Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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Not (Much) About Figure Skating

I did not watch much of the men's figure skating last night, although I did see Yevgeny Plushenko's performance. I get the impression that people who arrived fashionably late, assuming that the better skaters always skate last, were terribly disappointed.

Because I'd turned on the VCR before going to sleep the night before, I had hours of USA Network's coverage as an alternative to the network prime-time feed. So while I watched the prime-time coverage of the Alpine Combined, mainly to see if I could catch Bode Miller missing a gate at speed -- I could not; it's only on the replay that you see what happened -- I mainly watched the coverage of curling, cross-country sprint (a cross-country relay race, where a team of two skiers alternate, which allows the other one a short time -- only a few minutes, as the course is only about 1 km -- to rest, get a drink, and have her skis re-waxed), and biathlon. Yes, I know I'm strange by American sporting standards.

Curling? Well, it's harder than it looks, if not so spectacular as some of the other sports. I had to be up a little early this morning for a departmental conference call that is scheduled for the convenience of the East Coast, but that gave me an chance to watch the second half of the USA-Denmark women's curling. I had to go take the call as they moved into the eighth (of ten) ends (innings). However, I was taping it as well, so I just came back and watched as the US went on to defeat Denmark 8-3. I think it was slightly poor sportsmanship of the Danes to put off conceding when they got to the point when it was all-but-impossible to even tie the match; certainly they couldn't expect the Americans to intentionally knock the Danish stone back into a scoring position and then shoot wide with their final two stones, could they?

Curling may look a bit strange at first, but the basics are pretty straightforward. Each side has eight large stones, and each of the four players on each team must slide two of them toward the target at the other end. Only the stones closer to the center than the opponents' stones (and within the target area) count. (Sort of like horseshoes or what I think of as "bar shuffleboard.") The concentric circles of the targets are only there to make it easier to tell who is closest to the center; each stone counts one regardless of which of the circles it is in, as long as it's closer than the opponents' stones. Thus the most a side can score is eight, but this is roughly equivalent to a hole-in-one in golf. Because of the must-be-closest rule, only one side can score at a time; sometimes neither side will score if all of the stones end up out of the target area.

Why the brooms? Sweeping the surface of the ice ahead of a stone can make it go faster or change direction ("curl"), and since you're not allowed to touch the stones once you've let go of them at the start of the throw, this is how you control the flight of your team's stones. You can, of course, knock the other stones (yours or your opponents') around, and naturally that's a big part of the strategy.

The game consists of ten "ends" (like innings in baseball), and you alternate directions (this obviously also saves having to move the stones back to the far end between rounds). It doesn't take long to realize that having the last shot in an end is a real advantage, so the rule is that whoever was last scored against gets the "hammer" (last shot) in the next end. This can even lead to some gamesmanship where you'll intentionally knock all of the stones out of the target area, even your own, because you want to keep the "hammer" for the next end.

Anyway, I know you'll all make fun of me for it, but I think it's interesting.

Biathlon? Now that looks difficult. Cross-country skiing is hard work, and shooting a gun is a tricky skill. (I know I'm a terrible shot under ideal circumstances, and having to hold steady and aim at tiny little targets after having just skied 3.3 km is not exactly ideal.) And you have to carry the gun around with you on the course to boot. You have to shoot (prone or standing depending on the event setup) at five targets 50 m away. Depending on the event, missing a target either incurs a 1 minute time penalty, or requires you to ski a 150 m penalty lap on a special course to the side of the main course.

On some of the events they have a staggered start (one entrant every 30 seconds, and there were something like 90 entrants), which means you have multiple course leaders, because there is a different lead setup at each time point. And the first starters have already finished before the last ones take the course.

Another interesting element of this sport is that the results in an earlier event affect your placement in a later one. Your placement in the timed "sprint" affects how you start in the "pursuit" held later in the Games. That is, the winner of the Sprint will be the first to start in the Pursuit, with the rest of top 60 finishers of the Sprint starting thereafter with however much time separated them in the earlier race. In the Pursuit, then, whoever crosses the line first is the winner.

It's probably just as well that I don't have a DV-R setup; I'd be otherwise too tempted to call in sick and watch the Games continuously.
Tags: biathlon, curling, olympics
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