Sports

All The Sports At The Winter Olympics, Ranked By Watchability

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We can all probably agree that the Winter Olympics are a pale substitute for the Summer games. And I mean literally pale. Did you know that only two nations below the equator have ever won Winter Olympics medals (Australia and New Zealand)? It’s almost like affirmative action for the richer, colder countries.

Nonetheless, it’s a useful placeholder. I admit it, I love the Olympics. I love that you can turn on the TV at any hour of the day and see the culmination of someone’s entire life. They devoted their entire childhoods to something and you can just turn on the TV and see if it was worth it, over and over and over for weeks. And obviously, it beats the hell out of baseball.

Also, say what you will about Summer Olympic sports being more exciting, the Summer Olympics has precious few sports that I’d consider legitimately death-defying, activities I wouldn’t consider for any amount of money (probably only gymnastics). The Winter Olympics, meanwhile, is made up almost entirely of them. In fact that may be the most interesting aspect of the Winter Olympics, that it has so many sports that are objectively insane, and yet oftentimes not all that watchable. Partly it’s because so many — almost all of them, in fact — winter sports aren’t contested head to head. They consist of one competitor on the track at a time, decided by a clock, some judges, or, God forbid, a combination of a clock and judges (nothing like having to bust out the calculator to figure out if a competitor did well).

With so many badass sports yet so many so strangely not that watchable, you wonder if maybe we just haven’t figured out the best way to cover them. Many of these events could be greatly improved with more creative camera coverage, a better telecast, and yes I have some additional suggestions. In any event, here they all are, ranked by watchability.

20. Cross-Country Skiing

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Cross-country skiing looks insanely hard, I know, but so is digging a big hole. Cross-country skiing is like skiing with all the good parts removed. It’s like they tried to make NASCAR out of being stuck in traffic. Yes, it’s one of the few events where the competitors are all on the course at the same time, and yet… somehow it doesn’t feel that climactic. It’s usually so cold that you don’t even get to see the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat written on the competitors’ faces, it’s just a bunch of panting crotchety guys wearing Oakleys. They always look grumpy as hell. And can you really blame them? This sport looks a punishment. They all remind me of middle-aged cycling enthusiasts, the grumpiest people on Earth.

There are crashes, occasionally, and those are fun, but they aren’t that exciting. Probably because cross-country skiing accidents almost always take place at very low speeds. It’s like watching two guys in very high heels try to pass each other in a hallway and fall down. Frankly, that would be a more interesting sport.

19. Curling

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It’s basically hack to rip on curling at this point, and the closest thing to a hot take I could come up with in this piece was to only rank it second to last. Yes, yes, thank you, I am a very independent thinker.

Okay, I don’t think curling is quite as dull as everyone says. I mean, I try to like it. Shuffle puck is my favorite bar game and I’ve even played in a cornhole league, and curling is nothing if not an insanely elaborate ice version of shuffle puck or cornhole.

Therefore I always think it can’t possibly be that bad. There’s some drama involved in trying to make a precision lag while knocking your opponent’s stones off the board. The part I always forget is the 90 seconds of planning before every shot, where the four curlers confer with their coach about the right play. Kill me now. There’s no way this involves more planning and geometry than a basic game of pool, but if you did this much conferring in a pool hall you’d get beaten senseless inside of 20 minutes. The most interesting that happened in curling was when the cute Russian girl fell down.

Suggestions to improve it:

Mixed curling has two players. Make all the matches two players only, no coaches, and a 24-second clock for picking your line.

18. Slalom Snowboard

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I get the same feeling watching slalom snowboarding as I do watching pick-up truck racing. Like … the thing wasn’t really built for that, you know? Snowboards were obviously made for doing sweet tricks and going off of sick jumps. Slalom snowboarding is like someone said “Yeah, but what if we judged it based on how efficient a mode of conveyance!”

No, man.

17. Ice Dancing

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Isn’t this just figure skating without the sweet jumps? Hard pass.

16. Ski Cross/Slopestyle Skiing/Snowboard Cross/Slopestyle Snowboarding

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I’m lumping these all into one because they feel about equal in terms of events that maybe don’t need to be events. Ski cross/snowboard cross seem like they tried to solve the problem of winter sports not having enough head-to-head events, but only succeeded in proving why winter sports don’t have more head-to-head events. It seems arbitrary, more unfair than exciting.

Slopestyle just kind of doesn’t make sense. Why the hell would there be a rail in the middle of a mountain? Just so you can do sick rail grinds? Skateboarders grind rails because those exist in skateboarding’s natural environment. Snowboarders should have to grind tree branches or something. Don’t just stick a goddamn rail out there just because. You don’t see surfers putting trees in the water, do you? Doesn’t anyone give a shit about the rules?!

I’d rather watch snowboarders try to negotiate moguls or powder or ice than whatever the hell this is. I know I sound like the world’s oldest grandpa here, but if you can sag your pants below your ass while competing in a sporting event there’s something wrong with that sporting event.

