Experience what it’s like to fly off a ski jump at about 60 mph. Olympic medalist Johnny Spillane breaks down one of the Winter Games’ most spectacular events: ski jumping.
The Winter Olympics are upon us, which means it’s time to brush up on sports you may not have watched or read about for four years.
If you don’t know your luge from your skeleton, or your quadruple jump from your samalong, then worry not, our event-by-event guide is here to help.
From February 9 to 25, there will be 102 medals up fro grabs in PyeongChang, covering seven sports and 15 disciplines.
Athletes will mesmerize, defy gravity and achieve jaw-dropping feats as they take part in one of the most spectacular events in sport.
Curling (February 8-25)
What is it? Stone sliding on ice – with brooms, which sounds relatively straightforward, but it is a sport which requires a deft touch, strong vocal cords and, of course, excellent sweeping skills.
Curling was invented in Scotland in the 16th Century and has been an Olympic sport since 1998. The objective is to get more stones near the center of the scoring area than your opponent.
The scoring is simple: a team, which is made up of four players, earns one point for every stone that’s closer to the scoring area after each of 10 ends, which is similar to a set in tennis or an innings in baseball. There are 10 ends in a match.
Each stone weighs about 42 pounds and is made of granite which is only sourced from the Scottish Island of Ailsa Craig and a Welsh quarry. For those who think curling is not that arduous, curlers are said to burn up to 1,800 calories during a game.
If you’ve decided this is the sport for you, then you need to know the lingo. The playing surface is called a “sheet,” while the target area – which looks like a dart board – is called a “house.” If you’re aiming for the bullseye then you are, in fact, aiming for “the button.” A snowman? Well, that’s the perfect game, a score of 8-0 after an end.
Who are the favorites? The reigning men’s and women’s Olympic champions are Canada. But Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, China and the US should give the Canadians a run for their money. New to PyeongChang is the mixed doubles, which means there will be three gold medals to be won.
Bobsleigh (February 18-25)
What is it? A sport which will leave athletes shaken and stirred.
It involves teams of two or four hurtling down an icy track in a bullet-shaped sled with the fastest aggregate time winning gold. Created in the 19th Century by Swiss pioneers, bobsleigh has been an Olympic sports since 1924 but it wasn’t until 2002 that women were allowed to compete.
Athletes will travel at speeds of 80 mph-plus and the G-force they experience is said to be higher than a space shuttle launch. In PyeongChang, both men and women will be allowed to participate in the four-person bobsled.
The need-to-know terms are straightforward. The track is called a run, the pilot is the competitor who steers the sled, while the brakeman is the person bringing the sled to a halt after it has passed the finishing line.
Who are the favorites? Historically, the Americans, Germans and Swiss crews have been the most successful at the Games and are likely to continue that trend in South Korea, though the Canadians lead the world rankings in the women’s and two-man bobsleigh.
Nigeria will be the first African country to compete in the event, though Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga aren’t expected to challenge for medals.
Luge (February 10-15)
What is it? Feet first down a track, on a sled, in race against the clock at 90mph with only a helmet for protection. Nerves of steel are required for this event, as well as agility and balance.
Much like the bobsled, the start is crucial. Maximizing acceleration before gravity takes over is the key. Races are timed to one thousandth of a second making it, according to the the PyeongChang 2018 official website, one of the “most precisely timed sports.”
The sport, which made its Olympic debut in 1964, is said to have taken its influence from early sled competitions in Scandinavia, with the inaugural luge competition taking place in Davos in 1883.
There are four different competitions in PyeongChang: men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and team relay.
Who are the favorites? The Germans usually reign supreme in this event, winning 31 gold medals in total, and they enjoyed a clean sweep in Sochi four years ago.
Double Olympic champion Felix Loch is currently second in the World Cup men’s standings and will be favorite to complete a hattrick of Olympic golds, while the Germans occupy three of the top four spots in the World Cup doubles rankings.
In the women’s singles, the top two World Cup places are taken by, yes, you guessed it, German pair Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner.
Skeleton (February 15-17)
What is it? Launch headfirst, face an inch off the icy track, on a toboggan no bigger than a tea-tray at speeds in excess of 90mph. Bravery and core strength are a must as steering is done by shifting bodyweight.
First practiced in St Moritz in 1884 on a track called the Cresta Run, skeleton was included in the 1928 and 1948 Olympics and held on the famous track as the Swiss town was hosting. But it was not fully integrated into the Olympics until 2002 as it was previously regarded as too dangerous.
The fastest combined time of each slider’s four runs decides the winner, so every thousandth of a second counts.
