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January 2002

The Winter Olympics in a Nutshell

Figuring on watching the Winter Olympic action from Salt Lake City? Here's a quick guide to the events to help you make sense of what you'll be seeing...

In a nutshell: A guy straps on skis, screams straight down a 10-storey high ice chute and launches himself into the stratosphere courtesy of a ramp at the end of it. Less a 'jump' than a 'controlled fall' if you think about it. Technique: Long skis and a pigeon-toed flight stance give skiers added lift for longer distances. However recent advances in clothing and binding placement had resulted in some skiers actually overshooting the sloped landing area and burying themselves in none-too-shallow graves in the parking lot. Insider info: In an effort to get around this unintentional ratings-grabber, ski suits must now have a permeability rating of at least 40 l/cm2 to avoid what used to be known as 'the blimp effect' (air trapped in the suit used to result in added lift).

In a nutshell: Downhillers are total speed freaks whose idea of fun is to squeeze into a body condom three sizes too small, strap on very long skis and promise not to turn on their way down the mountain. Racers cover a 3 km course in under 90 seconds, reaching speeds of up to 130 km/h. Technique: The only Olympic event that includes formal prayer. Insider info: The only thing faster than a downhill racer is a fallen downhill racer - their suits are slicker than carny pitchmen.

In a nutshell: Similar to the Downhill event only these candy-asses get to make turns to slow down. Technique: It's the turns that are the rub in these sports and different gate configurations require different strategies. The starting order is crucial, too - the first few guys get to turn where they want to; the rest of the field have to turn where the ruts dictate. Insider info: Skiers are disqualified if they aren't out of their skis and holding them two inches from their face with the brand name clearly visible within two seconds of crossing the finish line.

In a nutshell: Mogul skiing is the realm of over-indulged, pretty-boy jocks who've spent their entire lives trying to impress ski bunnies at the family's condo in Whistler. Technique: Competitors hot-dog down a steep, mogul-covered slope and are judged on the basis of speed, style and the mid-air maneuvers they manage to pull off. Insider info: While these guys may get more than their share of the babes now, take heart that mogul skiing is brutal on the knees. Most of them will be invalids by the time they're 35.

In a nutshell: Competitors execute two spectacular jumps per run, each involving amazingly intricate mid-air maneuvers. Technique: None of the action is actually visible to the naked eye. Aerial competitions are best taped and watched frame-by-frame on the VCR later. Insider info: Canada's premier aerialists are all from La Belle Province, which is either a testament to French Canadians' nerves of steel OR Reason #1 why the politics of separation can be sold to francophones so easily.

In a nutshell: Pretty much the Boston Marathon in Lapland. The most exciting part of cross-country skiing is the selection of the appropriate wax for the day. Yawn...

In a nutshell: How do you make a sport as boring as cross-country skiing interesting? Add guns, of course. Technique: In the Biathlon, skiers still cross-country ski 15 to 30 kms, but now they have to stop and shoot at four separate sets of five targets with an ultra high-tech, .22 caliber, scoped sniper rifle that looks like it was custom made to bring down Charles deGaulle. Insider info: Basically a controlled breathing exercise - drawing a bead on a target while coughing up a lung from an eight kilometre sprint ain't easy!

In a nutshell: Allowing snowboarding into the Olympics was nothing more than a cheesy attempt to rope in high school-age viewers. Technique: Two categories of competitions - skate punks on the slalom course and skate punks in the half pipe. Insider info: The thought of hearing "Olympic Gold Medal Shredder-Dude" just too bizarre to consider...

In a nutshell: Basically an internship program for Disney On Ice. Technique: Skaters are graded on the width of their grins, the upward angle of their chins, and their ability to preserve that facade while skidding across the ice on their butt after a triple toe-loop gone wrong. Insider info: Olympic skating rules are mind-bogglingly complex - even for the judges - so usually the skater with the best ass wins.

In a nutshell: While I hesitate to make generalizations as to the sexual orientation of male figure skaters, suffice to say that to succeed in this sport you have to be comfortable in a costume that makes you look as gay as a bouquet of pink balloons. Insider info: All costumes must be based on the original 'tights with sequins and ruffles' model. While some skaters like Elvis Stoyko occasionally try to buck this trend, they always end up looking more butch than masculine. Wrist bands? Please...

In a nutshell: While the Pairs competition has been around for decades, the Ice Dance is a relatively new competition that's aimed at making male skaters look hetero.

In a nutshell: You don't want to make jokes about speed skaters - they're massive brutes with thighs like chestnut trees. And those are the women. Technique: Two very different categories: regular, wide oval racing for drawn-out, strategic battles; and short track, mad dash, arena racing for the MTV cocaine attention-span crowd. Insider info: A sex test is required to determine if the participants are female. It's a blood test. That tells you something.

In a nutshell: Competitors scream down a two kilometre-long, ice-lined half pipe at speeds of up to 120 km/h on cafeteria trays with runners. Technique: Lugers lie on their backs and head down the mountain feet-first. Looking up to see where you're going is frowned upon as it slows you down.

In a nutshell: The soapbox derby version of the luge. There are two-man and four-man bobsleigh competitions but the latter is a joke. After all, a bobsleigh only needs a driver and a brakeman - there's nothing for those other two guys to do but keep their heads down and act as ballast. Technique: Bobsleighs travel so fast the driver basically steers by nodding his head.

In a nutshell: Olympic hockey used to be incredibly lopsided with the entire Soviet Red Army team going up against Canada's Junior C All-Stars. This has changed since play-off-challenged N.H.L. players were allowed to take part. Technique: European teams will pass a lot and make plays. Canadian and American teams will concentrate on slashing and checking. Insider info: Unlike NHL hockey, when Olympic teams win more than one city gets ransacked.

In a nutshell: Shuffleboard on Ice. Insider info: The only difference between curling and shuffleboard is that no one expects anyone to sweep in front of a shuffleboard disc so there's less debate about who screwed up when the shot goes amiss.

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