Every four years, competitors from around the world come together to face off in a series of games. The Winter Olympics may be best known for mainstream events like figure skating and skiing, but they also feature several other events that can only be classified as bizarre. Here is a look at some of the strangest sports you will see taking place during the games.
- Biathlon – Combining cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, the history of the biathlon began in Norway during the mid-19th century. The sport was first practiced as an alternative military training exercise, and it was adopted as an Olympic event in 1960. A typical biathlon consists of skiers racing around a cross-country course, in the middle of which they have to stop several times and fire shots with a rifle. If participants miss the targets they are shooting for, they will either have time added onto their total scores or be forced to ski additional penalty laps.
- Luge – One of the most dangerous events in the Olympics, the luge is essentially a downhill sledding competition in which one- or two-person teams sit supine (face up) and slide down a course, feet first. The luge has only been part of the Winter Olympics since 1964, but the sport dates back to 19th-century Switzerland (where the bobsleigh and skeleton also both originated). Luge tracks are designed with specially constructed curves and other obstacles, which require great skill to maneuver without getting hurt. Lugers have been known to reach extreme speeds in their races, which contributes to the danger, and the top speed ever recorded by and athlete was more than 95 mph. Since its introduction to the Olympics, four athletes have died while training for the luge–most recently in 2010.
- Curling – First played in Scotland during the 1500s, the sport of curling takes place on ice with teams using brooms to slide a stone as close as possible to a target. Teams work together to help navigate the stone across the “curling sheet”–three teammates actually move the stone while a fourth waits by the target and shouts instructions. Curling competition was held during the Olympics for the first time in 1924, but then the sport was abandoned until its resurrection in 1998.
- Skeleton – Like the luge, the sport of skeleton requires competitors to race down a frozen track using a small sled. Skeleton, however, involves individual competitors only (unlike luge, which also has pairs), and sliders ride in the prone (face down) position. Participants travel down the course headfirst. Though skeleton originated in Switzerland in the 1800s and was part of both the 1928 and 1948 Olympic Games, it wasn’t added to the permanent roster of events until 2002.
- Bobsleigh – Also known as “bobsled,” this sport brings teams of two or four together to race down a frozen track on a larger sled than those used in skeleton or luge. Racers begin their runs by pushing the sled down the track on foot before jumping aboard and steering it down the course. Bobsleigh has been an Olympic event since the first modern Winter Games in 1924. The event gained mainstream attention with the 1993 filmCool Runnings, which told the true story of the first ever Jamaican bobsleigh team on their journey to the 1988 Winter Olympics.