The IOC officially recognizes seven winter sports in Olympic competition. These sports are in turn divided into
various disciplines. Though many disciplines have been added over the years, only one new sport has been added:
the luge was first introduced in Innsbruck in 1964.
As of the Torino Games, the Winter Olympic programme includes:
Since 1998, Olympic skiing has included six disciplines:
An Olympic sport since 1936, Alpine skiing is the type of skiing most would associate with the sport: a fast, downhill
race that emphasizes speed and agility over endurance. Alpine skiing requires exceptional reflexes and technique, and
is one of the premiere events of the Olympic Winter Games. All Alpine events are held for both men and women.
The downhill race features the longest course and highest speeds in Alpine skiing. The few turns on the course
require a little maneurvering, but the true sport of this event is maintaining control at punishing speeds.
The slalom event is a short race that emphasizes maneuvering. Precise control is required, as athletes pass through
"gates" (small flags) on the course. Athletes must pass the gates along the inside, taking care to avoid "straddling"
the gate, allowing it to pass between their legs.
The Giant Slalom is, as the name implies, a longer slalom race. The course is longer, and the turns are a bit wider,
allowing for greater speed.
This event's name is short for super giant slalom. It combines the maneuvering of a slalom course with the speed
and length of the downhill. The super-g is a punishing test of precise maneuvering at high speeds.
The combined event in Alpine skiing is composed of a downhill run and two slalom runs. After the event, the times
are added together, and the athlete with the lowest overall time wins.
Cross Country Skiing
Also often known as Nordic skiing, cross country was one of the original Winter Olympic sports in 1924. Cross country
skiing is an endurance sport, requiring precise technique and physical stamina. All cross country events are held for
both men and women.
As the name implies, the sprint events are focused on speed. The competition begins with individual time trials.
The fastest 16 athletes then move on to elimination heats, as in speed skating. There are two types of sprint events:
individual, and two-man team.
Pursuit events begin with a mass start, and allow the athletes to change skiis during a pit stop halfway through
the race. As with sprinting, pursuit is contested individually and in two-man teams.
A simple, marathon-style race in which all athletes begin in the same place at the same time. The first one
across the finish line wins.
Similar to mass start, with athletes starting in intervals of 15-30 seconds. The athletes are timed individually,
and the fastest time wins.
A race in which four athletes race as a team, with each team member running one leg of the race.
The first athlete across the finish line wins for their team.
A relatively new skiing event, freestyle was exhibited at the 1988 games in Calgary, and was on the programme in
Alberville in 1992. Freestyle skiing combines Alpine skiing with acrobatics, as athletes perform elaborate flips
and twists in mid-air. All freestyle events are held for both men and women.
In mogul skiing, athletes ski down an Alpine course riddled with moguls, or small ramps, which they launch
from to perform short aerial stunts (usually flips or twists with the skis crossed). Athletes are judged on techinque,
speed, and jump difficulty.
Aerial competition is conducted much like the ski jumping competition: each athlete takes a single jump at
a time. Athletes launch themselves from a single large mogul and perform complex aerial stunts.
Two jumps are taken, after which judge's scores for both jumps are totaled, giving an overall score that decides the winner.
Athletes are judged on technique, landing, and jump difficulty.
The harrowing sport of ski jumping involves athletes skiing down a long ramp and launching themselves into the air,
then controlling their posture and the position of their skis so as to glide further. Athletes are judged on lateral
jumping distance from the end of the ramp to their landing point. Though the Federation International de Ski (FIS)
recently introduced women's ski jumping, in the Olympic Winter Games ski jumping is only offered for men.
Until the 1964 games in Innsbruck, the normal hill was the only ski jumping competition in the Olympics. A normal
ski jumping hill has a K-point (jumping point) between 75-99 meters high.
Large Hill and Team Event
The large hill event sends athletes on jumps from a height in excess of 100 meters. The large hill is also
used for the team event, in which teams of athletes conduct single jumps to add to a total score. The team with the
highest total score wins.
The Nordic Combined event, which combines cross country skiing with ski jumping, was one of the original sports contested
at the first Winter Olympiad in Chamonix. Athletes in the Nordic Combined must display a rare degree of physical strength,
technical control, and raw endurance. As the sport involves ski jumping, Nordic Combined events are held only for men.
The first portion of the Gundersen competition sends athletes on two ski jumps on the normal hill. The jumps
are scored not only on distance, but also on technique. The athletes then take part in a 15 kilometer cross country
race. The athletes start the cross country race in delayed start; the scores from the jump determine starting order,
with the winner starting first.
