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Getting ready for the Winter Games: Some Olympic thoughts

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It’s time for the Winter Games, baby!

I know, I know – it feels like the Summer Olympics took place just yesterday. Probably because, at least in terms of standard Olympiad timelines, it did. We just had some global athletic goodness just a few short months ago, thanks to the shifting of the 2020 Games to last year.

Are some people going to complain about Olympics fatigue? Of course they are! There are people who will complain about anything!

Not me, though. I am here for another installment of the Winter Olympics. Give me a collection of people standing/lying on various bits of wood and hurtling down hills or chutes of what have you. Maybe they go fast. Maybe they do tricks. Maybe they go fast AND do tricks. Doesn’t matter to me – I want it all.

Now, as a general sports enthusiast, I’m probably more familiar with the Olympics than most. I’d consider myself fairly knowledgeable compared to the average person. That does not mean, however, that I am in any way qualified to make any sort of prediction regarding outcomes. Just because I know what skeleton is and most of the basic rules of curling doesn’t mean I’m capable of telling you anything about who is going to win any of these events.

And so I figured I’d follow in the footsteps of last summer’s Summer Olympics preview and just share an assortment of thoughts about the various and sundry sporting events that will be unfolding in China over the next couple of weeks. We had some fun last time, so I figured why not run it back? Or skate it back, at any rate.

I’ll also be including some folks with Maine connections who have been or will be involved with the Games. You’ll likely be unsurprised to hear that the Pine Tree State has generated a few more Winter Olympians than Summer. Oh, and there are some elite facilities here in the state for events like cross-country skiing and biathlon, in case you didn’t know. Check out the Nordic Heritage Center and/or the Fort Kent Outdoor Center to find out more.

So sit back and get ready for some fun facts, Winter Olympics-style.


Alpine Skiing

It’s good that this is first so we can get this out of the way: I have never been on a pair of skis in my life despite spending most of it here in Maine. So please understand that I don’t have that firm a grasp on the vagaries of Alpine skiing at the highest level.

Downhill, I get – you go as fast as you can through the course. And slalom, I get – you have to go between flags set up along the course. Giant slalom seems pretty self-explanatory – slalom, but bigger. Alpine Combined brings together downhill and slalom. And Super-G? Well, I basically have to refresh my memory every four years, but essentially, Super-G is a slalom race designed to be faster than other slalom races.

(I apologize to every skier out there who thinks I sound like an imbecile right now. You’re not wrong, and I know.)

But hey – y’all know how skiing works. You don’t need me to spell it out for you.


I love sports that basically take two other sports and jam them together. There is no finer example of that in the Olympics than the biathlon, a competition that combines cross-country skiing and shooting. It’s just a bunch of folks making their way around the course with a rifle, stopping periodically to shoot at groups of five targets. The scores are combined to determine a winner.

The notion of exerting that much physical effort over an extended period, only to have to immediately calm down enough to precisely aim at and shoot small targets with a phenomenal degree of accuracy, is fascinating. As someone incapable of either, seeing both take place at a high level is wildly impressive.

The USA has never medaled in this event. However, we do have a native Mainer on the team who’s hoping to change that. Clare Egan is a native of Cape Elizabeth competing in her second Olympics – she was at the 2018 Games as well. Now, Egan isn’t a favorite – she’s just inside the top 40 in world rankings – but she’s got a shot, pardon the pun. That’s the joy of elite athletic competition: these folks are so close in talent that just a few lucky breaks might be enough to get you on the podium.


It’s tough not to dig the bobsled. Whether you’re watching the two- or four-man sleds, it’s a fascinating athletic endeavor – one that requires so much more fitness and technique than you might gather from merely watching on television. These men and women are guiding this sled – traveling in excess of 90 MPH – down a steeply banked chute with little margin for error.

This is another one where we have a Maine connection. One of the four-man teams for the U.S. includes not one, but two University of Maine alums. Frankie Del Duca and Jimmy Reed, former track and field athletes and 2014 UMaine graduates, will be hitting the chute in Beijing, Del Duca as driver and Reed as a pusher. It continues a long tradition of track athletes making the transition to the bobsled.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in 2022, for the first time in 24 years, Jamaica will be sending a bobsled team to the Olympics.

Cross-Country Skiing

As someone who has never been on a pair of cross-country skis, I’ll concede that I can’t speak directly to how difficult it is to perform at a high level. That said, all I have to do is open my eyes to recognize the immense athleticism and cardiovascular excellence necessary to compete.

