Take two favorite pastimes, soccer and hockey, smash them together, and you have one of the strangest winter games ever included in the Olympics. Bandy was a demonstration sport in the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics and involves two teams of 11 players that compete in a 90 minute game, which is played on a rink the size of a soccer field. They took the sticks and skates from hockey and use a ball instead of a puck. Basically it’s field hockey on ice skates, but with soccer rules. The game itself isn’t necessarily strange, but why bother when you already have an Olympic event in which teams skate around whacking something with a stick? Maybe they’ll renew interest in bandy by tossing elements from football or baseball in the mix as well.
The luge is a narrow sled that speeds down mountains at faster speeds than both the skeleton and the bobsled. It’s inclusion as a weird event lies in its extreme danger. People have died. Enough said. Olympians competing in this event lie on their backs on a sled as they hurl themselves down an icy track, and pray to whatever god they favor that they don’t end in a mess of bone and blood. The pairs event is even better, where your teammate lies on top of you so you don’t die cold and alone. This suicide mission is such a popular event in the Winter Olympics that they decided to expand the insanity in 2014 with the luge team relay event.
Skiing and shooting. Together. Is there any need to go on? The biathlon is a strange event primarily because it combines two things you don’t see done together in the natural world. Competitors must complete a cross-country race, pause to take five shots at a target, race again, and shoot again, until they’ve completed the required number of loops. Poor shots get time added to your final score. The competitor with the lowest combined time wins the gold. Perhaps they should make it interesting and require the athletes to shoot while skiing. It would still be less dangerous than the luge.
The skeleton was left out of the winter Olympics for about 50 years when, in 2002’s Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, some genius decided bloody horror should be encouraged, and it was stuck back into the list of events. The skeleton needs no grace or skill. It requires cojones. What else could inspire a sane person to run and belly flop onto a sorry excuse for a sled that isn’t even big enough to fit his whole body, and careen face-first down a track of ice? Oh, and to make things interesting, there are no brakes.
While it’s rumored that Canadians are crazy about curling, many will acknowledge its strangeness as a sport. Curling is described as chess on ice, which really says it all. Two teams have their own set of large, polished stones, and they take turns sliding these stones down a rectangular sheet of ice toward a target. As the stone slides, two teammates, called sweepers, sweep the ice with brooms to help direct the stone. Another teammate is at the opposite end, near the target, yelling instructions to the sweepers. A point is given for every stone you get closer to the target than the other team’s best effort. It’s possibly the only Olympic sport where you can have a middle-aged person whose most rigorous activity is a morning walk followed by a nap, compete against someone half his age, and win.