Zdravstvujte! (Hello!) fellow sports enthusiasts and welcome to the next in our series of Sochi 2014 Winter Olympiad coverage. Today we are presenting our selections for the Top 10 most popular sporting competitions for the Winter Olympics, and while the choices may seem contestable, odd or even downright upsetting to some, we are in no way disparaging any of these events in favor of any others, we are simply providing our limited insights as to why some of them may draw larger crowds.
The Sochi Games will see a record 3,000 athletes from an unprecedented list of 88 countries (with some 12 tropical nations such as Jamaica, Mexico and the Cayman Islands, as well as such warmer climate locales as Peru, Brazil and India, among others) competing in 98 events that includes the introduction of a historic number of 12 new sports unveiled at this Olympiad; Women's Ski Jumping, Team Figure Skating-Mixed (with Men and Women competing together), Team Luge Relay-Mixed , Men's and Women's Snowboard Parallel Slalom, Biathlon Relay-Mixed, Men's and Women's Ski Slopestyle, Men's and Women's Snowboard Slopestyle and Men's and Women's Ski Halfpipe.
With so many disciplines to choose from, our task certainly wasn't easy, but based on what we believe are well-documented interest in some particular sports, as well as the relatively new nature of other events, we are fairly confident most of these selections will make at least some sense to Winter Olympic fans, regardless of what they may consider their personal favorites.
Here then are our choices for the top 10 most popular Winter Olympic events:
10 Ice Dance
Ice Dance requires Pairs skaters to maintain physical contact throughout their routine (obviously not required for Singles competition) and does not include lifts or jumps. Most often described as 'Ballroom dancing on ice,' the athletes are judged primarily on the execution of their skating elements, their affinity with the accompanying music and the gracefulness of their movements. Since being introduced at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, Ice Dance has continued to grow in popularity as a uniquely artistic combination of athleticism, poise and elegance.
9 Long Track Speed Skating
This event sees two competitors race in time trials across a 400 meter ice oval at distances of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters for both men and women, as well as 3,000 meters for women and 5,000 meters for men. Athletes are required to complete one outer and one inner track crossover on the back straight for each lap. Among the most gruelling Winter Olympic sports, Speed Skating is immensely popular in Europe, with countries such as The Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Germany consistently fielding extremely strong teams, though countries such as Canada, the U.S. and Japan have become major powers in their own right.
One of the most popular of the 'Freestyle Skiing' events (as opposed to 'Alpine' or 'Snowboarding' skiing), Moguls demands solo athletes to complete a downhill course of at least 200 meters. The course is covered with dozens of 'moguls' or rounded snow mounds and requires skiers to follow what's known as 'the fall line,' which is assumed to be the most direct, angled descent from top to bottom of the course, and they must perform two jumps along the way. As well as the fastest times, competitors are judged on how well they guide themselves over the moguls, how well they adhere to the fall line and the execution of their jumps and landings.
As one of the so called 'Extreme sports', Snowboarding was introduced into the Olympic roster in Nagano, Japan in 1998, and has consistently grown in popularity in the intervening years. Encompassing numerous disciplines such as Half-Pipe (where athletes perform jumps, twists, turns and somersaults on two large, curved ramps that face one another for the length of the course), Snowboard Cross, that sees competitors complete a course that includes moguls, kickers, banks, waves and spines (jumps with 90 degree angles), Parallel Giant Slalom and Slopestyle which requires athletes to gain the greatest heights while performing the most difficult and varied tricks. Consistent fan favorites since their inception, these events are among the most exacting in Winter Olympic competition, with some carrying a considerable risk of injury.
6 Slalom Skiing
Alpine Slalom requires skiers to combine their best times from two runs that involve navigating between numerous plastic gates scattered throughout the course. One of two so called 'technical' events (along with the Giant Slalom, where the courses are longer and the gates are spaced at greater distances apart) as opposed to strictly 'Speed' events (the Downhill and Super-G or Super Giant Slalom), competitors nevertheless achieve incredible acceleration throughout the event which continues to make this sport hugely popular in Europe and North America, from which many Olympic medalists have traditionally emerged.
A Winter Olympic sport since the 1924 Games in Chamonix, France, Bobsled events at Sochi 2014 include 2 Man, 2 Woman and 4 Man competitions. Though all three sled events use the same track, unlike Luge and Skeleton, Bobsleds are semi-enclosed vehicles that are controlled by means of a steering wheel and a handbrake. A good deal of the popularity of this sport lies in the impressive velocities these sleds can achieve, commonly attaining speeds of over 100 km per hour, which makes Bobsled among the most dangerous of all Winter Olympic events.
4 Ski Jumping
As anyone who can remember the classic opening segment of ABC's "Wide World of Sports" can tell you, Ski Jumping can realize "...the agony of defeat" unlike any other sport in a Winter Olympiad. As one of the Nordic Events (along with Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing and Nordic Combined-Ski Jumping and Cross Country Skiing), Ski Jumping can also trace its Olympic roots back to the original Modern Games of 1924. The 2014 Sochi Olympiad includes the Women's event for the first time in competition. Athletes will compete in 4 events; Men's Individual Normal Hill (90 meters), Women's Individual Normal Hill (90 meters), Men's Individual Large Hill (120 meters) and Men's Large Hill-Team. The distances refer to the length of the ramps skiers glide down before being launched into the air, with the object being to gain the furthest distance as well as the most error-free landing.
3 Alpine Downhill Skiing
Unlike other Olympic skiing disciplines, Downhill allows for only a single run from each athlete, with the goal of finishing with the best time. Due to the phenomenal speeds which can be attained in this event, results are measured down to the hundredths of a second and this is the second of the so called 'Speed' competitions (along with Super G/Super Giant Slalom) as opposed to 'Technical' competitions (such as Slalom and Giant Slalom). Not surprisingly, European athletes dominated all Alpine events for many Olympiads, but skiers from the United States and Canada among others have consistently challenged for podium status for several decades now, and have only increased the high-profile popularity of these events.
2 Figure Skating (Solo and Pairs)
Among the few events that pre-date the establishment of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 (appearing in both the 1908 London and 1920 Antwerp Summer Games), Figure Skating, which this year includes Men's and Women's Singles, Pairs, Ice Dance and the introduction of the Team-Mixed events, remains extraordinarily popular. Requiring a minimum number of set elements as well as any number of additional moves skaters can incorporate into their routines, athletes are judged on their execution and artistic interpretation to music. The combination of physical stamina and creative beauty has made Figure Skating a perennial fan favorite at every Winter Olympic Games.
1 Ice Hockey
Based on the thrilling nature of recent tournaments, we choose this sport as currently being the most popular Winter Olympic competition, something which the introduction of the Women's event in Nagano, Japan in 1998 has only furthered. Teams of 6 skaters (3 Forwards, 2 Defence and a Goaltender) battle to control a small rubber disk or puck with sticks on a large ice oval, the object being to score more goals by shooting the puck past the Goalie into the opposition's net. The recent domination of Olympic competitions that have seen Canada and the United States (both Men's and Women's teams) engage in thrilling, nail-biting Gold Medal finals has only increased the desire among European teams (Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Russia among others) to crack their superiority, and has made Ice Hockey the premier Winter Games' event of our time.