Olympic events for dummies - Part 1

The Winter Olympics officially start with the opening ceremony early on Saturday (NZ time). What does it all mean? When are our New Zealanders in action?  Reuters and Otago Daily Times sports editor Hayden Meikle offer this guide (part one of two) to some of the events.

Freeskiing

The basics

  • Thirteen events.
  • Athletes in the aerials events, halfpipe, slopestyle and moguls are scored by a panel of judges based on the complexity and skill involved in their tricks. For big air, competitors are also judged by the height and distance of their jumps.

What can we expect?

The usual crop of North American contenders will be confident of picking up medals. China may also get a shot at glory via US-born Eileen Gu, a rare athlete who competes in all three big air, halfpipe and slopestyle events. Gu began representing China internationally several years ago and will be competing for the host country next month.

New Zealand chances

There is a very healthy Kiwi contingent with one very strong medal prospect. Wanaka wonder Nico Porteous is the star man, and the 2018 bronze medallist is in sizzling form. He is joined in the halfpipe by brother Miguel, youngster Gustav Legnavsky, Ben Harrington, Chloe McMillan and Anja Barugh. You wouldn’t count the others out, but all eyes will be on Nico. Ben Barclay, Finn Bilous and Margaux Hackett compete in slopestyle and big air.

What’s new?

Beijing will mark the introduction of freestyle big air events as well as the mixed team freestyle skiing aerials.

When?

February 5 to 14.

How did we get here?

Initially, freestyle skiing was seen more as an entertaining sideshow than a serious sport. After a demonstration at the Calgary Games in 1988, freestyle skiing was formally inducted into the Olympics programme in 1992. New events like ski cross, halfpipe and slopestyle have been added to the competition.

 

Alpine skiing

The basics

  • Alpine skiing refers to disciplines that involve an athlete skiing down a mountain, rather than skiing across fairly flat terrain or performing aerial jumps.
  • Skiers must navigate coloured gates spread across the mountain slope in controlled zigzag motions as fast as possible, reaching speeds of around 150kmh.
  • The sport has five disciplines for men and women: downhill, super G, slalom, giant slalom and alpine combined. In the mixed event, two men and two women form teams.

What can we expect?

US skier Mikaela Shiffrin is one to watch — she has two Olympic gold medals and claimed her 47th World Cup women’s slalom victory this month, breaking the record for most race wins in a single discipline that she had shared with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark.

New Zealand chances

Only one Kiwi competitor in the glamour discipline — but she is very good. Queenstown skier Alice Robinson, who won a world cup in slalom at 17 in 2019, is at her second Olympics. If she gets it right, she is a medal chance.

What’s new?

The mixed men’s/women’s team event has featured at the Winter Olympics only since 2018.

When?

February 6-19.

How did we get here?

Ancient fragments of skis dating back thousands of years have been found in Russia. Alpine skiing became an Olympic sport in 1936 after the first competitive events were held in the second half of the 19th century.

 

Snowboarding

The basics

  • Eleven events.
  • The events range from big air, which has snowboarders sliding down a gigantic slope to land complicated tricks, to slopestyle, which shares similar moves to skateboarding like grinds and spins.
  • Americans have dominated since the sport was included in the Olympics more than two decades ago and have so far won 31 medals, far outpacing their closest rival, Switzerland.

What can we expect?

Aside from the usual spectacle of massive jumps and epic tricks, Beijing will also mark the return of snowboarding prodigy Chloe Kim, who won her first gold at the X Games when she was 14. Kim will be defending her halfpipe gold after stepping away from the slopes for almost two years.

New Zealand chances

This one is very exciting. Wanaka superstar Zoi Sadowski-Synnott shocked everyone when she won bronze four years ago. Now the incredible snowboarder is nearing her peak, and double gold at the X Games recently suggests she could reach the top in Beijing. Tiarn Collins and Cool Wakushima are the other snowboarders in the team

What’s new?

Beijing will mark the introduction of the mixed team snowboard cross, a frenetic sport with teams made up of two athletes — one woman and one man — who take turns on a course that features jumps and tight curves.

When?

February 5-15.

How did we get here?

Snowboarding was first introduced to the Olympics at the Nagano Winter Games in 1998. The sport is now one of the most exciting events in the winter programme, drawing a younger and more fanatic fanbase.

 

Biathlon

The basics

  • A combination of skiing and shooting.
  • Athletes must quickly lower their pulse before shooting.
  • Missed shots can be punished with time penalties or penalty loops.
  • Sprints, long distances and team events.
  • Rifles use .22 calibre Long Rifle (LR) ammunition.

What can we expect?

Open and thrilling competition. In a sport where a missed shot can change everything, margins between victory and defeat can come down to fractions of millimetres on the shooting range.

Expect to see strong challenges from Norway, Sweden, France and Belarus on the women’s side, while the Norwegians, French and Swedes will be in a tough competition among the men.

New Zealand chances

Wanaka 19-year-old Campbell Wright will compete at his first Olympics. He is the youngest athlete on the world cup circuit, and this is likely to be more about a learning experience than aiming for the podium.

What’s new?

There are no major changes to the sport or equipment to be used for the 2022 Games.

When?

February 5-19.

How did we get here?

The sport has its roots in Nordic military training and made its Olympic debut in 1960 for men, with women following in 1992. Switching from lung-bursting skiing to accurate shooting, it requires strength, stamina and nerves of steel.

 

Ski jumping

The basics

  • Athletes hurtle down a daunting looking hill, either ‘‘normal’’ (85m-109m) or ‘‘large’’ (110m-184m) depending on height, then assume as aerodynamic a position as possible to try to soar as far as they can while landing cleanly to gain points for distance and style.

What can we expect?

An absolutely wide open competition — with the battle on both hills potentially thrown even wider by an injury to the great Kamil Stoch that threatens the Pole’s involvement.

New Zealand chances

No competitors.

What’s new?

A mixed team event made up of two men and two women on the normal hill.

When?

February 5-14.

How did we get here?

Ski Jumping has been part of the Olympic programme since the inaugural Games of 1924, although there have been a succession of changes to format, size of the jumps, scoring systems, equipment and technique. It was also popular for decades before that, with claims for a first world record (of less than 10m) being set by Norwegian-Dane Olaf Rye in 1808. The current world record is 253.5m.

 

Bobsleigh

The basics

  • Teams hurtle down a specially designed, ice-covered, twisting track on a mechanically steered and braked sledge.
  • For men there are competitions for two- and four-person teams, while for women there are two-person and — for the first time — one-person (monobob) events.
  • Teams make four runs, each counting towards the total time.

What can we expect?

Germany — led by Francesco Freidrich, considered the greatest bobsledder of all time — will be the men’s team to beat again, although Justin Kripps and Canada remain challengers. In the women’s, Americans Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries will be tough competition.

New Zealand chances

No competitors.

What’s new?

We will see the Olympic debut of the monobob with a single driver in the sleigh. With all competitors having to use the same design and model sled, it is seen as a leveller for competing countries with different budgets.

When?

February 13-20.

How did we get here?

The bobsleigh’s origins go back to the Swiss alpine resort town of St Moritz in the 1880s, when a steering mechanism was put on two attached sleds to make a toboggan. The town recently hosted the final world cup race before the Olympics. One of the most famous of the Winter Olympic sports, the four-man bobsleigh has featured in all but one of the Winter Games since the first in 1924.

 

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