You’ve got two varieties within the discipline – classic and freestyle (which involves what’s called “skate skiing” – even if you’re unfamiliar, you’ll know it when you see it). These races take place over extreme distances – the women max out at 30 KM, while the men go 50. There are also sprints and relays and something called a skiathlon, which combines both classic and skating.

And wouldn’t you know it, we’ve got another Mainer competing in this sport. Sophia Laukli is a rising star in the cross-country world, competing in her first Olympics at the tender age of 21. It remains to be seen which events specifically she’ll compete in, though the odds are likely best for the mass start event, set for the final day of the Games.


Anyone who knows me knows that I have a real fascination with the sport of curling. It’s one of the few Olympic sports – Winter or Summer – that makes a regular person feel like they could potentially compete.

(That’s not true, by the way – these curlers are elite competitors just like the rest of their Olympian brethren. Just because it looks easy – and is easy to play recreationally – doesn’t mean that you can hang at the highest levels. If you can stand up on skis, are you ready for the Games? Of course not.)

It is a ton of fun to curl, though. And we’re lucky to have a quality venue relatively nearby – the Belfast Curling Club is a lovely spot, one that hosts competitions throughout the winter, but that also offers the occasional Learn to Curl session. If you have even the slightest interest, try and reserve a spot – they do a great job and you’ll have a fantastic time. In fact, you can even dig into the archives on our website and check out a story about BCC – I did a Learn to Curl some years back and wrote about it.

It’s a surprisingly engaging sport to watch on TV as well; you can bet that I’ll be tuning into as much coverage – men’s, women’s, mixed doubles – as I can, hoping to see Team USA’s John Shuster and his crew defend the gold medal they won in 2018.

Figure Skating

Honestly, the primary reason this sport is here is because I decided to try and cover all the bases.

That’s not to say that I have any issues with figure skating, whether we’re talking about individuals, pairs or ice dancing. I most certainly do not – the athleticism and discipline necessary to become an elite figure skater is staggering and well worthy of our respect and frankly awe.

No, it’s more the fact that, of all the Olympic events I’m exploring in this story, figure skating is the one that needs the least help from me. It is easily the most popular competition of the Winter Games – if you’re watching these Olympics, then you will almost certainly spend a significant part of that time watching figure skating.

(And no, I’m not interested in venturing into the realm of subjective judging. While I don’t necessarily agree with it as part of an athletic competition, this is the way the sport works, and I am far from qualified to weigh in on the relative artistic merit of a program.)

Freestyle Skiing

Freestyle skiing has been part of the Games since 1992 – though we’ve seen new events added in the years since then – bringing a variety of stylish stunts to the slopes in a manner utterly unlike that which we see in the more traditional skiing disciplines.

There are six individual events for both men and women – aerials, big air, halfpipe, moguls, slopestyle and ski cross – and a mixed team aerials event. Essentially, freestyle skiing contains all the stuff you do on a ski slope that doesn’t fall under the purview of Alpine.

I’m a fan of freestyle skiing (and snowboarding, for that matter) because they do a great job of lowering the barrier to entry as far as watching. Even if you don’t fully understand the particulars, watching these men and women fly into the air, spinning and twisting, is compelling as heck to watch. Plus, the U.S. team is usually pretty good, which always helps.

Ice Hockey

Look, my limited understanding of hockey is fairly well-documented at this point. You know how the game works – probably better than I do – so there’s no need for me to go too in-depth on the rules and whatnot.

However, I certainly am not going to miss an opportunity to celebrate the athletic accomplishments of my fellow Black Bears, so let’s talk women’s hockey. Not only are two of UMaine’s current women’s hockey players going to be playing for their respective countries during these games – winger Amalie Anderson will join Denmark’s first-ever qualifying squad, while winger Rahel Enzler will join Team Switzerland – but three former players will suit up during these games, including Tereza Vanisova and Vendula Pribylova, both of whom will join the Czech Republic squad, and Michelle Weis, who will join Anderson on Team Denmark. In addition, current Black Bear Celine Tedenby is reportedly an alternate for the Swedish team. Just a reminder of the elite talent taking the ice for the UMaine women’s hockey program; shout out to Bruce Pratt and others who bang the drum for this excellent, if oft-overlooked team.

As for the men’s side? I dunno. I’m guessing Canada’s good?


Another in the ongoing series of Winter Olympics disciplines that look deceptively easy while also being objectively terrifying. There are four total events in the luge – men’s singles, women’s singles, doubles (which is technically open, but only men have competed thus far) and the team relay.

The team relay – which has only been part of the Games since 2014 – is pretty cool. Basically, there are three legs: women’s, men’s and doubles, in that order. Basically, when a run finishes, it opens the gate for the next competitor and so on. The total time is the winner. Cool, yeah?

