Winter Olympics: big thrills and big air
The Winter Olympics are waning. Competition officially ends Feb. 25. Sigh. It's been a good (sleigh) ride.
Let's start with curling, which as far as I can decipher has nothing to do with anything curly, especially hair. It involves large round granite disks — called stones — that slide across the ice toward a target. It's sort of a cross between bowling and shuffleboard, but with brooms and on ice.
I've watched some curling matches (are they called matches?) and still don't understand the intricacies of the game. I have been intrigued and drawn in by the propensity of players to yell unique — and dare I say odd — phrases during the course of the "slideshow." I'm not sure if they are shouting at each other, their opponents or the stones. Either way, their outcries are entertaining not to mention loud.
A sport with a name like skeleton has to be dangerous. And it is. Skeleton racing involves plummeting headfirst down a steep and treacherous ribbon of polished ice on a tiny sled at speeds over 80 miles per hour. Racers do wear cool-looking helmets, so there's some amount of comfort in that.
Equally thrilling, the luge is like the skeleton except backward. Riders hurl themselves down a slippery ice track, feet first and face up, one or two persons to a sled. The two-person model requires one racer to lie atop the other in a decidedly awkward pileup of muscles and spandex. Awkwardness aside, it still looks dangerous. I think I'd take a pass — better make that a double pass for doubles luge (which is only available for men at this point anyway).
Bobsleighing (the official Olympic term) has one, two and four-person events. The one-person race is known as the monobob, which, like curling, has nothing to do with hair.
Bobsledders ride down a winding, narrow and icy track in brightly colored go-karts powered by gravity on steroids (the sleds — not athletes). The ride looks to be kidney jarring in an extreme way. But hey, if the outcome is a gold medal maybe a little trauma to your internal organs is the price you pay.
New this year, big air is exactly as its name implies. Athletes fly down a ski ramp that curls at the end and shoots snowboarders into the sky to heights formerly known only to people wearing parachutes. Is big air dangerous? Do snowboarders fly?
The Winter Olympics hosts a total of 15 sports and is basically a junior version of the Summer Games, which boast an impressive 42. This is further compounded by the fact that just one summer category, called "athletics" is comprised of 47 different track and field events and could practically qualify as an Olympics on its own.
To increase the fairness quotient, especially for those of us suffering living in colder climates, I propose adding new Winter Olympic sports, with events potentially even more dangerous and exhilarating than skeleton or big air.
Notoriously perilous and known for its edge-of-your-seat hysteria, ice fishing is a prevalent reality for many cold-climate folks. Ice fisher-people have actually been angling for years to get their chance at Olympic gold. If this occurs, fisher-athletes would be required to test clean for various drugs and steroids. Thankfully, beer would not be on the list of banned substances.
Other sports that might be medal-worthy include passing a snowplow on black ice during a snowstorm at rush hour; pushing a full shopping cart through 4 inches of newly fallen snow across the official Olympic parking lot; snow shoveling the front steps with a non-motorized metal shovel while wearing choppers; and, finally, the most obvious: Zamboni speed driving.
The Winter Olympics are great as is, but they could be even better with increased competitive options. And more medals — duh. I'm sure we can come up with even more super-extreme sporty ideas. We've got four years to think about it.
Cloquet resident Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.