Who are the favorites? Great Britain have a good record in the women’s skeleton, winning gold at the last two Games and reigning champion Lizzy Yarnold will be among the favorites, as will her compatriot Laura Deas.
Expect German duo Jacqueline Loelling and Tina Hermann – first and second in the women’s rankings respectively – to also be among the front runners.
Home hopes rest on Sungbin Yun, the current leader in the men’s skeleton World Cup, but he will have to battle the Germans and Latvians.
Cross-Country skiing (February 10-25)
What is it? This is the oldest form of skiing, developing from merely a form of travel to a sport at the end of the 19th century.
The goal is simply to complete the distance as quickly as possible, which requires endurance, strength and balance.
The first recorded cross-country race took place in 1842 and it has been part of the Games since 1924, though only men were allowed to compete. Women’s events were introduced in 1952.
Distances covered vary from a 1km sprint to 50km and there are mass starts and staggered pursuits. There are two forms of technique: classic (which is striding forward along pre-set parallel tracks) and freestyle (a side-to-side motion).
Who are the favorites? There are 12 gold medals to be won (six for men and six for women).
The Norwegians usually rule the roost, but Swiss Dario Cologna, won two gold medals in Sochi (15km classical, 30km skiathlon), will the among the favorites.
Jesse Diggins, who has two World Cup wins this season, is aiming to become the first US Olympic women’s cross-country skiing medalist and only the second in history. Whoever wins – expect chaotic-looking mass finishes and plenty of entertainment.
Ice hockey (February 10-15)
What is it? A sport which probably needs no introduction. It’s two teams taking aim at the opponent’s net and, sometimes, each other.
There are six standard positions – goaltender, left defense, right defense, centre, left wing and right wing.
A game is broken into three periods of 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission between each regular period, during which time the ice will be resurfaced. Overtime and a penalty shootout will be played, if required.
For the men’s competition, there will be three groups of four teams, with the group winners and the second-ranked team with the best record progressing to the quarterfinals. The other teams will play a qualification playoff game.
On the women’s side, it’s rather more complicated with the top two seeds from Group A receiving a bye into the semifinals and the bottom two Group A teams playing the top two from Group B in the quarterfinals.
If you want to impress your friends, tell them a puck is made of vulcanized rubber and must weight between 156-170 grams.
Who are the favorites? National Hockey League (NHL) players are not allowed to compete at the Olympics, which means greats such as Sidney Crosby will be absent. The Canadians are the bookies’ favorites to win men’s gold.
On the women’s side, expect the US and Canada to dominate, as they have done since being welcomed into the Games 20 years ago. The Canadians have won four consecutive Olympic titles and it will be no surprise if they capture a fifth.
Short Track Speed Skating (February 10-22)
What is it? It’s track and field on ice – without lanes. This is a race against the clock which requires strategy and agility as athletes only have a fraction of a second to make their moves.
The sport made its Olympic debut in 1992, when only four events contested. These days there are four men’s races and four women’s (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and team relay) each taking place on a tight oval track that is 111.12m long.
As there are no lanes, those starting on the inside have an advantage and though overtaking is allowed there are strict rules on impeding opponents.
There will be wipeouts, crashes and, undoubtedly, a few disqualifications and there will be a lot of blue on display.
Blue? Yes. At recent World Cup races, skaters wore blue suits – even those from countries such as Norway and Germany whose traditional outfits are usually of another color – because blue has scientifically been proven to be the fastest color.
Don’t expect to have time to make a cup of tea when many of these events are on television, either. The 500m is a four-and-a-half lap sprint to the finish line – the men’s world record is 39.937 seconds and the women’s 42.335 seconds.
Who are the favorites? Traditionally this is a sport where the United States, South Korea, Canada and Russia have excelled.
So seriously do the South Koreans take this sport that Britain’s Elise Christie received death threats after a collision on the ice in Sochi denied Park Seung-hi a chance of victory.
In PyeongChang, triple world champion Christie could become the first British woman to win an Olympic short track medal.
Figure skating (February 9-23)
What is it? This is where art meets sport. This is ballet on ice. Athletes acrobatically twirl and glide in beautiful costumes – though sometimes controversial costumes – to music, captivating onlookers.
According to the Olympic website, figure skating developed from the Dutch method of traveling from village to village across canals in the 13th Century and spread across to England, with several Kings becoming ardent skaters once artificial rinks were established.
Figure skating is also the oldest Winter Olympic sport, making its first appearance at the 1908 London Games, and is one of six sports to appear in every Winter Games. In Sochi, individual and pair skaters were allowed to skate to music with lyrics for the first time.
