The winter games of the Olympics are almost over and we realized something the other day that we hadn’t given much thought. As we were watching the women’s bobsled competition we decided that we have no idea what the people in the bobsled actually do. We’re certain that it takes skill, stamina, and strength, but that’s about it. Does the brake man (or perhaps the brake person) have to do any braking along the way or is her job just to keep a low profile and stop the sled when it gets to the bottom. Does the other person (and we don’t even know what to call the person who sits in the front) actually steer the sled or is it more like the sleds of old where one just torques one body and the sled goes in that general direction. It all looks like fun – perhaps at half the speed they are travelling – and we enjoy watching it but we really aren’t certain of what we are watching.
There are other winter events that have us scratching our heads. Take the various relays. In the summer games, a relay has a clear handoff. In track the hand off is quite literal as the runner of one leg passes the baton to the runner of the next leg. In the pool, the swimmer must clearly touch the wall with everybody watching before the next swimmer is off for his or her leg. But in winter there seems to be less formal transitions. In the cross country skiing relay the skier finishing up a leg slaps the back of the next skier. What if it’s a miss, not a hit? And through all of the winter gear and bibs and what have you that they are wearing, are we even certain that the slappee feels the slapper’s slap? The speed skating relays are just too chaotic to even think about. It looks like every skater from every team, and maybe even a few extra, circle the track waiting for a push on the backside. That’s when they know to get into gear and spend a couple laps figuring out who gets pushed next.
We understand snowboards and half-pipes. We were a little confused when we saw the competitors on actual skis on the half-pipe. Where were we when they invented that game? We missed the memo or surely we would have commented on the relative dangers of flipping and twisting while wearing five foot long skies just waiting to get hung up on the rim on the way down.
We love the grace of anybody doing just about anything on ice. Yet even though we hear the explanation every 4 years we still don’t know why there is pairs skating and ice dancing. Something about lifts and turns and syncopated motions. They are both beautiful but can you really take something seriously when it has a compulsory movement called the “Twizzle?”
Regardless if we understand them all or we don’t, we’re still watching and we’re still enjoying and we’re still rooting for our team. Someday we’ll figure them all out. It only took us 12 years to be able to watch curling with the confidence that we actually know what they are doing out there. If we can mentally master curling we can certainly figure out a twizzle.
Now, that’s what we think. Really. How ‘bout you?