Olympic Winter Sports (Speed Skating)

Speed Skating

In my last post on the Olympic Winter Sports and in my last post before leaving to Vancouver, I will introduce the Olympic Sport Speed Skating.

Speed skating is the form of ice skating in which skaters race against each other on different distances on skates. In the Olympics, the long distances of ice skating are simply called speed skating, whereas the short man against main events are referred to as an own sport, called short track. Ice skating has its roots in Central and Northern Europe. Records show that already in the mid 16th century, Dutch, Norwegian and Scottish people made use of bones which they put under their shoes in order to move on frozen lakes and rivers. However, the speed skating sport was probably first developed in the United States, where athletes used steel under their shoes. Today, speed skating is a very technical sport. In Vancouver, events will be held in the 500m (Sprint; both Men and Women), 1000m (Men and Women), 1500m (Men and Women), 3000m (Women) 5000m (Men and Women), 10000m (Men) and Team Pursuit (Men and Women).

Speed Skating has been featured at Winter Olympics ever since the very first Winter Olympics in Chamonix 1924. However, the women´s events were only added 1960 in Squaw Valley. More and more events were added over the years, which makes speed skating with 12 events, one of the disciplines with the most medal opportunities. The dominant nations in this sport are without a doubt the nations from which the sport originates from: Norway (25/28/26), The Netherlands (24/28/23) and the United States (28/20/15). The Soviet Union also had strong speed skating athletes but most of them are now starting for the newly developed countries. Germany has probably some of the most popular athletes with Anni-Friesinger-Potsma and Claudia Pechstein, but Pechstein will start in Vancouver because she is banned because of doping suspicions. This makes Friesinger one of the favorites in the women´s events, with her main rivals coming in particular from the Netherlands. The favorites in the men´s events are Sven Kramer (Netherlands, 5000m and 10000m) and US-star Shani Davis (1000m and 1500m).

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Olympic Moment No. 3

Number 3:  The Jamaican bobsled team walked their sled to the finish line at the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary and embodied like no other athlete/team before them the Olympic slogan: It´s taking part that counts! (Video here)

The story of the Jamaican bobsled team which took part at the Winter Olympics 1988 sounds like a Hollywood movie and the story of the team was indeed portrayaled in the movie Cool Runnings a couple of years after their appearance. But it is not the fact that their story is Hollywood-style which makes them Number 3 of my Olympic Moments but their pure passion to take part at Olympic Games.

First of all the question has to be answered, why four Jamaicans even get the idea to drive a bobsled at the Olympics with Jamaica being a tropical country in which no snow exists at all!? Responsibly for it are two American business men who had business links to Jamaica (which is nothing unusual for American business men). It was rather by coincidence that the two saw the Pushkart derby, which is a race of homemade carts to race down a steep hill in Jamaica in August every year. The two Americans realized that pushkart is very similar to bobsleigh and so they decided to manage and coach four Jamaicans how to drive a bobsled. Obviously, the first practiced in Jamaica with old bobsled which were not up to the standards of any of the European high-tech bobs but they tried very hard and finally qualified for the Winter Olympics.

Although the team competed very poorly in the first three heats, the became the most popular team amongst the bobsleigh fans because they were the underdogs, coming from a tropical country. Furthermore, they improved more and more throughout the competition. However, the Jamaicans became more famous for their attitude than for their athletic ability. In a time in which sport became more and more competitive and winning counted more than anything, the only wanted to take part in the Games. An attitude which has not been witnessed at the Olympics for a long time although Pierre de Coubertin announced it as the Olympic motto in 1927.

The Jamaican bobsled team embodied this attitude like nobody else. And this became particularly evident after their bobsled crashed in the fourth heat: although the crash was a very hard and painful one, the Jamaicans walked their bob to the finish line as they wanted to finish the competition. Not because they wanted to win anything but because they were TRUE sports men!

The famous bob consisted of: Winston Watt, Thomas Wayne, Clive McDonald and Ricky Simms.

Unfortunately, the Jamaican team did not qualify for the Vancouver Olympics although all they wanted was TAKING PART.

