I want to see the Women’s 5,000 meter speed skating event. 5,000 meters is a little over 3 miles. It’s the longest of the women’s speed skating events and it takes the best in the world a little under seven minutes to complete the race.

The race took place in Adler Arena (hooray Adler! That’s the town I’m staying in) and my first impression was, “whoa! that’s a long rink!” The speed skating track is a skinny, elongated oval 400 meters around. So the race was a little more than 12 laps. Although there are only about a dozen rows back, because the rink is so long, the arena holds 8,000 people and tonight it was pretty much packed. The fans were predominantly Russian but after that, dominated by the Dutch. The Dutch, who are traditionally and currently dominant in speed skating were out in full force and it seemed to me as if the arena had actually been designed for them. There was a clear orange motif (the color of the Dutch) throughout — orange seats, orange boards around the rink, etc.

I had never seen speed skating in person before and I was impressed. The skaters flew around the rink and, given that this is the longest distance race, I can only imagine how much faster they go in the sprints. When the crowd was not roaring for a Russian skater, the arena was so quiet that you could distinctly hear the snicks of the skates digging into the ice as a racer went by.


Speed skating is all about efficiency. The less the racer moves, the faster they are able to go. You’ve probably seen speed skaters tuck one arm behind their backs on TV. In person I noticed that some of the racers had a thin rope tied around their waists so that they could loop their thumb into it behind their backs to take a little strain off that arm. Of course, uninitiated spectators like me think that a racer who is moving more is probably going faster. It’s actually the opposite. The faster they look, the slower they are going. As some of the racers got tired, you could notice their heads bobbing slightly and their arms whipping about a little more. Any wasted movement is counter productive but it’s natural that as you get tired, you lose the ability to control every motion so carefully.

The best of the best skated aerodynamically throughout. It’s amazing how angular the racers look while they are skating — their bodies remain at close to a ninety degree angle the whole time. Even after they finish, and are trying their best to catch their breath, they stay bent over like that. It’s only when they finally stand up straight that you go, “whoa!!” and remember that this sport is powered primarily by the butt. The only real exception to this rule was the winner of the competition, a skater from the Czech Republic named Martina Sablikova who looked far to stick-like to have the power for this sport. I suppose, like Usain Bolt who is “far too tall for a sprinter,” the best are sometimes outliers even from a population of outliers.

I have to give a lot of credit to the speed skating crowd. As I said, the size and shape of the arena made it hard to feel connected to the rest of the fans but when a Russian woman was skating there was a roar of cheering and flag waving that looped around the course just ahead of her like the crowd was doing the wave at Olympic record pace. As the Dutch woman I was sitting next to said, “when you yell at her, she goes faster.” She added that “all Dutch people are like that” but I think it probably applies the same to Russians because it seemed like the Russian skaters took energy from the crowd. The best of the Russian skaters just missed the podium by 11 hundredths of a second. Heartbreaking, especially because the crowd must have known that its beloved Russian Men’s Ice Hockey team was losing to Finland at the same time.

Up next, Curling!

Winter Olympics Day 2: A Women's Ice Hockey Double Header

Today I saw my first Olympic events in person! I went to two women’s ice hockey games: Germany vs. Japan at noon Olympic Time and Russia vs. Finland at 430 OT. Germany beat Japan 3-2 and Finland beat Russia 4-0. But I know you don’t come here for the scores, so let me give you some of my impressions.


Women’s Ice Hockey is not the same as men’s and it took a little while to get used to. The biggest difference in the rules is that body checking is not allowed in the women’s game. You’d think that by disallowing body checking, you’d get a game that looks the same, just without the body checking. Totally untrue! The biggest difference is that by disallowing body checking, you give the hockey players all sorts of freedom unavailable to men. The women today were doing all sorts of things like skating towards the boards to retrieve a puck with an opponent barreling down on them or looking down to gather a bouncing puck while skating through the middle of the ice that are totally impossible in the men’s game because anyone who tries it will be flatter on the ice than a pancake within thirty seconds. It took almost the first whole game for me to stop having the cringing “oh my god, don’t do that, you’re going to get crushed” instinct. Tactically what this means is that puck possession is an even bigger imperative in the women’s game because it’s so much harder to get the puck from an opponent if you can’t hit her.