The sprint event begins with one jump on the large hill, as opposed to two on the normal hill as in the Gundersen.
Athletes then compete in a 7.5 kilometer cross country race, with scores from the jump determining starting order as in the
The team event is conducted much in the same way as the Gundersen, beginning with each team member taking two jumps on
the normal hill. The athletes then compete in a 4x5 kilometer race, with starting order again determined by the Gundersen
method. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins the event for their team.
Snowboarding made its Olympic debut at the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. The sport of snowboarding is a more
extreme form of skiing in which traditional skis are replaced by a composite board similar in shape to a skateboard.
Snowboarding combines the speed and precise control of Alpine skiing with the aerial stunts of freestyle, creating a dangerous
but exciting sport that emphasizes showmanship. All Olympic snowboarding events are held for both men and women.
The halfpipe competition is the showcase event in snowboarding. In halfpipe, athletes use the curvature of a snow-covered
halfpipe to gain speed and launch into the air, performing complex aerial stunts. Athletes are judged on jump difficulty
and the height reached on their jumps.
Parallel Giant Slalom
The parallel giant slalom for snowboard differs from the skiing event in that athletes compete two at a time (hence "parallel").
The parallel giant slalom requires a high degree of precision and control at high speeds, and is generally the only snowboarding
event not dominated by US athletes.
Introduced at the Torino games in 2006, snowboard cross sends athletes down a winding Alpine-style course
riddled with jumps. Athletes compete in groups of four, progressing through heats as in speed skating, until a final
four-man race determines the winner. Snowboard cross can be somewhat physical, and two- or three-man whipeouts
Since 1992, Olympic skating has included three disciplines:
Speedskating has been on the Olympic Programme from the beginning; the first Winter Olympic event held in 1924 at Chamonix
was the men's 500 meter speed skate. Since then, speed skating has quite possibly undergone more dramatic changes than
any other Winter Olympic sport. Speed skating was first open to women in Squaw Valley in 1960, it was held
indoors for the first time in Calgary in 1988, and the signature "clap skate" was introduced in Nagano in 1998.
Speed skating is one of the premiere events of the winter games. Until 1988, all Olympic speed skating competitions
were held on outdoor tracks. In the games since 1988, all Olympic speed skating competitions have been held in a special
structure, called an Olympic Oval, specifically built for speed skating. The Oval Lingotto was the site of
speed skating competition in Torino, while the Richmond Oval will be the site of the events in Vancouver. The Salt Lake
City Olympic Oval, used in the 2002 games, has the highest altitude of any Olympic Oval in the world.
In speed skating, athletes race in tandem (side by side), but compete for the best overall time. An athlete may
finish behind his opponent, but still retain a decent position in the standings overall.
Modern speed skaters have no need to protect themselves from the elements, and thus dress for aerodynamics, not warmth.
They wear single-piece body suits that leave only the hands and face exposed. Many often wear goggles or sunglasses
to protect their eyes from the wind and ice spray. All speed skaters since 1998 have worn "clap skates", so named for
the sound they make when the skate meets the boot. Developed by the Dutch, clap skates are hinged at the toe, so that
the skate remains on the ice as the skater continues his stride.
In Olympic competition, men and women compete in mostly the same events. The 500 meter, 1,000 meter, 1,500 meter,
5,000 meter, and team pursuit events are all contested for both men and women. In addition, a 3,000 meter
race is held for women, and a 10,000 meter race is held for men.
Note: The general term "speed skating" is most often used in reference to what is known as long track speed skating.
This is not to be confused with short track speed skating, which is considered a different discipline, and is listed below.
Figure skating is argueably the best-known and most anticipated event of any Olympic Winter Games, and therefore is usually
contested in the final week. Figure skating is the art of skating to music, using a series of coreographed movements
and spinning jumps to create a performance. Athletes are judged on two main aspects of their performance: artistic merit
(the skill and creativity of the coreography) and technical merit (the number, difficulty, and precision of the jumps).
Olympic figure skating is divided into three main competitions: one for men, one for women, and one for couples (a man
and woman skating in unison). Each competition is divided into two rounds. The first round, called the short program,
is just that. Athletes perform to a short piece and are allowed only eight jumping opportunities. In the free
skate, or long program, athletes may perform an original program, consisting of whatever elements they prefer.
