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Winter Olympics
updated: Feb 08, 2014, 1:00 PM

By David Powdrell

The Winter Olympics are here! The Winter Olympics are here!

I love the Winter Olympics. They intrigue me. Living in Reno, Nevada back in the early 1960's, my brothers and I took up skiing at Squaw Valley just after the 1964 Winter Olympics had concluded there. Lift tickets were a whopping $5.50 back then. We started ski racing in 1968 and although it took us to some amazing places around the world, we never amounted to Olympic material. But to this day, when a racer flies down the slope, my knees and legs twitch as if I were the skier, rapidly changing edges in flight down the mountain.

Which brings me to curling. I have to confess, I'm still baffled at the sport of curling. I've been to some incredible winter sport venues but I've yet to find a curling site. Where do these rascals practice? And why? And shouldn't sweat be a common denominator in sport? Shuffleboard on ice, me thinks.

There's a lot of TV coverage on curling this year, so here are some important facts to know about the sport: Players slide "stones" across a sheet of ice towards a target area segmented into four concentric rings. Two teams, four players per team, alternating turns. Eight stones per team. The stones weigh between 38 and 44 pounds. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the center. The path of the stone can be altered by two sweepers (yep, they've got brooms).

Curling is a sport chalk full of history with Scottish records dating back to 1511. Curling affectionatos call it "chess on ice". I'm sticking with "shuffleboard on ice".

Lots of Biathlon competition on TV this year, too. Somehow, guns and skiing don't mix in my mind, but that's exactly what the Biathlon is all about. The sport was first introduced in 1924 and was called "military patrol". It wasn't until 1960 that it became an official Olympic sport and the name was changed to a milder "Biathlon".

Contestants ski around a cross-country trail system and do four shooting rounds, two prone and two half- standing. For each round, the biathlete must hit five targets. A miss must be "atoned for" by skiing around a 150 meter penalty loop, adding 1 minute to the skier's total time or by having to use an "extra cartridge" to finish off the target (only 3 extra's available each round).

The bolt action rifle weighs 7.7 pounds and it uses 22 caliber ammunition.

Finally, and this is really cool, women get to ski jump at the 2014 Olympics. Ski jumping started in 1809 in Norway when Lieutenant Olaf Rye launched himself about 28 feet in front of the other, wildly excited, soldiers. The first official competition started in 1862 and has become quite a high tech sport of flight of late.

Back to the women…..women were banned from the sport of ski jumping at the Olympics until this year. In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, FIS president and a member of the IOC, said he didn't think women should ski jump because the sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." That sentence is loaded with all kinds of potential anatomical humor; use your imagination. Meanwhile, Lindsey Van holds the record - among both men and women - for the longest jump off Whistler, British Columbia's normal ski jump, built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She trains six days a week, 11 months a year, and has been jumping for the past 19 years. She's proof positive that the ladies are ready, willing and able to ski jump, and they might even surpass the men in distance flown. So watch for the women ski jumpers this year. They will be setting all kinds of exciting new benchmarks this Olympics.

Hopefully it'll be raining around here during the Olympics and we can curl up next to the fireplace under a warm blanket, hot cocoa in hand, as we watch these incredible athletes (even the curlers) compete on the world stage.


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