Though curling has grown beyond a cult following into one of the more “prominent obscure” events at the Winter Games, many may not know that it was reintroduced as a medal sport only recently – in 1998 in Nagano, Japan – after a 64-year hiatus. Just 16 years later, it’s one of the more anticipated events of the Winter Games, depending on who you talk to (but really…it’s highly anticipated).
It can be hard to keep up every two years as both the Summer and Winter Olympics continue to embrace new disciplines and new audiences. For this year’s Winter Olympics, there are 12 new events to introduce you to in the three disciplines of skiing, snowboarding and ice skating.
(Videos courtesy of the International Olympic Committee)
Women’s Ski Jumping
The addition of women’s ski jumping – which is a no-brainer in my opinion – has been heralded in commentary and advertising. Ski jumping has been a mainstay at the Winter Olympics since the very first Games in 1924, generally the province of the alpine countries, like Austria and Switzerland, and the Scandinavians. But women were not allowed to compete. Women’s ski jumping debuted at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championships, and though the IOC rejected initial bids for women to compete for medals at the Olympics on the grounds it was not widespread enough and lacked a deep competitor pool, it was finally authorized as a medal sport for the Sochi Games in 2011. Advertisers have piggybacked off the addition of the women’s event (here’s Visa’s cool commercial juxtaposing the ski jump with audio of Amelia Earhart).
Team USA’s best shot at a gold medal is 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson of Salt Lake City, though she’s just five months out from a serious right knee injury in which she tore her ACL, MCL and cartilage. Hendrickson is the reigning World Champion, however, and has the ability to bring home the gold if her knee holds up. She’s joined on Team USA by Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van. The strongest international threat to Hendrickson is 17-year-old Sara Takanashi of Japan, who won silver at the 2013 World Championships.
Here’s some commentary on why women’s ski jumping is late to the game, or why it shouldn’t have been.
Figure Skating Team
The actual on-ice execution is the same, but now individual and pairs skaters’ scores are aggregated for a team competition event, making the air around the discipline much more intense than ever. The team event includes selected competitors from each country in men’s, women’s and pairs’ figure skating and ice dancing. This adds a whole new competitive dynamic to one of the signature events at the Winter Olympics, much in the way Gymnastics encompasses both individual and team intrigue for the Summer Games.
Slopestyle – Snowboarding and Skiing (Men’s and Women’s)
This exhilarating snowboard/ski discipline combines speed and style elements as competitors navigate a downhill course with multiple jumps, attempting to land the most difficult moves in the smoothest fashion. Slopestyle has been a popular event at the Winter X Games, and was added for both skiing and snowboarding for the Sochi Games.
While Shaun White was forced to withdraw from the event in Sochi after hurting his wrist on the course, he’s a top competitor in the discipline, evidenced here by his Winter X Games Triumph in 2012.
Slopestyle Snowboarding – Shaun White
Ski Halfpipe (Men’s and Women’s)
If you’ve paid any attention to “extreme” sports since we were kids in the 1990s, whether you went to a skate park or played Tony Hawk’s video games, you know what a halfpipe is. Halfpipe has been a snowboarding medal event at the Winter Olympics since 2XXX, and Team USA has dominated, largely thanks to Shaun White’s two-straight gold medals in 2006 and 2010. The halfpipe will now host athletes on skis, and as is the case with many of the style sports, Team USA is a serious threat to medal on February 18.
Snowboard Parallel Slalom (Men’s and Women’s)
Akin to the giant slalom, the parallel special slalom features head-to-head snowboard racing through a course of flags that are placed closer together than the giant, forcing snowboarders to cut in and out with agility at high speeds. The qualifying rounds are timed, with a knockout stage of head-to-head races. This will make for an entertaining watch in the second week of the Games for those who enjoy fast-pace sports.
Biathlon Mixed Relay
If you’re unfamiliar with biathlon, it’s simply skiing and shooting – a Russian hunter’s dream. There are a number of disciplines of biathlon, including sprint and pursuit, but the newest discipline added to the Games is a mixed relay. In it, two men and women compete for each country, with women skiing 6 km each leg and men skiing 7.5 km, with shooting segments included. According to the International Biathlon Union, the two women will ski first, followed by the men, and each participant must tap the other in after their leg. Shooting segments occur at 2 km and 4 km, and there are penalties for shots missed.
Luge Team Relay
The luge is one of the crazier sports, in my opinion, and the addition of the luge team relay just makes it that much crazier. This is a mixed event, with a female and male individual luge running before a men’s double luge. The previous sledder will touch a pad at the end of their run to open the gate for the next sled to emerge. Times will be compiled, and the fastest aggregate time wins. Team USA should contend for a medal here, though Germany is favored.