Though the IOC considers ice dancing a version of figure skating, it is listed here as a separate discipline due to its
marked differences from the other sport. In ice dancing, couples perform numbers similar to ballroom dancing, forgoeing
jumps in favor of complex dance moves. Ice dancing couples are judged on the creativity and complexity of their movements,
their syncronization, and their skill of execution.
Ice dancing is always contested between couples, and is divided into three portions instead of two. In the first
round, known as the compulsory dance, the couple must perform a pre-determined dance. In the second round, the original
dance, couples perform to their own music and chose their own movements, but are bound to a selected rythmic pattern.
In the free dance, couples are free to choose their own music and interpretation.
Short Track Speed Skating
Short track is a relatively new event. Having been offered as an exhibition sport in Calgary in 1988, it was introduced
to the Olympic Programme in Albertville in 1992. Short track is, in many ways, a very different sport from long track
Short track competitions are generally held in the rink used for figure skating. Four athletes race at a time,
but instead of competing against the clock, they compete against each other. They must outwit and outskate their opponents,
gaining and then holding the lead while maintaining their pace and stride. Due to the confined spaces and aggressive
nature of short track, falls are common, and in shorter races may lead to major crashes, similar to the crash in the 500 meter
in Salt Lake City, when wounded American skater Apolo Anton Ohno crawled across the finish line to take silver.
All Olympic short track competitions are held for both men and women. The Olympic short track programme consists
of the 500 meter, 1,000 meter, 1,500 meter, and the 3,000 meter relay.
Olympic Ice Hockey is one of only two winter events (the other being figure skating) that pre-date the first Winter Olympiad in
Chamonix. The modern game of hockey is believed to be Canadian in origin, though it is popular in both Canada and the
Olympic Ice Hockey is held in the form of a single tournament spanning the duration of the games. Since the 1998
games in Nagano, Olympic Ice Hockey has been held for both men and women.
Since 2002, Olympic bobsled has included two disciplines:
One of the original events held in Chamonix, bobsled is a truly unique sport in which teams of two or four men drive
a large, aerodynamic, bullet-shaped sled down a tube-like track coated with ice. The true test of bobsled rests with
the driver, who must do his best to control the sled, keeping it off the walls of the tube to gain speed. However,
the men behind him must do their part; all riders must help push the sled at the start of the race. Once inside, they
must keep as much of their bodies inside the sled as possible to reduce air resistance.
Two-man bobsled events are held for both men and women. The four-man bobsled, one of the most popular winter events,
is held only for men. Each team competes individually against the clock, and the best time wins.
Note: bobsled, skeleton, and luge are considered part of a unique group of sports, called "sliding sports", in reference
to the way athletes use sleds to slide down an ice track
Though skeleton is considered a bobsled event, it is more closely related to the luge. But while the luge requires
athletes to lay on the sled face up and slide feet first, skeleton is performed prone: face down, with
the athlete sliding head first. While this position allows for far greater aerodynamics, and thus greater speed, it
also makes control far more difficult.
Skeleton was first included in the Olympic Programme in St. Moritz in 1928, but in 1948 the sport was eliminated
from the programme for fears that it was becoming too dangerous. The skeleton was reintroduced to the Olympic Programme
in 2002 in Salt Lake.
The skeleton competition consists of only four total runs: two for men, and two for women. The fastest time down
the track wins.
First introduced in 1964, the luge is a sliding event that sends athletes down the bobsled run while lying face
up on a small sled. As with skeleton, luge requires precise control with minimal movement. While the luge
position allows for greater control, it reduces the athlete's aerodynamics, making control that much more important.
Three luge events are held: the single luge for men and women, and the men's double luge, in which two men ride
on the same sled.
The unusual Olympic sport known as biathlon combines cross country skiing with rifle shooting, thus requiring impressive
stamina and skill. The biathlon first appeared on the Olympic Programme officially in Squaw Valley in
1960, though a similar sport called Military Patrol was contested at Chamonix in 1924. The first women's biathlon
was held in 1992 in Alberville.
The sport of curling was on the Olympic Programme in 1924 in Chamonix, but was not included in another Olympiad until
the 1998 games in Nagano. Curling is a team sport, vaguely similar to bocci or shuffleboard. In curling, one member
of a team will slide a polished stone down an ice board, while the others use small brooms to "sweep" the ice ahead of the
stone, creating a film of water over the ice and allowing the stone to slide farther. The team with their stone closest
to the target wins.
Olympic curling is held in the form of a tournament. One tournament is held for men, another for women.