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Olympic Sports (Ski Jumping, Snowboard)

Ski Jumping

Being one of the most traditional Winter Sports, ski jumping is definitely the most popular Winter Sport in the Alpine nations. This is the sport in which skiers go down a slope with a take-off ramp (the jump), attempting to fly as far as possible. The origins of ski jumping can be found in Norway, where a Norwegian soldier attempted the first jump and reached a distance of 9.5 meters. This distance is obviously nothing compared to the distances a ski jumper reaches today, which can be over 150 meters or even over 200 meters in the so called ski-flying competitions. In Vancouver events will take place from the Normal Hill (normally a distance of around 110-120 meters is reached), from the Large Hill (around 140 meters) and a team competitions. All events will be held in Whistler in the Whistler Olympic Park. There has been a big upset because female ski jumpers were not allowed to take part in Vancouver and the organisation protested massively against this decision.

Ski jumping has been part of the Olympic Winter Games since its first competitions 1924 in Chamonix. The Large Hill competition was first included in Innsbruck 1964 because the Austrians had the facilities to stage two competitions from different hills. The ski jumping events at the Olympics have been highly dominated by Finland, Norway and Austria. Those three nations share 70 of the 114 medals that were given out at Olympics (Finland 22, Norway 28, Austria 20). Although Germany seems to be a ski jumping fascinated country as well, German athletes were not as successful as one might guess. In Vancouver, Gregor Schlierenzauer, Thomas Morgenstern (both Austria), Janne Ahonen (Finland) and Simon Amman (Switzerland) are the favourites in both events.

Snowboard

Snowboarding is the Olympic  sport that involves descending a slope that is covered with snow on a snowboard attached to a rider’s feet using a special boot set into a flexible mounted binding. It is a very modern sport which originates from Austria but is was made particularly popular in the United States between 1980 and 1998, when the sport was first part of the Olympic program. In Vancouver, competitions will be held in the Half Pipe, Parallel giant slalom and Snowboard Cross (for both, male and female athletes in all events). The events will take place on Cypress Mountain, close to Vancouver.

The snowboard competitions have been revised for every Olympic Games and only the Half Pipe evens were part in all Olympic Games in which snowboard events were held. It is no surprise that the United States are leading the overall medal table by far as snowboarding is a lot more popular in America than it is in the Alps, where skiing is still the dominant alpine discipline. However, after the United States (5 Gold/4 Silver/5 Bronze), Switzerland has won the second most medals (8) but has also claimed 5 Gold medals. The fight for the medals in Vancouver will also be held mainly between these two countries, Sean White and Gretchen Bleier being the most popular snowboard athletes in the US and arguably in the world.

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Olympic Winter Sports (Short Track, Skeleton)

Short Track

Short Track is one of the more modern Olympic Winter Sports. It is basically a form of ice speed skating but all skaters race at the same time on a small oval (in comparison to the much bigger ovals in ice skating) of 111 metres. Originally Short Track was only a discipline of speed skating and originates from the speed skating races which were held as a mass start competition. Surprisingly, the mass start was even part of the Olympic Winter program in Lake Placid 1932 as part of the speed skating competitions. But until today, the winners are recorded as Olympic Champions in Speed Skating not in Short Track. In Vancouver, competitions will be held over 500m, 1000m and 1500m (each for men and women); as well as over 5000m (mens relay) and 3000m (womens relay).

As Short Track was only adopted by the International Skating Union in 1967, it was very hard for the sport to get into the Olympic program. However, it was a demonstration sport in Calgary, 1988 and finally recognized as an Olympic sport at the Olympic Games in Albertville 1992. It is very interesting that traditional successful Speed Skating nations such as Germany, Norway and The Netherlands seem not to be very good at Short Track. The competitions are dominated by athletes from South Korea, China, Canada and the United States and the sport becomes more and more popular because it is a race against each other and not a race against time (like the traditional Speed Skating). South Korea is by far the most successful Short Track nation at Olympic Games, having won 17 out of 32 Gold medals. Canada has won five gold medals up to now, the US team four and China three. Apolo Anton Ohno from the United States is the big favorite in the men´s competitions with his biggest rivals coming from South Korea (Sung Si-Bak and Lee Jung-Su) but the nation’s biggest name, Ahn Hyun-Soo, will be missing.

Skeleton

Skeleton is a fast winter sliding sport in which an individual person rides a smallsled down a frozen track while lying face down. It can be compared to Luge but in Skeleton the face of the athlete faces downwards. However, the origins of Luge and Skeleton are the same. It can be traced back to 1882 when British soldiers built a track to connect Swiss cities. Then, British tourists copied the style of sliding and made a competitive sport out of it. At the Olympics in Vancouver Men and Women competitions will be held on the 18th and 19th of February.

