The Best Unusual Winter Olympic Sports

A player about to throw a curling stone. Curling is one of the most well-known unusual sports, but what other weird winter sports are in the Olympics? Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The approach of winter brings many things: hot cocoa, cozy fires, warm coats, and of course, winter sports. With the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China approaching swiftly, you may find yourself clicking through the different sports being broadcasted on YouTube or cable. The usual ones appear, such as skiing or figure skating, but sometimes there are the abnormal sports that make you wonder, “why is this in the Olympics?”

The luge results in some of the funniest photos I have ever seen, and is seemingly pretty simple. The luge is a type of sled with blades similar to ice skates on it, weighing anywhere from 46 to 66 pounds. Competitors ride the luge alone or as a duo, lying on their back and feet-first, on an ice track with curves and walls. Lugers flex their calf and shoulder muscles to steer the sled in the attempt to get the fastest time. The luge is one of the most precisely-timed sports in the world, with times being recorded to one thousandth of a second on artificially-made tracks. This specific time keeping is necessary in luge, because any minor errors—brushing against the walls, having slightly incorrect movements, etc—could make or break your time. Lugers can travel over 87 miles per hour, with a maximum speed recorded being 96 miles per hour. This makes the mental aspect of luging just as important as the physical, with competitors having to perfectly time their turns at such high speeds. Looking at luge from the outside, you would not be able to tell how much strength it takes to compete in the sport. It appears to simply be sledding down some ice, but is much more than that. Additionally, it results in some very entertaining photos.

The skeleton event is very similar to luge, with the athletes using a similar sled and similar tracks, but instead competitors are laying on their stomachs, going head-first down the ice. It is always competed solo, unlike the luge which has doubles and single events. The skeleton event is slightly slower than the luge, due to the position being less aerodynamic, but can still reach speeds over 81 miles per hour. Sleds for the skeleton, while similar in structure to the luge, tend to be heavier, which results in more control of the steering. This sport, along with bobsledding, is associated with traumatic brain injury commonly called “sled head.” The suicides of former players have also been linked to this sport and its injuries. With the dangers that are associated with skeleton, you would assume that people would just participate in the luge event instead, but there are still many skeleton sledders out there. This sport is also fairly fun to watch and to flip through the photos taken of the sledders.

Curling is one of the most ridiculous-looking sports there is. In curling, two teams of four players compete against each other to see who can slide forty four pound granite stones down a 150-foot long sheet of ice. At the end of the 150 feet is the 12 foot “house,” which looks like a bullseye. Each team takes turns throwing a curling stone until both teams have thrown eight, with the team closest to the center of the house earning a point for that “end”, or round. This process is repeated for six to ten ends until one team wins. While the stone glides down the ice, players on the team sweep in front of it to impact the speed and direction of the stone by reducing friction and melting the ice. Curling is extremely funny to watch from an outside perspective. From the furious sweeping to the yelling of directions and the panicked looks in the players’ eyes, curling is one of my favorite unusual sports in the Winter Olympics.

Most people wouldn’t consider competitive shooting or skiing unusual, but what about combining the two? Well, the biathlon does just that. In the biathlon, competitors cross-country ski with 3.5 kg small-bore rifles strapped to their backs. Their route is divided by two or four shooting ranges, with each athlete needing to shoot five targets to avoid penalties to their time. The combination of skiing and shooting is a difficult one, with athletes needing to quickly drop their heart rate after skiing to hit targets accurately. While this sport isn’t necessarily as fun to watch compared to curling, it is definitely a unique sport to add to the myriad of -athlons.

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