Sunday, February 12, 2006

36 different ways of sliding

The games of the 20th winter Olympiad; an opportunity to take an obsessive interest in sports you wouldn't normally glance at if they were played naked. In truth there are precious few winter activities that can be made into sports; ski-ing, skating, sledging, snowboarding. It's a wonder they haven't found a way of competing in snowballing or snuggling up with a big cup of cocoa. The Games are packed with derivations of these four principle activities with some differences invisible to the naked eye; downhill skiing is about skiing downhill, slalom is about skiing downhill with lots of twists and turns, giant slalom is about skiing downhill with less twists and turns than slalom but more than downhill skiing. They also have super giant slalom; which I'm sure is just a test to see if anyone's really paying attention.

Still, there's a lot to enjoy about the Games; not least their soporific quality. Most of the sports involve the competitors taking turns one by one dressed head to toe in a curious mix of Lycra cat suit and motorcycle protective wear. It's impossible to tell one competitor from another. What's more, they don't even wear anything like their national colours. Skiers from Austria are most likely to wear pink and yellow, figure dancers wear sequinned boob tubes. Add this anonymity to the indistinguishable differences between first and last - fractions of a second - it makes it fantastically undemanding to watch.

Secondly, British commentators rarely know what they're talking about, usually they rely on a 'British number 1' to provide expert analysis; even though they attained their status as the best UK speed skater through a rollerskating competition in a Tesco car park. For reasons I've yet to fully fathom I prefer Eurosport coverage to the BBC; perhaps because of their wide-eyed relentless 24/7 coverage. They seem so pleased to cover the event that they don't care whether anyone is watching the Nigerian cross country skier or Egyptian luge champion, they show it all in full regardless.

Last night we watched the final thrilling (probably) rounds of the Women's Freestyle Skiing. At first this simply looks like slalom in big trousers because the competitors wear cool urbanwear over regulation Lycra. Closer analysis reveals this is a sport that seems to involve skiing over knee-crunching bumps (moguls) until you hit a ramp and do a jump; this is followed by more moguls another 'air' and over the finish line. The winner is not the quickest; it's judged by a panel of anonymous judges (although for all I know it could be by a Scandinavian TV text poll). Originally invented for the cool snowboarding set, it's become detached from its roots because those who look coolest are the ones who are penalised for making it look really difficult and fast - those who are most tediously efficient win. Disappointingly, for the marketing men at least, It was won by the (comparatively) plain looking Canadian Jennifer Heil. Heil is a Matrina Navartilova to the Chris Evert Lloyd of Norwegian hotty Kari Traa who claimed silver. Traa spent most of the competition sparkling into the camera whilst her fellow competitors tried, and failed to beat her score. As the competition progressed the commentator's filling became more desperate. Finally he resorted to; "There she is, Kari Traa, with her classic Norwegian looks - blonde hair, blue eyes and a casual freestyle skiing technique"

Yup, you can tell a Norwegian a mile off by their casual freestyle skiing technique.


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