There’s a certain stare-death-in-the-face quality to the Winter Olympics.
Figure skating involves blades that can slice flesh. The game of hockey combines freshly sharpened skates with 100 MPH slap shots. Then there’s downhill skiing: where speed meets the very real possibility of hurtling off a cliff, unless some orange-colored mesh fencing miraculously catches your Gumby body while it cartwheels through the air. If the polyethylene doesn’t stop you, you’re now competing in a different Winter Olympic sport: ski jumping.
If you take away the mountain and add a weapon, you have biathlon. Even in curling, the grandparent of the Winter Games, there’s danger: you can fall on the ice and suffer a concussion, all while someone who’s red in the face yells “harder!”
In terms of danger, the Winter Games are the UFC to the Summer Olympics’ hatha yoga. I’m sure running a marathon in under three hours is hard, but a momentary loss of focus is unlikely to kill you. To get the same possibility of death that exists at the Winter Olympics, the IOC would have to introduce new sports to the Summer Games, like combining synchronized swimming with archery, or adding 10-metre diving into a shallow pool.
Of the winter sports, skeleton is king of crazy. Any sport whose name is synonymous with death and decay has to be number one on the psycho list. If there were a Darwin Award for a Winter Olympic sport, it would go to skeleton. I mean, who in their right mind would dive headfirst onto a cafeteria tray and careen down a mile of ice at speeds close to 100 clicks with their chin a mere inch from the ground? One inch. That’s 25 millimetres, people.
Even the technical jargon associated with skeleton reveals how it’d fail any risk assessment. One of these terms is G-Force. In skeleton, G-Force refers to the pressure that keeps the athlete on the sled while it corners. So move over fighter pilots and astronauts; you’re wearing protective gear, not experiencing G-Force in a unitard. When Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, I’d bet he didn’t envision a human bullet propelling down an icy slide of death…by choice.
Rumour has it that, in addition to nutritionists and psychologists, several skeleton teams employ neurologists and receive front-of-the-line passes to MRI clinics. Play your vertebrae right (or wrong), and it just could be a gateway sport for entry to the next Paralympics.
It’s hard to imagine parents putting their child in skeleton. Then again, maybe not.
Still, you have to wonder what skeleton athletes (who I think should be called skeleteers) would do for a career if they weren’t donating their body to spinal cord research. I’m thinking crash-test-dummies. Perhaps Toyota could use surviving skeleteers to test sticky accelerators.
I have to wonder why Canadians do relatively well at these sports. Yes, there’s the climate argument: it’s cold and we need something to do. But as the stereotype goes, we’re polite with a side order of inferiority complex. Is there an edgier side to us or — more likely — do the Olympians represent a tiny fraction of our population, the same type of people who are likely to climb K-2 or play with hairsprays and lighters for fun?
Whatever the reason, the Winter Olympics are pure entertainment. And for the next two weeks I will yell at my children to be quiet as I marvel at those risk takers from the comfort of my couch. The only skeleton I’m going near is the one in my closet.
Let the games begin.
Will you be watching?
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