The other major difference is that the puck looks heavy. This is something you don’t often think in the men’s game because everyone who plays it at a high level is so darn strong that the puck looks weightless. In the men’s game, the puck moves in straight lines whether being passed or shot. In the women’s game, except for one or two of the most impressive players, the puck moves in curves. Shots have arc and passes noticeably dip as they run out of steam.

The atmosphere was great. Shayba arena seats around 5,000 so it’s very intimate. There are only around 20 rows of seats in two tiers surrounding the rink. The Japan vs. Germany game had around 2,000 people attending; the later game, because it involved Russia, was almost full with over 4,000 fans. During the first game, the crowd shouted “Shaybu! Shaybu!’ I asked some fans what it meant and they said it meant “let’s see a goal!” I wondered if it was a little bit of a sarcastic comment shouted when a fan feels the game is lagging. Later on, when the whole crowd was shouting it fifteen seconds into the Russia game, I understood it was just an exhortation. The crowd seemed to be tilting towards rooting for Japan. Not sure if there are socio-political reasons for that or if the Russian crowd just preferred the team that was loosing for most of the game.

I was really thrilled to get to see a Russian team play in person but unfortunately they never really had a shot in that game. Finland’s goalie (just like the men’s team) was rock solid and their top line of forwards, #77 Susana Tapani in particular was head and shoulders better than everyone else on the ice.

Women’s hockey was lots of fun to watch in person and it gave me a few ideas about rule changes. It drives me a little crazy that the rules prohibit women from body checking but I also understand that the men’s game is prohibitively violent, particularly as we understand more and more about the long term effects of brain injuries. So, if you think about it this way, that it’s not because the players are women that the rules are stricter, it’s because the game is more recently established and it’s certainly easier to establish strict rules than to change established ones to be stricter. Here’s my proposal — it seemed from watching that women could make contact with an opponent to shield the puck from her, just not in an effort to take the puck from her. Men are allowed to hit each other as long as the puck is nearby. Why don’t we meet in the middle — outlaw any body check that is not clearly intended to either keep the puck or get the puck?

Speed skating tomorrow!! Thanks for reading,

Winter Olympics: Day 1 Continues

When I awoke it was around 11:00 so I struggled out of my slumber. My missions for the day were to get acquainted with the lay of the land, collect my spectator pass, and hopefully buy some tickets to events on Wed and Thu (I already had tickets for Tue, Fri, and Sat.)

There’s a place to pick up your spectator pass in Adler about a 15 minute walk from my hotel. I walked down a block or two to the boardwalk and turned left. (Quick side-note which I forgot to add to my first post: The woman who helped me in the airport said “that’s so poetic” when I told her the name of the hotel. Mechta u Morya apparently means something like “Dream by the Sea.”)

Somewhere, probably on the internet, I heard someone describe having the Olympics in Sochi as like having them in Atlantic City. Maybe it was even me, but I doubt it. [Editor’s Note: I was the one who said that. Don’t try to steal my thunder, Ezra Fischer!] There’s definitely some truth to that but the boardwalk in Adler is a bit more decaying-industrial than it is decaying-casino. The walk was quite pleasant and before long I was passing nice restaurants with large outdoor patios featuring big screen TVs playing the Olympics. I resisted and walked on into an oddly deserted western-ish mall. By asking a dude dressed head to toe in Canadian gear (note — there seem to be way more Canadians than US citizens here or maybe they are just more obvious,) I found the spot and collected my spectator pass.

Here’s where the misadventure part of my day begins. I asked them where I could buy tickets — in the Adler train station, they replied. Okay — it looked like a 40 minute walk judging from google maps. I’ve been using google maps non-stop while I’ve been away because data is included in this nifty plan I got thanks to a colleague of mine. NOT IN RUSSIA! Ooops — glad I picked up on that *only* a $100 into it.


Lunch was a delicious plate of grilled lamb or pork kebab with potato, onion, two different kind of pickles, and some red sauce. MMMmmm! I ate this outdoors (sorry folks, it’s pretty warm here) and then walked to the train station.

The trains are all free, which is great, but also had the odd effect of making me somewhat careless about which one I got on. So… the fifteen minute trip in one direction became an hour and a half round trip to get back to Adler followed by the necessary fifteen minute trip. Ooops. At least on the way back, two girls who had been working since five in the morning as information guides took pity on me and gave me a small Russian chocolate.

