Last weekend I watched football. Kind of, anyway. My husband and I attended a Superbowl party, but while I enjoyed spending time with great friends and good snacks and I do appreciate clever commercials, I am not really a fan of the sport. And honestly, I’m a little sported out at the moment anyway.
Because though it seems not many of us have particularly noticed, the Winter Olympics are also occurring right now, amid a great deal of geopolitical strife in a world that feels like it might be on the verge of reshaping itself in some fashion.
The Games have been on in our house because, as I have mentioned before in this space, I am married to an Olympic junkie. I can support this habit. At least he is not an actual junkie, which may not be true for at least one of the figure skaters competing in the 2022 Games.
So, we have been watching. A quick and highly scientific poll of my friends at the Superbowl party suggests most of the rest of you probably haven’t been. Well, maybe with the exception of the occasional curling match, because who can resist that? I guess.
Actually, it might surprise you (or not) that curling is not the most popular winter event, though does easily crack the top fifteen.* It’s a little difficult to know which sport will end up on top for the 2022 Olympics since they aren’t over yet and most surveys I found looked at subsections of the population in either the US or the world. Still, figure skating tops most lists, often followed by snowboarding.
Ski jumping has also been popular this year, against the vaguely post-apocalyptic industrial backdrop Beijing has chosen for it. Short-track speed skating also pulls in a crowd of spectators, unable to tear their eyes from a race that will likely see the disqualification of a good 75% of the competitors and at any moment might result in someone losing a finger.
Perhaps it is the danger factor that keeps the spectators on the edges of their cozy living room recliners, because pulling up more or less in fifth place on the list of popular winter sports to watch is luge.
I will be the first to admit that outside of the Olympic Games, I have never in my life seen a luge competition, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. I have, however, watched it quite a bit during the 2022 Winter Games, most of it through the slits between my fingers. I don’t know about you, but to me luge seems like the kind of bad idea a bunch of friends might cook up one boring winter day at a resort in the Swiss Alps.
And that’s exactly how the sport traces its history, to a posh resort in the town of St. Moritz in Switzerland, where in the late 1800s, tourists, allegedly at the suggestion of hotelier Caspar Badrutt, started entertaining themselves by commandeering delivery sleds and racing at breakneck speeds through town.
It must have been great fun, because the idea quickly spread to other resort towns and spawned competitions which led to new sledding technologies, international organizations, icier tracks, and in 1964 to the Olympics. All because some bored tourists decided it might be an entertaining way to pass the time.
Some of those early competitors even decided to go headfirst to make the sport, if not faster, then at least more devastatingly dangerous. That’s how skeleton was born. It made its Olympic debut in 1928, was dropped and added again in 1948, then was dropped again and added back in 2002. This may be because skeleton was a bit too niche for the Olympics, or it could have been because anyone who ever watches it surely realizes that a mistake in the sport will most likely lead to a swift death or life-altering injury for the athlete.
I draw the line at watching skeleton. My heart can’t take it, even through the gaps between my fingers, but for the Olympic junkie I live with, every Olympic sport is the one to watch.
*There are currently fifteen distinct sports featured in the Winter Olympic Games.