How to sound like an expert in obscure Winter Olympics sports in five minutes or less
Curling? Luge? Biathlon? We don’t blame you if you don’t know much about these sports. But the Winter Olympics are here. And to be the Winter Olympics expert in the break room at work, you’ve got to do your homework. Here’s everything you need to know about some of the Winter Olympics’ lesser-known sports.
What the Olympics calls it: “A team sport played by two teams of four players on a rectangular sheet of ice.”
What we call it: People with brooms watching other people with brooms wave them in front of a stone as it slides down the ice.
The basics: Two teams alternate throwing stones toward a circular target. The object is to get your stones closer to the center than your opponent does. Players move long-handled brushes or brooms back and forth to “sweep” the ice to guide the stones. Need more? Enjoy this educational video from the Canadian Curling Association, folks who know a little bit hurling rocks on ice.
The contenders: It’s all about the Canadians. They’re dominant in this sport (all that time in the cold and ice has its benefits), and they’re expected to take the gold in the men’s, women’s and mixed-doubles categories. By the way, mixed doubles is making its Olympic debut in these Games.
Players to watch: You’re safe picking any Canadian, but beyond that, keep an eye on Sweden’s Niklas Edin. He led the Swedes to the bronze in 2014 in Sochi, adding to his two world championships and six European championship. And then there’s Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud. He guided the Norwegians to a silver medal eight years ago in Vancouver. They may not do that well this time, but Ulsrud and his crew are worth watching for their colorful trousers alone.
Viewing guide: You’ll either have to stay up late or get up early to see a lot of this. Mixed-doubles curling debuts at midnight ET Wednesday on NBCSN. Team USA takes on South Korea in men’s curling at 12:30 a.m. ET on February 13 on NBCSN. There’s lots of women’s curling taking place on Valentine’s Day. You can watch the United States vs. Great Britain (just after midnight ET, NBCSN), Denmark battle Sweden (1:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Great Britain vs. those Olympic Athletes from Russia (5 a.m. ET, USA).
What the Olympics calls it: It “involves plummeting head-first down a steep and treacherous ice track on a tiny sled.”
What we call it: There’s got to be a better way to get your thrills.
The basics: Competitors hop on their sleds and hurtle themselves on top of the ice on a track that’s between 3,900 and 5,200 feet long. They reach speeds as fast as 60 mph. And it helps to be slim; the sport’s international rules say competitors and their sleds together can’t weigh more than 254 pounds for men and 203 pounds for women. The fastest racer over a combined total of four runs wins.
The contenders: Those in the know say Yun Sung-bin of South Korea should be standing atop the medal stand with the gold in the men’s category (that’ll make the hometown crowd in Pyeongchang happy), while Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling is the woman to beat. If she pulls it off, she’ll bring Germany its first gold medal in the sport.
Players to watch: A pair of brothers from Latvia — Martins and Tomass Dukurs — will battle the field and each other. Tomass, competing in his third Olympic Games, has never won an Olympic medal, but younger brother Martin nabbed silver in 2010 at Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi. On the women’s side, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje, fresh off a strong season on the World Cup race circuit, will try to get her first Olympic medal.
Viewing guide: Skeleton events run February 12 through 18, with the gold medal final runs for the men airing at 8 p.m. ET on February 15 on NBC, and the women’s gold medal final runs airing at 8 p.m. ET on February 17, also on NBC.
What the Olympics calls it: “Luge riders hurtle down a slippery ice track at great speed, relying on reflexes for steering. … However, they have no protection should they make an error.”
What we call it: See skeleton, above
The basics: It’s pretty much like skeleton, except you’re sliding around on the ice feet-first on your back, instead laying on your stomach. The track’s longer (just less than 1 mile for men and about three-quarters of a mile for women), the lugers reach faster speeds (as fast as 90 mph) and there’s no weight limit.
The contenders: Natalie Geisenberger won women’s and mixed-team gold four years ago in Sochi, so, of course, she wants more in PyeongChang. Fellow German Felix Loch is one of the sport’s all-time greats. He’s won three gold medals and teamed up with Geisenberger in Sochi to win the gold in the team relay event.
Players to watch: Canada’s Alex Gough’s a vet of the last three Winter Olympic games, but she’s never won a medal. Her fourth Olympics just might be the charm, with observers predicting she’ll get a silver. On the men’s side, Austrian Wolfgang Kindl looks like he’s in great position to nab his first Olympic medal. And Team USA might just be good enough to medal in the team relay.
Viewing guide: You can watch luge events from February 9 through 15, with the men’s gold medal final runs airing at 7 p.m. ET on February 11 on NBC, and the women’s gold medal final runs airing at 3 p.m. ET on February 13, also on NBC.
What the Olympics calls it: “Biathlon combines the power and aggression of cross-country skiing with the precision and calm of marksmanship.”
What we call it: Going for really long runs in the snow in your skis, then, when you’re good and tired, lying down on the ground and shooting at stuff.
The basics: A long time ago, deep in Scandinavia, people put on their skis and went hunting through the snow with rifles on their shoulders. And then some genius thought: This would make a great Olympic sport! And that’s how the biathlon was born: part cross-country ski race, part shooting contest. The skiing part of this covers various distances; the shooting part can be done from either a standing or prone position. It’s been part of the Olympics since the 1920s.
The contenders: There’s a dizzying number of events in biathlon: men’s 10-km sprint, women’s 7.5-km sprint, men’s 20-km individual, women’s 12.5-km mass start (where elbows might be your best friend) and the mixed relay. All you need to know is athletes from Germany and Norway dominate this sport, with Norwegian Johannes Boe predicted to win big in men’s events. In women’s action, the experts think Laura Dahlmeier of Germany could grab several medals, too.
Players to watch: Fun fact: Biathlon is the only Winter Olympic sport in which the US has never won a medal. But that might change in Pyeongchang. Why? The biathletes Team USA is sending to South Korea are the most experienced group yet, according to Bleacher Report, and Lowell Bailey’s performance in men’s events in Sochi in 2014 was the best ever for an American.
Viewing guide: Biathlon runs nearly every day of these Games, from February 10 through 24. Things kick off with the women’s 7.5-km sprint, airing at 1 p.m. ET on February 10 on NBCSN. Other highlights: men’s 15-km mass start, at 3 p.m. ET on February 18 on NBC and the mixed relay gold medal final, airing at 3 p.m. on February 20 on NBC.