Technology makes the Winter Olympics more interesting to watch

For a sports junkie, the next two weeks will be heaven. The usual dozen or more basketball games each day, NBA and NHL games and now the Olympics and Super Bowl are scheduled. For anyone who likes sports, this variety of options is welcome.

The Olympics kicked off on Wednesday February 2 with hockey and curling. I don’t know how fast-paced the action is in curling, but the excitement of the players and the careful strategies they devise make it a sport to watch. I tried curling when I was young and it’s fun sliding that big granite boulder down the ice. The sweeping action we got was with primitive brooms versus the high tech brooms they use now. But it’s more fun to play than to watch.

Watching the various competitions on ice is one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Games. It is about competing on ice or snow during the winter games. For someone interested in sports technology, it’s fun to compare different advancements in equipment. The different skates for figure skaters, for hockey players and speed skaters, and whether the blade is flat ground or hollow ground, all of these make watching sports more interesting. And if you think skis are just flat wooden things attached to athlete’s feet, you’re wrong. The differences in downhill, slalom, cross country and ski jumping events are all different and are multi-layered composites of materials. Equipment technology makes it more interesting to watch.

After playing hockey in my younger years and then strength coaching for NHL teams for several years, I love watching the sport. After watching women’s hockey games, their speed and stick handling seem to indicate that they will do well in these games. Fast action and enough contact to compare it to football make hockey interesting. Another good thing is that it is continuous action with no waiting time to slow down the game. Players substitute during the game without stopping in the action.

Having been a racer for so many years, the sports of speed skating and cross-country skiing are much easier to understand. Between the sprints similar to a track competition and the longer 5k and 10k distance races that runners do on weekends, it makes these sports fun to watch. Knowing that runners always record their times of a race, it seems surprising to see the times that the athletes of these competitions can cover the different distances.

In speed skating, the times for the 5km and 10km distances are only slightly more than half the time a runner covers the distance. Longer blades for better surface contact and glide time between strokes make it nearly impossible to cover distance on the ice. Having had the experience of pushing myself to run a new PR in a race and feeling the respiratory and muscle aches, I can only imagine what these speed skaters feel when they compete. It seems like every year the records are falling as the skaters get faster and faster. What always impressed me when I watched Eric Hayden set records many years ago was the massive quadriceps in his legs. As a youngster beginning to lift weights, his leg development was envied.

Cross-country skiing is considered one of the highest aerobic demands for an athlete. Observing the lateral movement of the legs as they are attached by a point to a ski, you wonder: “How can athletes move so fast”? Cross-country times are faster than most runners can cover a distance of 5 or 10 km. I tried cross-country skiing for a year at my sister’s house in Maine. It seemed like it would be easy to understand the lateral movement of athletes. It’s not as easy as it seems. It reminded me of being told to learn to walk before trying to run. It’s not as fun to hang around when you’re trying to emulate an Olympic cross-country skier. My biggest problem was trying to turn and stop on these thin skis. Falling out turned out to be the best method for me to quit. And if you think getting up after a fall is easy, you’re wrong. The body’s center of gravity must be above the skis before you can stand up. When your back is eight inches deep in the snow under the skis, it’s a very difficult task. I will stick to watching this sport on TV from now on.

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