I’ve long had the theory that a lot of the athletes in the Winter Olympics get into their sport not based on their athleticism, but because they are the only people who are afraid of absolutely nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, anyone who competes in anything at the Olympics is crazy athletic (yes, even curling!). More athletic than just about any person can fathom. World class athletic. But, it takes a special kind of athlete to see a mountain - a giant mountain! - and think “I’d like to put some skis on and jump off of that.” Or see a downhill track made literally of solid ice and think “yeah, put me on a tiny little sled and let me slide down that thing. Head first? Even better!”
I think you have to get into those sports when you’re a little kid before you develop a sense of fear. Skeleton and luge riders can reach more than 80 miles per hour. That’s reckless driving on any street in the state of Virginia. And drivers are in cars, with (hopefully) seatbelts and five-star safety ratings. Lugers are wearing nothing but a tiny little helmet. And they’re like three inches above the ice. I’m terrified just watching it.
But I love watching it. Every second of it. The Olympics are my favorite two weeks every two year, whether it’s the Summer or Winter Games. There’s something really special about the Winter Games though. Everyone knows the Summer sports, and most kids have tried at least a handful of them. But there are always so many questions about Winter sports. How does someone get started as a skeleton racer? Why do some athletes give up on other sports to become curlers? What exactly do you have to do to become a curler anyway? Over the next three weeks I’ll attempt to answer all of these questions and more and tell you everything I’ve learned while doing literally nothing else outside of watching the PyeongChang Winter Games.
What I’ve learned so far:
1. Curling is awesome.
Not to brag, but over the last week I’ve learned basically everything there is to know about curling. I’m very excited because I think it’s going to be a super cool conversation starter one day. You should definitely invite me to be on your trivia team.
Curling at this Olympics began with mixed doubles, which is teams of two people — one man and one woman. Unfortunately, the U.S. team, brother and sister duo Matt and Becca Hamilton, hit a snag and were eliminated from medal contention. Fortunately though, the Hamiltons are the only people in the curling competition who will also compete in the men’s and women’s team events, and that is good because the Hamiltons are awesome. They’re such fun people. Becca is a former lacrosse and soccer player (told you curlers are athletic!) and Matt looks like if Andy Reid was an Olympian, but also likes to blow kisses to the camera and give his sister a thumbs up while saying things like “epic shot brah. So gnarly.” They are definitely not what you expect when you think of stuffy Olympic curlers.
Also, curling is so fun to watch. If you see it on, definitely give it a chance. And if you’re wondering, it’s literally on like every second of every day, so you won’t miss it. Fun fact, curling makes up more than half of all NBC Olympics online live streams from PyeongChang.
Give a quick read of the rules and you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. There’s a lot of misconceptions around the sport, but it’s definitely more than just people sweeping.
And curlers are athletic. It is really hard. The throwers have all of the precision of Greg Maddux. They can put those stones within an inch of exactly where they want it to go. And the sweepers have to run up and down a 150 foot sheet of ice while sweeping. The U.S. men’s and women’s teams were asked before the games how much time they spent in the gym, and all of them said at least 2 or 3 hours a day. There’s a lot to it, and it is not an easy sport. These are things you should tell people next time you hear someone say “I could be an Olympic curler one day.” No you couldn’t. It is not easy.
2. Chloe Kim and Maame Biney are America’s next Winter Olympic superstars
Every new Olympics brings us an athlete who becomes a star outside of the two weeks they compete, and this Winter Games will undoubtedly give us several. The two biggest, I think, will be 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim and 18-year-old short-track speedskater Maame Biney.
Kim likely could have won gold at the last Winter Games, but she couldn’t compete because she was only 13. Yeah, she’s that good and hasn’t even started college yet. Some may say she’s boring, but that’s just because she dominates so much that she just makes it look easy.
Biney, like Kim, just has an electric personality that shows on and off the ice, and her dad likes to hold a sign that says “Kick some hiney Biney!”
Biney was born in Ghana and is now the first African-American woman to qualify for the Olympics in speedskating. Now she lives in Virginia, one of only four Olympians from our state. While Biney’s medal chances are less than Kim’s, she’s young enough to have a long Olympic career ahead of her.
The Olympics are technically only two days old so far (except for curling which started two days before the Opening Ceremonies. So much curling…) so there’s still a lot we have to learn about these games. Pay special attention to luger Erin Hamlin, who carried the flag for the U.S. at the Opening Ceremonies and is still the only American to ever medal in luge, and figure skater Nathan Chen, who is the U.S.’s best chance at a figure skating medal. This will also be skier Lindsey Vonn’s final Olympics, and possibly snowboarder Shawn White’s too, so make sure you watch those two legends compete for as long as you can.