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Alpine Skiing

Alpine skiing became an Olympic sport in 1936.


Alpine Skiing
Winter Olympics

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- While people have been skiing for thousands of years, the sport of alpine skiing is relatively new.

The younger cousin of other disciplines such as Nordic or cross-country, the first known alpine competition was held in 1911 in Switzerland. The first slalom race came 11 years later, also in Switzerland.

How it is done

There are 10 events in Olympic alpine skiing competition comprising five each for men and women. In all events, athletes compete against the clock, skiing a prescribed course requiring turns through pre-positioned gates. Both sexes compete under the same rules, but over different courses.

Two events are grouped together in the "speed category." The downhill race features the longest and steepest course of all disciplines and generates the highest speeds. The super-G is held on a shorter course with more gates, which require more turns and therefore makes the event slightly slower.

Two events are known as "technical events." The slalom is held on the shortest course and features dozens of gates arranged in either an open or closed position. The gates must be passed in a different way according to how it is positioned. The giant slalom features fewer gates, making it a faster race over a longer course. Both events require two runs.

In the combined event, competitors must complete one run on a downhill course and one run on a slalom course. The times for each run are added and the lowest total time wins.

What makes it hard

Skiers in the downhill and super-G events average speeds of around 120 kilometers per hour and sometimes go as high as 140 kilometers per hour, while still following the twists and turns of the course. In the downhill and super-G, skiers must navigate regular jumps, which they try to complete while staying as close to the ground as possible to maintain speed and control. While athletes are allowed to practice on the downhill course for three days before competition, when it comes to the day of the event it all comes down to only one run. No practice runs are allowed in the super-G.

The speeds are slightly more measured in the slalom events, but the higher number of gates requires sharper turns. These turns are particularly punishing on the competitors' knees, which are forced to carry most of the burden as the arms are used to maintain balance. Skiers must complete two runs on same day, down different marked courses.

In the combined event, competitors must master the technicalities of each discipline.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary at the alpine skiing during the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Schuss: The name of the position skiers adopt in the downhill and super-G events to achieve the best speed. The body is hunched, the knees are bent and the skis are tucked in beside the body with hands in front.

Open or Closed Gates: Open gates are positioned side by side, while closed gates are positioned with one behind the other. Their positioning determines the path a skier must take down the course.

Gatekeeper: The official responsible for ensuring all gates are passed in the proper manner.

Shovel tip: The front of the skis, which are curved upwards. The rear of the skis is called the heel.

Sole: The underside of the skis, which are often waxed to help them slide better over the snow.

Which means you can sound like an expert by saying: "The gatekeeper would want to have another look at the pass, I'd say."

Did you know?

Alpine combined skiing had only appeared on the Olympic program twice before the Calgary Games of 1988 -- in 1936 and 1948. At other Games, only separate downhill or slalom races were held.

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