To cut an extraordinarily long story long, I eventually found my way to the ticket office in the Olympic park, bought some tickets, got a thrill out of seeing the Olympic flame, and made it back to my hotel safely. The security around here seems reasonably tight but not in an anxious paramilitary kind of way. Everyone looks like they are happy to be the center of the world for a few weeks and I’ve been able to get by with pointing and grunting and making faces pretty well.

I’m exhausted but excited to see what Day 2 brings tomorrow. I’ll post the events I’m going to be attending in a separate post for your voyeuristic pleasure!

Thanks for following along, it makes me happy to be able to tell you all about this stuff,

A Voyeur's Guide to Winter Olympic Viewing with Dear Sports Fan

What’s the plan? Here’s the plan!

Tuesday, February 18
Women’s Hockey Consolation Rounds at 12 noon Olympic Time (OT,) and 3 a.m. ET and 4:30 OT/7:30 ET. Not sure who the teams are but it’s the bottom of the bracket.

Wednesday, February 19
Ladies (as they say) 5,000 meter speed skating at 5:30 OT/8:30 ET. Adopted Dutch allegience FTW!

Thursday, February 20
Ladies Curling Gold Medal game at 5:30 OT/8:30 ET. Great Britain play Canada in one semi while Sweden play Switzerland in the other.

Friday, February 21
The MOMENT I’ve all been waiting for! Men’s Ice Hockey semifinals at 4:00 OT/7:00 ET and 9:00 OT/12 noon ET. Unless something strange happens, the US will play Canada in one semi. The other side of the bracket has a little more doubt. Russia has a difficult matchup with Finland to get through to play (almost definitely) Sweden.

Saturday, February 22
I finally plan to make it up to the mountain to see the Women’s Mass Start 30k Cross Country Skiing competition at 1:30 OT/4:30 ET.

I’m hoping to take pictures and bring back my impressions to you!

Winter Olympics: Day 1, My Adventure Begins

Hi Everyone,

I’m writing from Sochi!! Well, really I’m in the town of Adler which seems to be much closer and better connected to virtually every transit option than Sochi but if I said Adler, no one would know what I was talking about. Anyway… OLYMPICS!!

I landed in Sochi airport (Adler airport) at a little after 4 am this morning. It was a hour and forty five minute flight from Istanbul which is two hours off from what I will now call Olympic Time which is nine hours ahead of EST. I was prepared and dreading having to spend an entire other day awake but I was pleasantly surprised. When I landed, I trickled through customs. The only heightened security I saw was a surprisingly thorough attempt to rattle me by feigning an issue with the passport scanner for about three minutes to see if I would start exhibiting signs of nervousness. I think it would have worked if I had anything to hide or if I didn’t speak the universal language of hardware problems.

Next I spoke to a very nice woman at the information desk who arranged for a taxi while her colleague slept slumped at the desk. I ran upstairs, withdrew some rubles from an ATM, and then I was off in a cab. I was a little nervous about getting into the cab at 5 a.m. because if there was no one to let me into my hotel, I was going to be stuck outside in the rain in the middle of the night.

My cab driver didn’t speak any English but his GPS doubled as a speech translation machine. And it actually worked really well! The future is here. He translated something and I said back “I’m impressed with the machine.” After reading the translation, he spoke Russian back at it and up popped the English text “that is because it is Russia[n]!” I LOL’d. He topped off the virtuoso performance by getting out of the cab and ringing the hotel doorbell and making sure there was someone to let me in.

There was! In fact, there were two women who blearily checked me in while I apologized repeatedly for waking them up. As I expected, my room was occupied by people leaving today. Unexpectedly, they offered to let me have another room for the morning. Even less expectedly, they said I could keep that room if I wanted it — it was not so nice but only 3/4 of the price of the room I had reserved. Give me the cheapest room you’ve got, I said.

The room is small and the two twin beds must have been premies because they’re tiny. The mini-fridge is unplugged and somewhat discombobulated, there was a slight water running sound in the bathroom, and one of the overhead compact flourescents had a little trouble turning off. Compared to the fear-mongering newspaper stories, that’s five star! It’s really quite fine and I’m happy with it and the price reduction. Oh — there’s also wifi and if the former Soviet Union had just specialized in water pressure, they’d still be around.