We’ve got a pretty robust history of Mainers in the Olympic luge; this year is no exception, thanks to the presence of Emily Sweeney, who was born in Falmouth and lived there as a child. Sweeney had a couple of near misses to make the team back in 2010 and 2014 – her older sister Megan beat her for the last spot in the former year – and suffered a devastating crash during the 2018 Games. Still, she’s back and – considering her World Cup excellence – has a real shot at a medal.

Nordic Combined

Man, the Olympics sure do love combining stuff with cross-country skiing, don’t they? We already touched on biathlon, but here we have the second event that makes you do something else along with pushing your way through the trails on skis.

That one makes you shoot a gun. This one makes you jump off a ramp.

Yeah – cross-country skiing and ski jumping, a match made somewhere in a Scandinavian fever dream. Basically, you do a ski jump and then do a cross-country race with a staggered start based on how you did with your jump. I think – there’s a lot going on. You’ll be shocked to hear that Norway has dominated the sport since the first Winter Olympics back in 1924.

(Women were supposed to get their first shot at Olympic Nordic Combined glory this year, but circumstances caused that to get pushed. We’ll likely see women competing in this event in 2026.)

Look, I’ll concede to knowing absolutely nothing about this sport beyond maybe catching bits and pieces during tertiary coverage at previous Games. Doesn’t meant that I’m not fascinated by its existence.

Ski Jumping

You have to love these Olympic sports that basically just tell you to throw yourself down a very steep ramp and see what happens. So it is with the ski jump, which has a case for the most existentially terrifying event in a competition that has more than a few.

There are two sizes of hills in Olympic competition. You’ve got the normal hill, which comes in at a size ranging from 85 to 109 meters, and the large hill, which ranges from 110-184M. Women – who have only been competing at the Olympics since 2014 – ski the normal hill, while men do both normal and large. There are also two team events – one for men, one mixed. Each hill features something called a K-point – a target, essentially – that helps codify the scoring.

Few athletic events are as perfectly designed to display the hubris of man as the ski jump.


God, I love skeleton. The idea that someone looked at the luge – a terrifying event in its own right – and said “That, but on your stomach.”

It’s true. Skeleton involves an individual getting a running start with a sled and leaping headfirst onto it before careening down the track at speeds approaching (and occasionally exceeding) 80 MPH. It’s a thinner, heavier sled than the luge and allows for much more precise control. Also, it’s the slowest of the sled sports, believe it or not; I’d argue that rocketing down an ice chute faster than a highway speed limit is plenty fast enough.

There are just two events within the skeleton discipline – men’s and women’s singles. The sport has only been an official part of the Games since 2002, though it appeared a couple of times previously (1928 and 1948).

(Note: For whatever reason, the United States is historically far better in skeleton than it is in luge, with three golds and eight overall medals.)


While snowboarding has never been the sport for me, I certainly recognize the appeal. And there’s something impressive about how relatively quickly the sport went from being something invented by bored surfers and skaters into a legitimately global phenomenon.

Despite only becoming an Olympic sport in 1998, snowboarding features a number of events beneath its umbrella. You’ve got big air and halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom – all featuring both men’s and women’s events – as well as a mixed team snowboard cross.

(Note: Maine’s own Seth Wescott is a two-time gold medalist in snowboard cross, winning the event in both 2006 – the discipline’s debut – and 2010.)

One expects the snowboarding events to be among the most popular among viewing audiences – it usually is – and we’ll see if, for instance, veteran Olympian Shaun White has enough left in the tank to win a fourth gold.

Speed Skating

One of the fun things about working on pieces like this is finding out just how little I actually know about the magnitude of a sport’s presence at the Olympics. Speed skating is a perfect example. I knew that there were multiple races at varying distances for both men and women, but I don’t think I realized just how many there are.

In short track, there are three individual races for men and women, along with a relay for each and a mixed relay event. In regular track, there are seven races for each gender, including a mass start and a pursuit race for each. These distances range from 500M to 10,000M.

(This is where you want to know the difference. I wanted to know too, so I looked it up. As you might have gathered, the primary difference is the length of the track. Short track takes place on a track measuring just over 111 meters long, while the standard speed skate takes place on a 400M track. The distances raced are more or less the same for both disciplines.)

Watching speed skating – particularly mass start – is intense. These athletes are traveling at high rates of speed while operating in VERY close proximity with razor-sharp blades attached to their feet. There’s a lot of potential for injury here – don’t be surprised to see at least one spectacular pileup during a short track race.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 February 2022 11:10


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