Every four years, the world celebrates the pinnacle of winter sports athletic achievement with the Winter Olympics. There are officially 15 different sports that are included in the upcoming 2014 games in Russia.
The first eight sports in the 2014 Winter Olympics are the ice sports—bobsled, luge, skeleton, hockey, figure skating, speed skating, short track speed skating, and curling.
Bobsled, skeleton, and luge are all sports that take place on a downhill ice track. Bobsledders, either in teams of two or four, begin by pushing their sled to get it started, then jump in to steer it down the track. Tracks are close to a mile long, and the speed of the bobsleds can reach over 75 miles per hour. Both the luge and skeleton events use the same track, but are individual events. Skeleton athletes lay on their stomachs and go head-first, while luge athletes lay on their backs and go feet-first. They steer their sleds with subtle shifts in bodyweight, and as with bobsledders, skeleton and luge athletes often reach extremely high speeds. All of these sports can be extremely dangerous if athletes lose control of their sled, resulting in serious injuries.
Hockey is probably one of the best known of all the Winter Olympics sports. Teams from each nation compete for the title of Olympic champions, matching their skills skating on ice and scoring points by hitting a small round puck into the opposing team’s goal. In the sport of curling, teams of two slide a rock across an ice rink, attempting to hit a target on the other end.
Figure skaters compete either individually or in pairs, performing jumps, tricks, and choreographed dances on ice skates. Speed skating and short track speed skating, on the other hand, are all about going fast. Skaters compete individually, going around a track for set distances, starting at 500 meters. Speed skating also has a team event, which involves a relay team.
The next group of sports are the alpine events, which include alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, and snowboarding. Alpine skiing involves both the slalom skiing, where competitors must make it through a course filled with tight turns, and the downhill competitions, which are speed events.
Freestyle skiing and snowboarding are more focused on performing tricks and other feats of aerial movement. In skiing, competitors complete aerial movements and also race down moguls. In snowboarding, competitors generally perform tricks on a halfpipe or race down a slalom course.
The final four events at the Winter Olympics are the Nordic events—cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping, and the Nordic combined. Cross-country skiing is an endurance event on a semi-flat course, while ski jumping is a short track where competitors race down a steep slope in an attempt to reach the farthest jumping distance. Biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle target shooting, testing both endurance and skill, while the Nordic combined is a combination of cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Competitors in the Nordic combined complete both events and have the scores added together for one final score.
Hundreds of countries send athletes to the Winter Olympics to celebrate athletic achievement and compete for the pride of their home country. It is often a spectacular event that brings people together in a showing of national pride and sporting competition.