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4:47 am
Mon February 3, 2014

The Winter Olympics, For The Warm-Blooded

A speed-skater at the 2010 winter Olympics.
Credit Fotophilius / Flickr
Renee Peck offers a crash course in the Winter Olympics for those of us who are, well, less familiar with snow.

Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can turn our attention to the next colossal event on the sports horizon. I know I’m ready. 

Yes, the Winter Olympics start this week. Of course, for those of us here in New Orleans, the whole Winter Olympic thing is a little hard to get into. Mountains? Snow?

When the temperature dropped to freezing last week, schools let out, highways closed and people were told to stay indoors. A good thing, too, because I think I saw a couple of snowflakes.

The highest mountain most of us have climbed is Monkey Hill in Audubon Park. We do have snoballs, big ones, but ours are usually topped with condensed milk. The only ski jumping show most Southerners have seen takes place behind a boat. On a lake.

 

Ski jumping Southern style: not a Winter Olympic sport
Credit Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Winter Olympic events are not really inner-city sports.

"I assume the only reason we have them is so that white people feel relevant in sports," quips comedian Daniel Tosh in a stand-up clip on Comedy Central. "Because other than that, the only thing the winter Olympics show me is which country has more rich white kids. What's it cost to go skiing — $900 a day? I can't believe that's not more popular in the inner cities."

Still, when those thousands of athletes from 88 countries march out for the opening ceremony on Friday, I’ll definitely get chill bumps. Even warm-blooded Olympic enthusiasts will be glued to all 539 hours of Winter Olympic fun airing on NBC.

And there are definitely some things that will make us feel right at home. Here are a few interesting facts for those Winter Olympic viewers who have never seen snow.

First, Sochi is… a beach town. On the Black Sea. Really. It’s the warmest region in Russia in the winter. Last year in February, the temperature reached 63 degrees. It has palm trees, just like Gulf Shores.

 

Winter in Sochi: Palm trees and (a tiny bit) of snow
Credit Andrey Selskiy

But not to worry, the Russians have it covered. They’ve stored 450,000 cubic feet of snow from last year in eight vaults under special blankets to keep it from melting. And during the games, snow-making machines will be out on the slopes every night doing artificial makeovers — see, it’s just like City Park’s annual Snow Day.

Another familiar aspect of the Olympics: the inevitable drama and scandal. Remember the 1994 figure skating shocker? “Nancy Kerrigan brutally attacked at Olympic trials.” Newspapers called it “The Whack Heard Round the World.”

Or the ice skating controversy during the Salt Lake City games? “2002 Olympics rocked by allegations of bribery and collusion” said Time.

They sound like local headlines, don’t they?

New Orleanians will dig the American uniforms, too. They’re a loud patchwork of stars, circles, flags and numbers that would be right at home atop the Baccagator, especially if the krewe’s theme was something like World Flags Run Amok. As Crystal Marie Denha of AOL's The Fumble puts it, "They could best be described as ugly Christmas sweaters knit by your grandmother."

 

U.S. team wear: ugly grandmother sweaters?
Credit Ralph Lauren

Of course, the 98 Olympic events, held in 15 different sport disciplines, aren’t the kind you see much around here. The hockey they play in Sochi will be on ice, not grass. Their type of luge does not involve drinking vodka shots.

Camel spins have everything to do with figure skating and nothing to do with Camel Toe Steppers (who you can catch at the Krewe of Muses). The skeleton run at Sochi will not involve Halloween, Day of the Dead or Mardi Gras Indians.

Curling, however, in which one slides a 40-pound rock toward a target, is a lot like shuffleboard on ice, with the added benefit that you get to see men pushing brooms. Here's a curling primer from the Wall Street Journal:

Here in the Sportsman’s Paradise, which is, after all, home to Duck Dynasty, people will probably really like the biathalon, too. It involves cross-country skiing through the woods and then lying down to shoot a rifle.

There will be lots of tricks, too. (No, not that kind.)

Freestyle skier and gold medalist Shaun White is planning a frontside double-cork 1440, which resembles his Double McTwist 1260, but adds another half revolution of twist inside two head-over-heels flips.

I have no idea what that means. And neither do you.

Some people around here do get it, though. Louisiana is sending one athlete to the Winter Olympics. Lolo Jones lives and trains in Baton Rouge. You probably know her as a summer Olympic hurdler, but when she made the Olympic bobsled team last month, she became just the 25th woman to qualify for both summer and winter Olympics.

So perhaps New Orleans, even as balmy as it is, can get involved in more than just sitting on the sidelines. After all, there’s an ice skater from the Philippines and a luger from India.

And there’s that whole Cool Runnings thing. The Jamaican bobsled team, in fact, will be competing again in Sochi for the first time since 2002. And they’re pumped.

So you never know. Maybe the Olympic Committee will add ice carving in 2018. New Orleans would definitely have that covered.

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