During February and March we will witness the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics taking place in Sochi, Russia; a first for such a giant nation. With 98 events taking place across 15 different sport disciplines at the Olympics then a further 70 across six disciplines at the Paralympics, there’ll be plenty to keep us glued to our screens.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the events taking place in Sochi this year that you could try for yourself:
You could be forgiven for likening Luge to extreme sledging. Sounds like fun? Well there’s a bit more skill involved than you need for sledging as you’ll be lying feet first, face up on a lightweight sled, steering it with your calf muscles or shoulder blades at speeds up to 87mph. It forms one of three Olympic sliding sports, alongside Bobsled and Skeleton. Scoring is basically down to speed – whoever reaches the bottom of the hill first and still on their luge wins. Timing is incredibly precise, to the thousandth of a second. Luge has been around over 100 years and has been an Olympic sport since 1964. You can have a go for yourself without straying too far from home at many top European resorts such as Lillehammer, La Plagne and Oberhof but take care and plenty of instruction; it’s not a sport for the faint hearted!
Originating in Norway over two hundred years ago, ski jumping is a sport with significant history. It’s not just about jumping as far as you can, you also get marks for technique so it’s rare to get a world record for distance at a top event such as the Olympics. Using specially designed skis that are wider and longer than your average downhill skis, you fly down a steep slope then take off on the apex, with the aim of landing safely on the run-off slope on your feet without touching the snow with any other part of your body first. Slopes are rated usually K90 or K120, which means the ‘par’ jump is 90m or 120m with points deducted or added depending on how far behind or in front of this line you land. A further 60 points are available for technique, often referred to as ‘style points’. Women will compete for the first time this year at the Olympics, despite men having competed since 1924. You’ll find plenty of ski jumps across Europe, USA, Canada and in Asia, with 14 in Germany alone – they’re clearly a fearless bunch.
The UK are one of the few countries that refer to ’ice hockey’ as they do, because we also like a bit of hockey on a green field. In the US and Canada, it’s simple ‘hockey’ as they tend not to play the school field variety. It’s got a 140 year history, originating in Canada and joining the Olympic ranks in 1920 for men, before being followed a not so swift 78 years later with the women’s game. Scoring is a basic system we’re familiar with from the likes of football or hockey – simply score more goals than the other team by putting the puck in the back of the net. Let’s be realistic and suggest that not many teams have a hope of beating the top two once again this year – the USA and Canada have dominated the top of the medal tables since its inception in 1920, only being beaten to the gold by another nation just 5 times in almost a century. Team GB did it in 1936 – that’s a good pub quiz fact you might need over these next few weeks. If you want to have a go yourself, you won’t need to go far as there are 30 venues spread across the UK
Curling originated in medieval Scotland, first being recorded in 1541! Making its Olympic debut in Torino in 2006, wheelchair curling is a relative newcomer to the Paralympics and is played with the same rocks as regular curling but with no sweeping. Mixed teams comprise people who have a physical impairment in the lower half of their body such as spinal-cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or double-leg amputation. The sport is growing in popularity and is now played in 24 nations. Canada seem to have dominated this one too as they’ve taken the Gold at both Olympic Games where wheelchair curling has been played, but with more teams taking part this year, 10 in Sochi, the competition may be wide open for a new champion. Points are scored by stones landing the closest to the button at each end, a target mark on the ice. Although there are plenty of ice rinks around the UK, there aren’t many curling rinks as they’re specially designed for the sport and cannot be used for ice skating. Although there are a handful of rinks in England, Ireland and Wales where curling is played, curling is predominantly a Scottish affair with 22 venues spread across the country where you can give it a try.