Thursday, February 23, 2006

Winter Slaw: sporting awesomeness

The Winter Olympics have always been my favorite, ever since I was old enough to really pay attention. Sarajevo was the first time I saw any Winter Games, but they didn't do much for me. Four years later, though, I was hooked. I read every article I could. I watched luge, speedskating, bobsled, alpine skiing, nordic skiing, hockey and figure skating and more from Calgary. I still remember names from back then. _ Bonnie Blair, Georg Hackl, Debi Thomas, Alberto Tomba, Eric Flaim, Harald Czudaj and of course, noted South Park oracle Brian Boitano.

The U.S. had a disappointing showing. Six medals, two gold. I didn't care. My friends and I were "speedskating" in our socks on my house's hardwood floors. I think we even tried luge-ing down the steps.

I was hooked. My obsession was unabated four years later for Albertville. 1994 and 1998 I paid a touch less attention, if only because of my age at the time (17 for Lillehammer, 21 for Nagano). Mind you, I still paid attention. I just didn't park myself in front of the TV for hours at a time.

Salt Lake was similar, but for whatever reason, I'm back to being obsessed this year. Roar Ljoekelsoey. Ireen Wust. Jan Bos. Anja Paerson. Resi Stiegler. Tanja Poutiainen. Antoine Deneriaz. Jordi Font. And the sports _ this is the first year I've really paid a lot of attention to the following sports:
  • Skeleton. It's like luge, but head-first. In other words, the way North American kids sled. The skeletons also slide all over the ice, making a luge look like a Buick.
  • Nordic combined. Competitors ski-jump, and then start a cross-country race, based on how well they jumped. First one to the finish line wins. It's an elegant way to mesh two disciplines. If the race comes down to a sprint to the finish, as it often does, the drama is palpable. And, as in most cross-country races, the skiers all pretty much tumble to the snow, spent, the second they cross the finish line.
  • Biathlon. Cross-country skiing with a rifle. Racers ski a lung-searing kilometer or three, then stop and shoot five targets. Misses are punished with 150-meter penalty loops. The cool thing about biathlon is that a missed shot or two can turn a race upside-down. Also: super-fit Nordic women with pigtails and guns. If that's your thing.
  • Curling. I only watched a little of this in 2002, but apparently, I was missing out. I'm kind of hooked now. I've watched curling pretty much every day of the Olympics. It looks slower than a beer-league softball game, but there's plenty of dramatic moments and Olympic curlers make impossible shots look routine.
  • Snowboarding. Especially snowboard cross. Four people racing down a snowy chute filled with jumps and obstacles. It's filled with awesomeness. I've found a new sport to keep watching after the Olympics.
In the next Winter Slaw: How I came to like short-track speedskating. I wasn't planning to write this. But I just now (on my DVR-ed broadcast of the women's biathlon relay) saw a professional sports journalist on NBC tell me that no one in the United States would have ever heard of the sport if it weren't for the mighty soul patch and bandana of Apolo Anton Ohno. So add one more name to that list of legends (in my own mind): Cathy Turner.

1 comment:

Crunk Raconteur said...

Now, I may not be remembering this correctly, but it seems to me that in 2002, Apolo Anton Ohno (the only famous person to have three names who is not a child star or a famous killer) singlehandedly slew the evildoers with the aid of his powerful soul patch.

Remember, if Apolo shaves, the terrists win!