The ‘normal’ hill in Beijing stands at 106m and the ‘high’ hill is just that, measuring at 135m. Athletes can lift off at speeds exceeding 100kmh on the big hill and typically land about 140m away, although the distance is dictated by the conditions. At any point in time, the skis are never more than 6-8m from the ground as the descent conforms to the terrain of the slope.
Downhill (alpine) skiing
‘What the hell?’ factor 8.5/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? That’s not something you should really consider.
This is like the 100m final of the Winter Games, an event reserved for Olympic royalty and rock stars of snow sports. At these Games, we are talking about headliners like America’s Mikaela Shriffin and Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt-Kilde. It’s beautiful and exhilarating and frightening as athletes carve down the mountain at more than 150kmh, cutting a path between gates and trying not to become a human snowball that needs to be stopped by the kind of safety netting used in car racing.
There are four disciplines of Alpine skiing: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-Giant Slalom (Super-G) and Downhill. It’s cut-throat as well, putting a premium on athletes getting it perfect when it matters. They can train on the course but in the downhill and Super-G components, there is just the one run for the medals, with two in the remaining categories.
‘What the hell?’ factor 7/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? Not recommended. Try your local skating rink as a first step.
Australia’s most-famous Winter gold medal came via the short-track speed skating, where Stephen Bradbury survived a final lap of carnage to salute in Salt Lake City in 2002. That’s not especially unusual in the short-track version of the sport, where multiple racers navigate impossibly tight turns to make it a survival of the fiercest as well as the fastest. Long-track skating takes place on a 400m rink, with gentler turns, less carnage but more speed.
Tight suits, giant thighs. What more could you need for an evening of entertainment?
‘What the hell?’ factor 8/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? That’s a negative, Ghostrider.
The Chandler sports complex in Brisbane is better known for swimming, but you only need to swing past to see the giant training ramps constructed near one of the outside pools so Australia’s aerial stars can train all-year round. The scale is startling and a small insight into the skill and courage of the skiers, who rocket skywards off the ramps and contort their bodies into every conceivable shape.
The discipline has been a success for Australia at the Winter Games, with Alisa Camplin (2002) and Lydia Lasilla (2010) both winning gold medals. Laura Peel, Australia’s reigning World Cup champion, is a standout medal chance and only the third woman to land a quadruple twisting triple backflip.
‘What the hell?’ factor? 7.5/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? No. But if you have access to a deserted shopping centre car park and some trolleys, we could see how you may be tempted.
Prior to these Games, men’s bobsled had events for teams of two and four, while women only had the option of the doubles. The introduction of the monobob for women (one of seven new events for these Games) means it’s all square and gives the Games another dose of 120kmh lunacy down a mountain.
It features a smaller and lighter sled and that is standarised for every competitor, putting the onus on the driver to best navigate the course and handle the array of shuddering twists and turns. In the team events, the roles of driving, braking and pushing are split up between members. The monobob pilot does it all by herself.
‘What the hell?’ factor 8.5/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? Please God no.
This is technically the slowest of the three sliding sports at the Olympics but looks the most insane as riders hurtle down the course face-first on a thinner but heavier sled than luge. When we say ‘slowest’, we still mean speeds up to 130kmh, all of which is done by leading with the head.
It appeared in the Games of 1928, 1948 and wasn’t spotted again until 2002, when it returned to the global stage to horrify non-winter sports aficionados who were left to wonder why on Earth they would take an already mind-bending event and make it even more petrifying. Six-time world champion Martins Dukurs (Latvia) South Korea’s Yun Sungbin are among the names to watch in Beijing.
‘What the hell?’ factor? 7/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? If you happen to find a slope consisting of hundreds of small, snowy mounds fun, you are probably already a moguls skier.
There are few Olympic sports that scream ‘Death to Your Knees’ like watching moguls skiing, where riders twist and turn their way down a bobbled course and throw a few jumps in for good measure. It’s an orthopedic surgeon’s dream and in cold climates, a strong contributor to their annual Porsche SUV upgrade.
Australia has good pedigree here, with Dale Begg-Smith (2006, 2010) having a gold and silver in his collection and Matt Graham (2018) finding himself on the podium four years ago. Graham is back for a second tilt, with women’s star Jakara Anthony a live chance as well.
‘What the hell?’ factor 5/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? Sure (probably ditch the skates to begin with).
If you are planning to tune in to the Olympic hockey tournament for the fights, you might as well flick over to the ice dancing (worthy in itself, of course). Unlike the NHL, one of the last remaining professional sports in the world that champions fisticuffs, the Olympic tournament is all about speed and skill.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t see players being shunted into the plexiglass or taking hits from rivals; the toughness is inherent in the sport. It’s a religion in Canada and parts of Europe and that passion flows through to the players. Russia will play a leading role in the men’s draw while the USA and Canada have dominated women’s ice hockey at this level.
‘What the hell?’ factor 7.5/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? Er, no.
It’s long-distance, cross-country skiing but with guns. Every so often, competitors give their burning legs a break by stopping to shoot at targets. The traditional distances are 20km for the men, 15km for women. They also alternate shooting positions from prone (lying down) to standing. The punishment for missing targets is to do a lap of the penalty course, like when your coach sends you running around the football field when you drop a ball. It’s hellish.
‘What the hell’ factor 9/10
Should you attempt to recreate this at home? Stop. Just stop.
One of the most grotesque crossbreeds of winter sports. Athletes not only have to produce a pair of ski jumps, they must then embark on a gruelling 10km cross-country course. The first one to stagger over the line wins.
They are complete freaks. We love them.