I got situated and trailed off to sleep as the sun rose to the beautiful accompaniment of — are those ROOSTERS? Damn.

To be continued…

Winter Olympics: All About Ice Dancing

All About Ice Dancing

Ice dancing has its roots in ballroom dancing. It was a demonstration event in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble and then became an official medal Olympic sport in 1976 in Innsbruck. Historically, ice dancing has taken a back seat to pairs figure skating, but this year, there is a lot of buzz about ice dancing at the Olympics because Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States are favored to win a gold medal, a feat no American ice dancing couple has ever accomplished.

How Does Ice Dancing Work?

In ice dancing, the man and woman dance together to the rhythm of the music. There is an emphasis on dancing while holding each other or at least being very close to each other (no more than two arm-lengths apart). Ice dancing differs from pairs skating in ice dancing’s different rules for lifts and spins and the exclusion of throws and jumps. For example, in ice dancing, the man, while lifting his partner, may not lift his arms above his head. In ice dancing, “half-turns” are permitted, while in pairs skating, multi-revolution jumps are allowed.

There are two segments in ice dancing: the short program and the free program. In the short program, the dancers must dance a required pattern for half of the program and may use their own choreography with specific assigned elements for the other half of the program. The program’s theme or rhythm is given to the dancers, but they may choose their own music. In the free dance, the dancers choose their own music, rhythms, and themes, and create their own choreography. They are given specific elements, such as step sequences, lifts, dance spins, and twizzles. Usually, dancers try more difficult positions in order to gain more points.

Why do People Like Watching Ice Dancing?

People enjoy watching ice dancing because it combines the disciplines of ice skating with dance. There are many types of music, including 1930s standards, Broadway musicals, traditional folk music, classical music, and contemporary pop music. Ice dancing is romantic, with both partners skating close to each other and totally trusting one another. The costumes that the ice dancers wear add to the artistry of their dances. As the dancers athletically and artistically float along the ice, they create a beautiful visual story for the audience to enjoy. If you are or have been a recreational ballroom dancer or ice dancer, as I have, watching the best of the best ice dancers is a thrill. And if you haven’t ever tried dancing or ice dancing, you still will be drawn into the talents of the athletes along with their graceful movements, lovely costumes, wonderful music, and stories they tell.

How Dangerous is Ice Dancing?

Ice dancing is dangerous because of the proximity between the two partners. If the dancers are not careful, it is easy for one person to trip over another person’s skate or get gashed by a sharp blade. Because of the lifts involved, there is also potential for injury.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Ice Dancing?

Since each ice dance team involves a man and a woman, we can give a plus to having men and women participate equally in the event. The content of the ice dance itself usually conforms to traditional gender roles and themes.

What are Some Olympic Ice Dancing Stories?

Ice dancing was developed in the 1930s in Great Britain and many of the competitions were won by British teams. In the 1960s, Eastern European skaters changed the style of ice dancing, demonstrating more speed. In the 1970s, the Soviets developed a theatrical style of ice dancing, incorporating ballet and narrative themes. In Sarajevo in 1984, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, from Great Britain, won gold with perfect 6.0’s in presentation with a theme danced to Ravel’s Bolero. By the 1990’s the majority of ice dancers were dancing theatrically-styled dances rather than ballroom. Since then, ice dancing has shifted between theatrical dancing and ballroom dancing. Since 2000, ice dancers from North America have been more competitive. Tanith Belbin/ Ben Agosto from United States won silver in 2006 Olympics, and Tessa Virtue/ Scott Moir of Canada won gold in 2010 Olympics.

This year, all eyes are on the American team Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who grew up living within 10 minutes of each other and have skated together since they were in elementary school. When you watch them ice dance, you will see how well they know and respect each other and what an amazing, talented, and compatible team they are. Their closest rivals are the Canadian team Virtue and Moir, another exciting pair having skated together for a long time.

Winter Olympics: All About Figure Skating

Today I have the distinct pleasure of hosting my Mom’s debut on the blogosphere. Since my Mom was a figure skater for many years as well as being the early influence on me when it comes to sports and Olympics in particular (I believe our family first bought a TV in 1988 just so we could watch the Olympics,) I asked her to write a post on Figure Skating! She came through with flying colors. Straight 10s from the son judge! Thanks Mom!

