Winter Olympics: The Ugly Sister?

Can the Winter Games be described as the undesirable half of the Olympic family? In many ways, the answer is yes. Weird & wacky events that never rate a mention outside the Olympic schedule. Being played on snow or ice rules out the sports from many countries. Or, relegates them to the preserve of the well-to-do. Scratch the surface and there is much to like about the Winter Games.

The most important part of any Olympics is to elevate niche events into prime-time. This certainly happens in both Summer & Winter versions. The difference is that the Summer Olympics have become too dependent on mainstream sports. Golf & Tennis anyone? What a cop out. Two sports that have no place in the Olympic circle. They are well established and have their own annual calendar of major championships. A blatant dash for cash and ratings. Throw in Football (Soccer) and the contempt is clear. FIFA themselves give little credence to it. It is a glorified under-23 event. They'll happily take the money and run too.

Compare the headline offerings from the frigid games: Ice Hockey & Figure Skating. Ice Hockey, like Basketball (and to a lesser extent Baseball), is a mainstream sport. However, it is not properly unified. USA & Canada still have the gall to declare their domestic event the World Championship. A global lineup works at the Olympics. It pits the best athletes against each other - and significantly - the competitors care. Cannot say the same for Tennis, Golf or Football. Ice Hockey is a worthy vehicle for the Winter Games.

Figure Skating. Drill down and it most resembles the dullard Rhythmic Gymnastics. It has huge appeal though. Torvill & Dean saw to that in 1984. Incredibly boring the moment we are informed the last jump has taken place. Talk about anti-climax. The remainder is an invariable artistic flourish of arms and legs. With simulated hugs & kisses. Yuck. Figure Skating is best described as a 16-year old prancing around. Twisted to resemble a nationalistic pursuit/endeavour. Listening to the commentators tweak the line of good taste in admiration. Where jock-time correlates to the judge's score. Plainly weird. In the Olympic tradition of cashing in (or perhaps cashing out) - the team event has been added to this year's lineup.

The big events are the Olympic gravy. The little events are the meat. A cursory glance will reveal which cuts are to be prodded to the side of the plate. The others to be devoured with glee.

Ski Jump. Wow. A terrifying combination of the existential & mundane. A guy (Women's Ski Jump is new this year) skiing down a ramp and jumping. Yeah, it's pretty simple. The excitement is in the effort to produce the extra metre. The athleticism to hold aerodynamic shape through the air. Two different ramps allow the viewer's digestive system to not go into overdrive cramming it in.

Biathlon. Ummm. A seeming nod to infantry invasion during the European Winter. Ski then shoot. Ski then shoot. Would be better served by painting a bear or wolf onto the shooting targets. The parson's nose - has its place but not palatable. Insert toothpicks under eyelids for the mesmerizing new team event.

Snowboard events. Halfpipe is easily the pick. Genuine action, if only too short due to the run-length. The scoring system should be tweaked to allow an aggregate. A bit of a downer seeing a pearler of a run. Then the athlete knowing they don't need to outdo it as they see others crash & burn. Hey, we're Aussie. We need a contrived final to help us feel the thrill.
Slopestyle -  New. Could have been good if we weren't treated to the fascinations of looking at the commentary desk while they mutter irrelevancies on our local medal chances. Show us the damn visuals and deliver the caustic chatter over it.
Cross - Worth watching, though the inevitable comparisons to Steven Bradbury will never fade. Fails to garner much interest due to the sheer randomness of the victor.
Parallel Slalom - Gimmicky. Not long enough to be a true test of skill. Enjoyable nonetheless.

(edit - Ski Slopestyle was amazing. A must watch event for future games)

Curling. I hear you say 'Lawn bowls on ice?' Yes, that's what it is. A terrible concept that somehow comes alive. Can always count on a Scandinavian to be practicing the ancient martial art of screamido. Yelling, or more accurately, constipating at the rock long after it has left their hand. Beats a magic show hands down. The sheer wackiness of post-delivery hijinks. If evidence for paranormal activity is your thing, look no further. 'Hurry hard' takes on a whole new meaning.

Bobsled track. Consistently good fare. The precision used to power the sled and jump in is phenomenal. And that's just the first few seconds. Pity the poor sod who has to park his arse in the air at the back of the sled during the run.
Luge - As flavoursome as the bobsled.
Skeleton - Downright weird. Luging head first. Not a career choice that brings a steady form of remuneration or longevity. Next event to be added will likely be strapping a dog to the athletes. Point deductions if the tail is no longer wagging. Or connected. Or alive.

There it is. A cursory glance at some of the events. The proof is in the pudding. A banquet of hotchpotch events that does more to promote the small end of town. The Olympic ideal.

The Winter Olympics offers more in the strange axis than does the skimpily attired Summer Olympics. She may be less attractive at first, but as your mother told you - It's what is inside that counts.

(Originally published on Sports Report)
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