Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, or disconnected from the world of media, the Olympics are in full swing in Beijing, China. As someone who has skied and played hockey for most of my life, I do enjoy watching some of the action, although it is sporadic and not all-consuming, as it is for some people. I happened to turn on the idiot box the other night and watched some figure skating, with the sound off because I would rather enjoy the athletes skate without listening to the minutia, of the cloyingly, annoying commentators: “My lord, did you see that 1 1/2 twist camel, with a back flip, rotation?” “Yes, but there will be a mandatory deduction because the skater’s left pinkie finger was pointing the wrong way!” I’d rather not hear the athlete’s chosen music than listen to that crap.
When the skating was over, coverage switched to the first runs of men’s skeleton, which is similar to luge, but not! I enjoy watching these events because deep down I’m kind of a speed addict, meaning I like to go fast whether it’s on skis or my motorcycle, and I like watching other people go fast. However, going fast down what amounts to an iced water slide on a tiny sled, wearing a helmet and a spandex suit that would rip if you looked at it the wrong way, brings a whole new meaning to speed! And it got me thinking.
Skeleton was actually the first one to become an Olympic sport with men’s competition beginning in 1928 and women’s in 1948, while the first appearance of the luge was the 1964 Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. The sleds are very different in construction and weight, as well as how they are ridden, as you can see from the pictures above. What I started to think about when watching skeleton this time around was this: How does one get started in a sport like this? The path to becoming an Olympian in say, hockey, skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, and even curling, seems a bit more direct – you started at a very young age, got really good, started competing, and “et voila!” But, skeleton, luge, and bobsledding? As I watched these athletes hurtling down the ice at speeds sometimes in excess of 80 mph, I imagined the scenario of little Johnny or Jane sitting at the dinner table in Florida and blurting out: “I want to compete in skeleton when I grow up!” “That’s nice dear, now finish your peas.”
Los Angeles 2022