All About Figure Skating at the Olympics

Figure skating’s first Olympic contest was held during the 1908 summer Olympics! Then in 1920, figure skating was held in conjunction with the Games of the Olympiad. Since 1924, figure skating has been included in the winter Olympics.

There is a quota for contestants in the Olympics figure skating competition: 30 skaters each in men’s and women’s (called ladies’) individual events, 24 couples in ice dance, and 20 in pairs. There are strict rules regarding entry into the Olympics. Using a point system, the number of places per country is usually determined by the results of the previous year’s World Figure Skating Championships. Which skaters from each country gets to go to the Olympics is the responsibility of each national governing body. Some countries rely on the results of their national competition, while others use criteria such as international competitions. If the host country has not qualified, it automatically gets one entry in each event. Skaters have to have turned 15 years old by July of the previous year to the Olympics and must be a citizen of the country that they are representing.

How Does Figure Skating Work?

In top competitions, skaters perform to music two programs, short and long, which may include jumps, spins, lifts, throw jumps, death spirals, step sequences, and other elements or moves, depending on the discipline and its rules.

The ice skate has a blade with a groove in it, creating two edges, an outside and an inside. In figure skating, the skater skates on one edge of the blade, not on both at the same time (known as a flat edge). Singles and pairs skates have a set of toe picks, or pointy teeth, at the front end of the blade. Ice dancers’ skates have blades that are about an inch shorter in the back and have smaller toe picks in the front.

In singles competitions, men and women perform a combination of jumps, spins, step sequences, spirals and other elements in their programs.

In pairs skating, a team consists of a man and a woman. Each team performs elements such as throw jumps (the man “throws” the woman into a jump), lifts (the man holds the woman above his head in a variety of holds and positions), pair spins (both man and woman spin around a common axis), death spirals (the man pivots on his toe while he holds onto the woman, who circles him on a deep edge almost parallel to the ice), side-by-side jumps, spins in unison, and step sequences.

In ice dancing, the pair again consists of a man and a woman. The focus is on intricate footwork danced to the rhythm of music, usually while the man and woman are in a close hold. The man is not allowed to lift the woman above his shoulders.

In skating competitions, elements are based on their base value (level of difficulty) and the grade of execution (how well the skater executes the element), which combines into a technical score.

Why do People Like Watching Figure Skating?

Figure skating engages people because it combines athleticism with artistry, gymnastics with dance, music with storytelling, fun with drama, technique with creativity. People are amazed at the talent of the skaters and the difficulty of the discipline. They enjoy listening to the music and seeing the beautiful skating movements. People appreciate the dedication of the skaters to their sport. People wish they were the ones skating so magnificently on the ice.

How Dangerous is Figure Skating?

Figure skaters don’t wear helmets and, as a result, there is a risk of head injury resulting from falls from lifts. Some skaters in pairs or ice dancing get slashed by their partners’ skates when they skate too close to each other. Some suffer hip injuries from practicing throws and lifts for so many years. Other figure skaters have foot, knee, and back injuries. Some skaters have been injured when colliding with other skaters while practicing on the ice.

Editor’s note: Notice how my Mom doesn’t even mention the merest hint of kneecapping as an endemic danger.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Figure Skating?

Prize money in figure skating is relatively low compared to other sports. Prizes for men and women in championship competitions are the same as each other. Pairs that win prize money split it evenly.

What are Some Olympic Figure Skating Stories?

In this year’s Olympics in Sochi, team figure skating has been introduced. Each participating team has skaters who represent the four figure skating disciplines: men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pair skating, and ice dancing. This competition in the Sochi Olympics was completed on February 9, 2014. The Russian team won the gold medal, with Canada taking silver, and the United States taking the bronze.

Russia’s 15-year old Julia Lipnitskaia made a splash with the world at Sochi when she jumped and spun into first place in the ladies’ singles short program of the team skating competition. After that, she again skated brilliantly in the ladies’ long program of the team event. Keep your eye on her in the upcoming ladies’ individual skating event as she poses a challenge to 2010 gold-medal winner Kim Yu-na of South Korea.

