Lesson #409: Steeplechase

This week’s original lesson was going to be that there are technically 15 Winter Olympic sports and 42 Summer Olympic sports. But then, whilst discussing the fact that track and field is actually a dozen different sports, my cousin in a major Canadian city and I got into a discussion that devolved into a debate about whether steeplechase is a horse race or a people race. Clearly neither of us has any idea what steeplechase actually is.

So here we are. Learning about steeplechase.

It turns out there’s a reason I have no idea what steeplechase actually is. It sounds super boring to spectate.* Steeplechase is raced as a 3000m event for both men and women at the Olympics. Master’s steeplechasers and younger athletes compete at 2000m. The 3000m event has 28 barriers (don’t be fooled, they’re hurdles) and 7 water jumps. The 2000m event has 18 barriers and 5 water jumps. Water jumps are 12’/3.66m long and 27.5″/70cm in depth. In women’s steeplechase, the barriers are lower (30″/76.2cm) than for the men (36″/91.4cm).** That’s it. The fastest men in the world run this race in just over eight minutes. The fastest women do it right around nine.

Literally the only interesting thing about the steeplechase is that it is so called because sometime in the mid-19th century, a bunch of bored university students at Oxford decided to run from the church in one town to a church in another and this involved jumping over streams and hopping over low walls.

There is very little good reading on steeplechase, but if you’re super into it, the IAAF site is here.

Finally, my cousin and I were both right. Steeplechase is also a horse race. The Irish were racing steeple to steeple on horseback from the mid-18th century. So the running steeplechase basically came out of a bunch of college kids getting drunk one night and going, “…what if steeplechase, but, like, without our horses?” And, that part actually sounds fun. Like I would definitely drink too much one night with my friends and decide to run from one town to another.*** But no one pulled the athletics association aside when they were like, “…what if steeplechase, but, like, without the horses AND on a track?” and went, “that sounds boring AF, you guys”, and now here we are, 120 years into the Olympics, being reminded every four years that there are people who do this on purpose.****

*This is coming from a swimmer who was a mile specialist. Do you know how boring it is to watch someone swim a mile? Take what you’re imagining, multiply it by ten, and you’ll be close. Steeplechase sounds like the track version of watching someone swim a mile.

**Don’t ask me why a race that is measured in metres gives its measurements primarily in inches. That’s information straight from track and field’s governing body, the IAAF.

***This is a bald-faced lie. There are not words for how much I loathe running as a point-to-point exercise. I loved playing rugby; it was running for a violent purpose! But running to be like, “I ran four miles today!” Nope. Nope.

*****Again, this is coming from a swimmer who was a mile specialist and who continues to swim long distances (3-5 miles/swim). I am intimately familiar with people thinking my races were complete madness. My entire high school (200 and 500 yards) and university (500, 1000, and 1650 yards) careers were basically sprinters who were in and out of the water in under 30 seconds or a minute (depending on the race) and my friends who would show up to support me/the team going “why would you even do that?”

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Lesson #343: Biathlon

Once every four years, I remember that I think biathlon is effing awesome. Because it is effing awesome! Honestly, most of the time between Winter Games is spent forgetting that biathlon even exists, but ten days out of every 1461, I’m super excited about the sport. I will seriously watch biathlon for hours; I find it soothing in the same way I find watching fish soothing. And much as I love hockey (a lot, despite my favourite player’s old-age absence from the Canadian squad this go), I care who wins in hockey. In biathlon, I could not care less who wins medals or which country’s flag they’re wearing. I can watch without an elevated blood pressure and a constricted chest. So I do.

Four thousand years ago, the Norwegians — or at least the people living in what is now Norway — drew us some pretty pictures on rocks depicting people on skis hunting with spears. To be honest, I’m not sure what more information you need. We’re talking about an Olympic sport that people were effectively participating in 4000 years ago. Out of necessity, sure, but still participating. The first written mention of hunting on skis comes from Virgil ca. 400 BCE. Later, because the Scandinavians are kind of good at the whole ski-across-the-country thing*, militaries began adapting the sport for their own purposes. The Finns, for example, put the military aspect of the whole skiing/shooting thing to good use against the Russians in the Second World War. But the practice itself has been noted for a couple millenia; the historians Xenophon, Strabol, Arrian, Theophanes, Prokopius, and Acruni all wrote of soldiers making use of skis.