Suggestions for improvement:

Pull up your damned pants!

15. Biathlon

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Few sports typify the gulf between “badass sport” and “watchable sport” more than the biathlon. Whereas slope style snowboarding is watchable enough but obnoxious precisely because it has no historical justification, biathlon is perfectly justified (by both the Winter War and James Bond). That said, it’s a combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting, neither of which are especially watchable or interesting, difficult as it may be. I know it’s hard, it’s just not that compelling TV.

Suggestions to improve it:

Replace the puny target rifles with .50 cal sniper rifles and swap the targets with watermelons. Tell me you wouldn’t watch that hell out of that. Also, you should have to have a three-way with a boy and a girl at the end and bring them to completion. Bi-biathlon.

14. Skeleton

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The only event with a higher badass-to-watchable ratio than biathlon is skeleton. These psychos are sliding headfirst down an ice track at like 80 miles per hour. Not for any amount of money would I attempt this. And yet… it’s not that interesting to watch. I think it’s that all the competitors look virtually identical. It’s all subtle body weight shifting that just doesn’t photograph that well. Plus I’m more of a crotch guy than a butt guy. Advantage: Luge.

Suggestions to improve it:

GoPros? Maybe a clearer explanation of what they’re actually doing out there?

13. Bobsled

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On the plus side, you can tell what the competitors are doing much more easily than in the skeleton, but on the downside, it looks slower and less insane. Still, I’m not entirely clear on what makes a good bobsledder. I think I need to watch Cool Runnings again.

Suggestions to improve it:

All the competitors have to be seven beers deep.

12. Luge

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Luge is the cream of the crap when it comes to elite sliding sports. It’s not the most boring sport in the world, but for something so insane it should be much more exciting. It just raises so many questions. Where do you practice the luge? How do you become a luger? Do the big luge agencies just recruit, like with models? Do lugers have to be “discovered?” And if so, what does a luge recruiter look for? Big thighs? How do you scout for core strength?

Furthermore, and this is really my biggest question … when you’re just learning to luge, is there a way to crash without dying? Because it doesn’t look like there’s much margin for error. Dying 50% of the time you crash seems like it would make the recruiting part difficult. Do lugers have to be impressed and forced to compete, like 18th-century sailors? Anyway, I enjoy the crotch closeups.

Suggestions to improve it:

A crotch-mounted camera. Answering all of my questions above. Constant radar gun. Make the track surrounded by a pit of snakes. Make the competitors be seven beers deep.

11. Half-Pipe Skiing

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Basically all my criticisms of slalom snowboarding, but in reverse. I’m sure it’d be fine if half-pipe snowboarding didn’t exist, but it does, so it’s just like… why?

10. Freestyle Skiing

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Speaking of sports I wouldn’t attempt if you paid me… Aerial skiing actually has a unique problem. In that it’s actually so insane that it quickly burns out your sensors for how insane it is. They do so many flips and twists that everything starts to blur in your mind. Some of the unsung heroes of these Olympics are the aerial skiing, snowboard, and figure skating commentators, who just know at a glance whether someone did four revolutions or only three and a half. Don’t you dare tell me that’s easy. Sure, I know lots of jargon-y things about sports I’m familiar with, like whether a choke is a brabo or an anaconda, but none of those require intense counting of something that’s over in a split second (something something my lovemaking).

9. Short Track Speed Skating

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This sport should rate higher, based on the things I’ve said I want in an Olympic sport. It’s speed skating, which is one of my favorite of these sports, but with the competitors competing head-to-head, which is theoretically good. But is it possible that … and I know this is nitpicky … the tracks are too short? And is four skaters on the track at the same time really that much of an improvement over two?

It just feels like they aren’t getting up to full speed. It seems like half skating, half boxing out. Which I guess isn’t a terrible thing. I don’t know. It just feels slightly arbitrary. Remember when everyone else crashed and that Australian guy who was in last place ended up winning? That was cool.

Suggestions to improve it:

Just go full on and make it like roller derby where you’re allowed to kick the shit out of each other (no stabbing with skates though. we’ll call that the Happy Gilmore rule.). You can tell that’s the sport they wanted to create anyway. Right now short track speed skating is kind of like when TBS used to air softcore porn movies with the nudity parts removed.

8. Slalom Skiing

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Slalom skiing is objectively hard as hell, but something about it doesn’t quite translate to television. The way they place the camera you don’t truly get a sense of the incline or how fast they’re actually going, so it just kind of looks like a guy who’s going kind of slow and punching a bunch of plastic rods on his way down.

My question: what did this sport look like before plastic? Did they have to ski around trees? They should have to ski around trees.

Suggestions to improve it:

The cameras in a different place. Make the plastic rods trees. Make them “shoot the pier,” like a surfer. I don’t know, just spitballing here.