Although Skeleton was an official Olympic sport from 1926, it was only part of the Olympic Winter program twice before 2002. At the Games in St. Moritz 1928, Jennison Heaton won the first Olympic Gold in Skeleton and in its second appearance in 1948 the Italian Nino Bibba claimed the victory. However, Skeleton disappeared of the program because Luge was more popular. Only in St. Lake City 2002, Skeleton became a permanent sport to appear at Olympic Games. The US team won both Gold medals for the host nation in 2002 but in 2006 the Americans could not win any medals with Canada claiming the win in the men´s event (Duff Gibson) and Maya Pedersen-Bieri from Switzerland winning the women´s event.

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The Teams for Vancouver

Only nine days until the Olympic Games will go under way and the final teams for the Winter Olympics have been announced and in this post you will find links to the complete team sheets of some of the most important winter sport nations.

Germany

The German team targets the 1st spot in the medal table, which they have to defend after being the most successful nation in Torino 2006. The German squad will be led by the stars of German winter sports, which are the female biathlon athletes around shooting star Magdalena Neuner (who will compete at Olympic Games for the first time, having already won 6 gold medals at World Championships).

You can find the complete German teams HERE

Norway

Norway will hope to beat Germany this year after they have only won two gold medals (although they won 19 medals in total) in Torino. The Norwegian team will also be led by a biathlon athlete, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who is the most successful Norwegian Olympic athlete of all time.

You can find the complete Norwegian team HERE

United States

The American hopes lie on Lindsey Vonn, overall World Cup leader in Alpine Skiing. But she is not the only favorite to win a medal in her sport. American athletes will also be in for a shout in Skeleton, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Free Style and others.

You can find the complete US team HERE

Canada

The host nation´s hopes do not only rely on the famous Team Canada ice hockey team but they will also hope for medals by their Curling teams, Speed Skating and Snowboard.

You can find the complete Canadian team HERE

Austria

Austria will hope to win as many medals as possible in the “classical” Olympic Winter sports such as Ski Jumping (especially with Gregor Schlierenzauer and Thomas Morgenstern), Alpine Skiing and Nordic Combined. But there are many more athletes who have the chance to win a medal for their nation

You can find the complete Austrian team HERE

Sweden

The main aim for Sweden will without a doubt be to defend their Ice Hockey title which they won in 2006. However, Anna-Karin Olofsson and Helena Jonsson will try to upset the Germans in Biathlon. The two are leading the World Cup Standings at the moment.

You can find the complete Swedish team HERE

Furthermore you will be able to find a overview of all Olympic athletes as soon as all teams are finally confirmed on the Vancouver2010 website.

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Olympic Winter Sports (Luge, Nordic Combined)

Luge

Luge is the name of the sports which involves one- or two person sleds race against time in artificial tracks.  Like Bobsleigh (for Bobsleigh click here) it has been invented in St. Moritz by English guests who copied the way delivery boys worked and turned it into races. However today, the sport is not a race against each other anymore but a race against time. Many weight restrictions are included in the sport and a lot of high tech equipment is used to make the sled as light as possible. The speed varies around 150 km/h. In Vancouver, Luge events will be held in the Men´s and Women´s Singles as well as in the Doubles. Although the Doubles is officially a Mixed Doubles the pair usually consists out of two men because they are heavier.

The three Luge events have been part of the Olympic Winter Games program since the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck 1964 where they replaced the Skeleton competitions. In many Winter Olympic host cities artificial tracks had to be built before the Games took place. The competitions have historically been dominated by German lugers from the different German nations (GDR, GER and FRG). They won a total of 65 medals including 24 Gold medals! Italian and Austrian athletes come in 2nd, respectively 3rd place with a considerably less amount of medals (15/16). German female lugers have not been beaten by an opponent from another country in 95 races since November 1997. There is no doubt Tatjana Hüfner, Natalie Geisenberger and Anke Wischnewski are the favorites for the competitions in Vancouver. However in the men´s competition Italian, Russian and Austrian athletes are amongst the favorites as Germany did not claim a medal in Torino 2006 for the first time in 22 years.