Skaters’ performances are judged according to the difficulty of the routine and execution. For those wanting to judge from the comfort of the sofa, it’s probably best to know your butterfly jump (a flying spin with a two-footed takeoff) from your quadruple jump (a jump with four full rotations).
Five gold medals are up for grabs – men’s and women’s singles, pairs, a team event and an ice dance – and each event usually involves a short program (two minutes, 50 seconds) and long program, which is between 4:20 and 4:40 in length. The short program is effectively a qualifier.
Who are the favorites? If you’ve not yet heard of Nathan Chen, the 18-year-old American is likely to be a familiar name by the end of the Games.
He is one of the favorites for men’s gold and is the first man to land five quadruple jumps in one four-and-a-half-minute long program in international competition. He will face stiff competition, however, from Japan’s reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.
In the women’s singles, Evgenia Medvedeva, an 18-year-old from Russia, will be the one to beat, though her two-year winning streak came to an end in January at the European championships, with her compatriot Alina Zagitova, 15, taking the title.
Both skaters will be competing under the Olympic flag following Russia’s ban from the Games for state sponsored doping. There will also be plenty of interest in the pairs as Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik will be representing North Korea.
Ski Jumping ( February 10-19)
What is it? Only the brave need apply. Jumpers will launch themselves from a 35 to 37 degree ramp at 55 mph and fly through the air as far as they can.
Described as “the flower of ski sports” as the sight of competitors soaring through the air is so beautiful, ski jumping has been around since the early 1800s.
A gentleman named Ole Rye jumping 9.5m in 1808. Competitors fly further these days, of course, with the men’s world record currently set at 251.5m. Timing is of the essence as the athletes jump at takeoff using only their legs.
Ski jumping was introduced to the Olympics in 1924, though women’s ski jumping only appeared four years ago.
Judges evaluate the performance based on three elements: flying, landing and style.
If you are to learn just one term it should be “K-point” – a line drawn in the landing area which serves as a target for competitors to reach. A jumper who falls short of the K-Point will lose points (minus two points per 1m in the normal hill and 1.8 points per 1m in large hill.)
There are four gold medals to be won: men’s normal hill (70m) individual, women’s normal hill individual, men’s large hill (90m) individual and the men’s team.
Who are the favorites? The Norwegians traditionally do well, but Poland’s Kamil Stoch is the reigning men’s individual normal and large hill champion. In Sochi he became only the fourth man to claim golds in both jumps. He currently also leads the World Cup standings.
Germany’s Carina Vogt won the first Olympic gold in women’s ski jumping and should be in contention again in PyeongChang, while Japan’s Yuki Ito and four-time overall champion Sara Takanashi will provide stiff competition, as will Norwegian World Cup-leader Maren Lundby.
Biathlon (February 10-23)
What is it? A combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Incredible endurance and a sniper’s calm are a must.
Biathletes must race around a closed course, stopping at set intervals to hit five targets 50m away. Aiming at a small target after a lung-busting dash on snow with a rifle on your back can only be done by the likes of James Bond and these super-fit athletes.
It’s one of the most popular winter sports in Europe, mainly because of its unpredictability – standings can change with one iffy shooting round as each miss leads to either a distance penalty (a lap around a 150m loop) or a time penalty of one minute, depending on the format. A clean shooting round, meanwhile, can propel an athlete up the leaderboard.
If you want to impress friends, tell them that the term biathlon stems from the Greek word for two contests and, in this instance, means the coming together of two sports – skiing and shooting.
This is one of a number of Olympic events which can be traced back to the early 18th Century, with the Olympic website saying that the first modern biathlon event probably occurred in 1912.
Eleven gold medals can be won in PyeongChang – five for men, five for women, and mixed relay – with distances covered varying from 7.5km to the 20km.
Who are the favorites? Frenchman Martin Fourcade leads the overall men’s World Cup rankings, while Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen has been setting the World Cup pace in the overall women’s standings.
Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 44, is the most decorated Winter Olympian in history with 13 medals, including eight golds, and PyeongChang will be his seventh Olympics.
Alpine Skiing (February 11-24)
What is it? A test of speed and technical skill down vertiginous slopes. Fearlessness is a pre-requisite trait. After all, going down a mountain at speeds in excess of 90 mph is not for the faint-hearted.