7. Hockey

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I don’t even know if this one counts, because it’s more just a regular sport than an Olympic event. I used to go to hockey games all the time as a kid, but I never watch NHL. I don’t know if there’s any sport that loses as much on TV vs. live. The Olympic version has national pride at stake, but … it isn’t nearly as fun as World Cup Soccer. I have no solutions.

6. Figure Skating (not pairs)

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Figure skating should have to pay Tonya Harding royalties for tricking us into thinking this sport was interesting. I mean … don’t get me wrong, it’s clearly hard as shit, and while not as obviously insane as skeleton, there’s a 99.99999% chance any normal human, even one reasonably proficient in skating, would crack our heads wide open the first time we attempted even half of what these skaters do. But without a strong rooting interest, or some strong personalities, or interpersonal drama, it just kind of looks like a few islands of sweet jumps floating in a sea of weird ice ballet set to bad music.

Surya Bonaly doing backflips was really onto something. But figure skating being figure skating, they just said “nah, too exciting” and moved on.

Suggestions to improve it:

Have the skaters cut pro wrestling-style promos talking trash on each other. Sell some woof tickets, if you will.

5. Moguls Skiing

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It’s hard to say moguls looks the most insane of any of the skiing events, because they’re all insane, but I think for a normal person, even for reasonably proficient skiiers, just trying to make it down that mountain without dying, let alone racing down it and doing jumps in between, would be prohibitively difficult.

One would have to be nuts. Or just so permanently stoked that you can’t register danger, like Johnny Moseley. It just seems like the sport is 10 times more asshole puckering than it looks on TV.

Suggestions to improve it:

Some more shots from behind the skiers or a GoPro to give a sense of how steep it actually is.

4. Ski Jump

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They fly! Cool, right? Yep. Ski jumping might be the most straightforward of all the events. We want to watch them jump far, they jump far, they’re judged on how far they jump (I think?) — cool. It still could use some more shots of them from the ground or the platform to give more of a sense of how scary it actually is, but overall, pretty solid.

Suggestions to improve it:

The different camera angles thing, and maybe a GoPro, sure, but I think some snake pits also wouldn’t hurt. Also the seven beers rule.

3. Half-Pipe Snowboarding

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These guys fly like 20 feet above the hard lip of a snow berm doing four spins and two flips. I’m convinced that to even compete in this sport you have to have a unique brain chemistry imbalance that doesn’t properly register fear and makes the whole world look like a big jungle gym. What does Shaun White do when he retires? He’s going to have to take up BASE jumping or meth. God knows what it takes just to get his dopamine up to normal levels.

The only reason this event is ranked as low as it is is that the competitors all seem so preternaturally chill and permastoked that it takes away from the drama a little bit. There’s no real thrill of victory and agony of defeat among people whose emotions range from “Dude!” to “Dude.”

2. Speed Skating

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All the death-defying events in these Olympics and I rank one most of us would actually be willing to try number two. What gives? I know, I know, speed skating lacks the sphincter-tightening quality of most of these events, but what it lacks in huge ball having it makes up for in looking like an actual race. Short track tries to make speed skating like more of an actual race-race, but speed skating’s head-to-head format is already a pretty good compromise.

Also, the outfits are great comedy. They look like a cross between Cornholio and The Dude’s dream about the Nihilists.

The Big Lebowski

Did you see the team who had the dots on the wiener? That was great.

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1. Downhill/Super G Skiing

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The downhill. My God. These people are completely out of their minds. You know that part at the end of the ski run where you just ski straight and you end up going super fast and in the back of your mind you know that if you so much as nick a pebble you’re going to break a collar bone? Okay, now that, but 10 times as fast and on a giant black diamond run covered in packed ice.

The course doesn’t actually have jumps, the skiiers are just going so fast that it’s hard to stay attached to the ground and sometimes they just sort of float up into the air for 50 or 60 meters. In what other sport is becoming a human rocket ship an everyday concern? “Boy, Bob, she really floated up into the air there, that’s going to cost her some time when she burns up upon reentry.”

Most other sports are about control and precision, but if you watch slow-motion replays of downhill skiers you can tell that it’s like 99% wreckless chaos and they’re only just barely maintaining enough balance to keep them on the course. Skidding, scraping, whooshing, their whole body an inch off the snow part of the time — it’s essentially an emergency landing for two or three sustained minutes.

The best is watching some dude wipe out going 50-80 god damned miles per hour on gritty concrete and then get up and go “aw darn” like he just missed a free throw.

And then there’s commentator Bode Miller, somehow managing to make it all seem kind of boring. “I’d like to see her be more aggressive up top here.”

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN YOU’VE SAID THAT EVERY SINGLE RUN SO FAR.

But I guess it makes sense. For someone who has spent half their life competing in this psychotic death race the volume on the rest of life has to be damn near on mute.

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