Nordic Combined

In Nordic Combined, athletes compete in both Cross-Country Skiing and Ski Jumping. Cross-country skiing was probably first invented by Norwegian soldiers who invented new ways to move on snow. Events first took place in Norway, too. Until 1952 the cross-country race was always held first but today there are many different competitions. In Vancouver three competitions will be held: Normal Hill Jump and 10km race (using the Gundersen system, which means that whoever  crosses the finish line first, will win the race), Large Hill Jump and 10km race, and a 4×4,5km relay event. in which every athlete has one jump each.

Nordic Combined is a very traditional winter sport and so is its history at the Olympic Winter Games. The events have been contested ever since the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix 1924. Then, an individual 18km cross-country race was held first followed by ski jumping. To make the sport more attractive for television, the order of the disciplines was changed later on and the length of the race was reduced. Although female athletes wanted to compete in the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined events in Vancouver 2010, the IOC rejected the application which led to protests under the athletes. Traditionally, Norway has produced a lot of top athletes in Nordic Combined. They have won 26 medals (11/8/7) and will be amongst the favorites in Vancouver, too. But athletes from Germany, Austria,the United States will also be in for a shout when they try to chase World Cup leader Jason Lamy Chappuis from France.


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Olympic Winter Sports (Free Style Skiing, Ice Hockey)

Free Style Skiing

Free Style Skiing is probably the “youngest” Olympic Winter Sport which was only recognized by the International Ski Federation in 1979 . It is an acrobatic form of technical and aerial skiing which is performed on a ski slope. The sport was invented by Norwegian alpine and cross-country skiers, who started performing acrobatics during their practice. There are four different disciplines of which three will be part of the Olympic program in Vancouver. The disciplines are Aerial, Moguls, Ski Ballet (will not be part of the program) and Ski Cross. Both men and women will be competing in all three disciplines.

Free Style Skiing has been contested at Olympic Winter Games since 1992, when it was first part of the program. However, it already was a demonstration sport in Calgary 1988 with demonstrations in Ski Ballet, Aerial and Moguls. Moguls was then the first Free Style discipline which became an Olympic Sport in Albertville. But whereas Aerials also made it into the program 1994 (there were only two years between the Olympic Winter Games so Summer/Winter Olympics could take place in different years), Ski Ballet was dropped. Events in Ski Cross will be held at the Olympic Games in Vancouver for the first time. With Free Style Skiing being a very popular sport in the United States and Canada as it is a very modern sport with lack of tradition, it is no surprise that these two winter sport nations lead the all time medal tables in Free Style. The US team has won a total of ten medals (4/4/2), with Canada coming in second place (2/2/2) and Norway (2/1/2) coming in third place. Athletes from these nations will also be the favorites for the events being held in Vancouver from February, 13th until February, 25th.

Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey is the only real team sport at the Olympic Winter Games. It is the sport which is played on ice and skaters use sticks to direct a puck into the goal of the opposite team. It is also the only sport at the Olympic Winter Games which involves real physical contact. Ice Hockey (some people also refer to it only as hockey because it is the most popular form of hockey) is a very popular sport in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. The game has its origins in Canada where team members played against each other on frozen lakes and tried to score with a ball into a goal. At the end of the 19th century, modern ice hockey rules were invented in Canada. At the Olympics in Vancouver there will be a ice-hockey competition for male and female national teams although women´s Ice Hockey is by far not as popular as the male version of it.

Ice Hockey has been part of the Olympic program since the very first Olympic Winter Games in 1924. However, just as Figure Skating, it was also part of the Olympic Summer Games program 1920, too. Canada won six gold medals out of the first seven Olympic Games except 1936 when Great Britain surprisingly claimed first place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After Canada´s domination in the early stages of the Olympic Winter Games, the Soviet Union won all Gold medals from 1956 until 1988 although the United States won in 1960 and 1980. Until today the rivalry between the US team and the Russian team is therefore still very much alive. In particular the US team which won against the big favorites Russia in the final 1980 are still celebrated as heroes in the United States and the whole team was given the honour to enlighten the Olympic Fire at the Games in Salt Lake City 2002. However, it is still Canada who leads the medal table with 9 Gold medals, ahead of Russia/Soviet Union (7) and the US (3). Those three nations will be the big favourites in Vancouver, too. But the defending nation Sweden, Finland (2nd in 2006) and the Czech Republic (3rd in 2006) will also be amongst the favourites to win a medal. However, the fans of Team Canada will expect nothing else than a Gold medal in the by far most popular Canadian sport!

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