Alpine skiing encompasses 12 different competitions, with speed events (downhill and super-G) and technical events (slalom and giant slalom) and a combined event. For PyeongChang, there’s a new team event.
injuries are an occupational hazard – Norwegian great Aksel Lund Svindal is returning from a torn knee injury, while America’s Lindsey Vonn has suffered multiple injuries during her illustrious career and was absent in Sochi because of injury.
Downhill is the most acclaimd event, the equivalent of the 100m in track and field. It’s the longest of all the courses with the fewest gates and, consequently, is the ultimate test of speed. The 1948 Winter Olympics was the first to feature the downhill.
Super-G, which made its Olympic debut in 1988, combines the speed of the downhill with the technicality of the giant slalom. The course has widely-set gates to allow for speed. Like downhill, there are no training runs, competitors get just one shot. It’s pure instinct.
Giant slalom is a technical event and the most complicated discipline. Skiiers are required to race the course twice, as they must in slalom – an event where precision is key. Combined times from the two runs determine the finishing position.
Who are the favorites? Austrian Marcel Hirscher and America’s Mikaela Shiffrin are the current overall world champions and will be favorites for slalom and giant slalom gold.
The Americans have a strong team in Vonn, Ted Ligety and Andrew Weibrecht, while Italy’s Sofia Goggia currently leads the women’s World Cup downhill standings, with Svindal topping the men’s downhill charts. Other names to look out for are Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud (Super-G), and Switzerland’s Lara Gut (Super-G).
Nordic combined (February 14-22)
What is it? A combination of cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Good technique is required for the jumping, while no athlete can compete in the cross-country without stamina and strength.
It originated from a 19th Century Norwegian ski festival and was included in the first Winter Olympics in 1924. There are three gold medals available – normal hill and 10km cross-country, large hill and 10km cross-country, and a team competition – but women can’t complete.
Determining the winner of the individual events is rather complicated with the jumps scored on points and the cross-country scored on time. To calculate the final score, officials use the Gundersen method.
A team comprises of four athletes, each competing in the ski jumping and then the cross-country skiing, with each covering 5km. The first team whose fourth athlete crosses the finishing line wins.
Who are the favorites? Norway have dominated this sport, winning 30 medals in total, with the Finns second on the overall table with 14.
Five-time World Cup winner, and reigning Olympic individual normal hill champion, Eric Frenzel is expected to challenge for the title again, with Norwegians Jan Schmid and Joergen Graabak also among the favorites.
Freestyle skiing (February 9-23)
What is it? Acrobatics on skis. These events are crowd-pleasers. They are difficult, dangerous and performed at speed.
There are 10 gold medals to be won in five events: moguls, aerials, ski halfpipe, ski cross and ski slopestyle.
Aerials is a judged event, with the aim being to gain as much speed as possible before performing flips and twists.
The halfpipe is a course that looks like, well, a pipe cut in half and competitors make jumps going from one side to the other before reaching the finish line. Judges will score each run, basing their scoring on amplitude, difficulty, variety, execution and progression.
Moguls, which made its Olympic debut in 1992, is akin to racing over speed bumps, but the skiiers must execute a trick while in the air. This, however, is not a timed event – the skier who finishes first is not the one who necessarily ends with the highest score.
Ski cross, an Olympic event since 2010, is the only freestyle skiing event which is timed rather than judged. It’s motorcross on skis, with the competitors negotiating jumps, banked turns, rollers and spines.
And then there is slopestyle – a judged event and another relative newcomer to the Games having made its debut four years ago. Athletes go down a course filled with jumps and rails. The course in PyeongChang has six obstacles.
Who are the favorites? Canada and the US usually reign supreme, with the US having won the most medals (21).
Britain, not known for its prowess on skis, could come away with a medal as James Woods is a realistic medal hope in the men’s slopestyle. Australia could also win a medal, with Britteny Cox the woman to beat in the women’s moguls.
Snowboard (February 10-24)
What is it? Surfing on ice. A relatively new Olympic sport, but a popular one. A mix of speed and dazzling tricks.
Snowboarding was developed as a sport in the US in the 1960s and introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998, with halfpipe and giant slalom initially on the schedule.
There are 10 individual events: parallel giant slalom, halfpipe, snowboard cross, big air and, making its Olympic debut, slopestyle.
Halfpipe is probably the most familiar event, thanks to the exploits of US great Shaun White. Athletes jump and flip from one side of the pipe to the other before coming to the finishing line.
As with freestyle skiing, athletes are judged on amplitude, difficulty, variety and execution. Snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom are the only event in which it is a race to the finish line.
Big air – a single jump where competitors have to land one of their biggest and most difficult tricks – makes its Olympic debut.