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Unusual events pave the way for a promising Winter Olympics

Olympics WEB

(Courtesy MCT)

While many people think that the Olympic Games are outdated in today’s fast-paced world, there are many interesting events coming up in this month’s Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. From the culturally significant opening and closing ceremonies to unusual sports, everyone should find something attractive about the games.

Though the Summer Olympic Games began in Ancient Greece thousands of years ago, the Winter Games are relatively new, beginning in 1924. This winter they come to Vancouver, Canada where the games will open Friday, Feb. 12. Since its launch, sporting events have been dropped and added, paving the way for a wide assortment of events. Each sport promises something for everyone.

Among the first events is the biathlon. The somewhat confusing race consists of 10 men and women’s races of varying lengths in which all biathlon athletes compete. During the races, biathletes stop in intervals, take a rifle off of their backs, and shoot at targets. Adapted in 2006, it now includes a mass start for the sprint race, providing for more thrills as participants attempt to stay standing while trying to fall over each other’s skis.

Curling is similar to shuffleboard or bocce on ice. One member of the two to four person competing team pushes a 40-pound curling stone down their lane. Another races ahead, sweeping the ice to make for a smoother track and longer ride. The goal is to get the stone between two lines and close to a “button.” Though it seems very simple, it is interesting to watch.

For the romantic at heart, ice dancing can be quite the event. While there are no lifts or real fancy tricks, ice dancing is described as ballroom dancing on ice. Music is played, the passion is potent; an ice dancing event can provide for a romantic evening. It can also be rather exciting and competitive. American pair Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are serious contenders after their success at the Turin Games.

However, ice dancing is not the only event in the rink. Figure skating is where many of the big name contenders can be seen. Though figure skating has the reputation of being a feminine sport, viewers can appreciate both the beauty and strength it takes to complete many high speed, high flying moves.

The three snowboarding events are sure to be among the most watched affairs of the 16 day event. The most interesting will be the snowboard cross, in which the athletes race down a course all while hurling over jumps and ramps. Besides that, these events are all fairly predictable.

Probably the oddest and most interesting event is the skeleton, which is named for the sled the riders lie face down on. The athlete lies down on a sled and hurls down an ice track at about 80 miles per hour. What makes it even more exciting is the fact that there is no breaking or steering mechanism present.

At the root of the Olympics is a sense of worldwide athleticism and camaraderie. Athletes participating in these and other exciting sports such as hockey, ski jumping and speed skating are playing to win medals for their home nations, to garner a sense of national pride.

Even if healthy competition on an international scale is not always an appreciated aspect of the Olympic Games, viewers can expect thrills and learning experiences from watching these sporting events. An exciting respite from a dreary winter season, the 21st Winter Olympiad, beginning Friday at 6 p.m., is sure to be exhilarating and stirring for viewers from all nations.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at kaitlynm@student.umass.edu.

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