This was fun! Thanks for reading,
Cookie Levine

Winter Olympics: All About Ski Jumping

All About Ski Jumping

Ah ski jumping. Ski jumping is the most fantastical of the sports that are just extreme versions of what we did in the snow when we were kids. I remember building little ramps at the bottom of our sledding or skiing hills so that I could fly over the bump at full speed and for a second, just a second, feel like I was flying. Ski jumping is just like this except the hill is a looming man-made ramp, the bump is the specially designed bottom part of the ramp that sling-shots the skier into the air, and the second in flight extends to what feels like around ten seconds.

How Does Ski Jumping Work?

Ski jumping involves four separate actions: the descent down the ramp, the launch, the flight, and the landing. I just spent about ten minutes trying to find a site somewhere that has the height of the ramp to no avail. Which seems silly because it’s clearly impressive. It definitely looks like it’s somewhere between 10 and 15 stories tall. Skiers follow two ridged trails for their skis down the ramp and duck down to pick up as much speed as possible. At the bottom, the ramp curves up to launch them into the air. To encourage this inevitable physical feat, the jumpers lean forward towards the jump. This gets them into their flying position as quickly as possible — leaning forward, almost parallel to their over-wide skis, with hose skis in a open V. They hold this position as still and for as long as possible. When pesky gravity seems to be about to catch up to them, they straighten up and land in a position that looks like they are about to kiss someone’s hand in an old-fashioned movie. You know what I mean, right? One knee down, truck straight up.

Each hill has a “K point” which is the minimally acceptable landing spot. For normal hills this is around 95 meters down the hill. On large hills it’s more like 125 meters. Jumpers get 60 points for jumping as far as the K point. For each meter more or less that they jump they are awarded or penalized 1.8 points. (Don’t ask me why it’s not an integer, I didn’t make this stuff up.) There are also five judges looking at style and form. They can award up to 20 additional points and the top and bottom judges scores are thrown out before the middle three scores are added to the distance score.

Why do People Like Watching Ski Jumping?

If there’s a more obvious example of enjoying to watch people do something which it doesn’t seem like people were designed to do than ski jumping, I don’t know what it is. THESE ATHLETES ARE FLYING!! Without an airplane! It’s just so cool.

What are the Different Ski Jumping Events?

Ski jumping has three different events in the Olympics. There are two individual events, the Normal Hill and the Large Hill. The large hill is, um, larger. There’s also a team event where teams of four jumpers compete for the best overall score. The individual events consist of a practice jump and then two jumps that count and the team event consists of eight jumps, two for each team-member.

How Dangerous is Ski Jumping

It’s so dangerous. The jumpers are moving really, really fast down that narrow jump ramp. Although injuries at the launch are thankfully somewhat rare, they are usually pretty catastrophic when they happen. More common are jumps that go “a little” wrong and have the jumper hit the ground wrong. Injuries during the landing are very common and still quite damaging. More on this in the gender section.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Olympic Ski Jumping

2014 is the first Olympics to include women’s Ski Jumping. Of the four events this year, only one is a women’s event. There is a men’s large hill, a men’s normal hill, and a men’s team medal, and only a women’s normal hill one. This is a little hard to believe given the fact that the first recorded women’s ski jump was in 1863, over a 150 years ago! Women ski jumpers had to fight to even get this far. After the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a group of Canadian ski jumpers sued Canada claiming they were being discriminated against. As often seems to happen, they lost the legal battle but won the actual battle and got their event added to this edition of the Olympics.
There does seem to be a real difference in how men and women jump. Women need to start proportionally higher on the normal hill to pick up the speed necessary to hit the K point of the hill. They also seem to be getting injured at a disproportionate rate. Wikipedia has a devastating list of serious injuries to eight of the “top” female ski jumpers just in the year after the IOC accepted them into the Olympics. I’m skeptical because this is just the kind of post-acceptance fact that people who never thought women should be ski jumping (although apparently a common argument was that women would be at risk for having their uteri fall out… pah) would love to use. It also caught my eye though because of the generally higher incidence of torn ACLs that female athletes suffer.

Either way, I’m glad women are able to compete and I hope no one tears their ACL… except maybe the uteri fear mongerers.

What are Some Olympic Ski Jumping Stories?

I got nothing. I’m sitting in a hotel room in the French town of Arles just 50 feet from an ancient roman stadium and hopefully a couple hours from some steak frites. Plus the Olympics have already started. Turn your tv on and watch some!!

Thanks for reading,