Etymologically, biathlon is derived from the Greek (obviously), meaning dual contests.**

And I guess it probably matters that the first recorded competition in biathlon as we know it took place in 1767 near the Swedish/Norwegian border. Its Olympic debut came at Chamonix in 1924. Just like a certain other sport I wrote about four years ago.

As an aside, the Russian military runs a tank biathlon competition. Because of course they do.

For more, see here and here.

*Two years ago, the Swede took part in the Vasaloppet, the world’s longest cross-country race at 90km. A mutual (also Swedish) friend of ours is currently training for this year’s women’s race.

**If you’d like to expound on this, it’s the same with pentathlon (seven contests) and decathlon (ten contests). 

Lesson #197: George Eyser

At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, a man named George Eyser, German born, but representing the United States, won six medals (three gold, two silver, one bronze) in men’s gymnastics. Despite having lost a leg to a train (!) and competing with a wooden leg*

And, until 2008, he was the only Olympian to compete with an artificial limb. The second was a South African swimmer, cum marathoner who had a leg amputated after a car accident.

*For more on George Eyser see here. To see his athletic record see here.

Lesson #84: Edmonton’s Gold Medal Water Consumption

10/3 edit: No fewer than eight of my friends have since sent me a link to this graph. Apparently, there is something about me that screams “Disquisitive needs to see this graph!”

So 80% of Canada watched the gold medal game, which is hardly surprising. But the water people for the city of Edmonton released a graph the other day that popped up in two places in my world today. It made me laugh because it’s not even a little bit surprising. In my house, it was no different — which is partly because only two of the five of us were home and Club Manager Housemate and I were both watching the game.* So, without further ado, the water consumption for the city of Edmonton for the day of February 28.

This graph can be found here and here.

*Really, he was more watching my reaction to it than he was watching the game itself.

Lesson #76: Olympic Medals

Yay for you! The Olympics close today and you don’t have to hear about them ever again. Yay! No more posts about curling or Nordic combined — because it will be four years before I watch those events again, super hot thirds or not. You’re screwed if you think you’re getting out of hockey posts, though. That, my friend, is out of the question.*

Anyway, since it’s all over and done with today, I thought it was time to find out what the medals are actually made of.**

I’m actually pretty surprised to learn that both the gold and silver medals are required to be sterling silver. I’d have expected them just to be plated. The gold medals are additionally required to be gilded with at least six grams of 24K gold. The last solid gold medals were awarded at the 1912 Games. Unsurprisingly, the bronze medals are made from a copper alloy. You know, the way bronze has been made since always. As far as size, even that is regulated. Olympic medals must be at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick. The Vancouver medals are 100mm in diameter.***

*But you’ll probably get a two month break until the playoffs start and I rediscover that I suck at watching playoff hockey. You’d be surprised how quickly I unlearn that lesson. Anyway, all of this assumes I survive tonight’s Canada/US gold medal game. There’s a good chance my heart explodes in my chest before the end of regulation.

**Two things that are apropos of nothing…1. I really like the Vancouver medals. I know there are a lot of people who hate them, but I think they’re cool. 2. I saw a picture of the women’s figure skaters at the medal ceremony from the other night and it was hilarious; the medals just look ginormous on those tiny little girls.

***More information here and here.

An Addendum to Lesson #62: What I Knew About Nordic Combined

A week and a half ago, I wrote a post about Nordic combined…that’s the one where they hurl themselves off a hill and then sprint ski for 10 km. Not one directly after the other, though a good friend of mine in the Texas capital maintains this would be more fun for the viewer.* I don’t entirely disagree.

Anyway, because there was nothing else on, I was watching the cross-country portion of it and the commentator was telling me at the end that Nordic combined was first included in the Olympics in 1924.

I already knew that, but thanks!**

Anyway, that’s two things from this blog that have popped into my life in a practical way in the past two days. The third can’t be too far away.

*This same friend also thinks there ought to be completely unrelated events put together as a biathlon. His suggestion was a luge/figure skating combination wherein the athlete(s) ride(s) the luge straight onto a skating rink and must immediately perform a routine upon disembarking from the sled. This idea is pretty much the perfect example of why we’re friends.

**Yes, I’m being smug…because I can. And to be fair to Mr. Nordic Combined Commentator, it was a useful piece of trivia and had I not already known it, I would have found it an interesting addition to my knowledge. Which is far more than I can say of the idiots they’ve got doing hockey.

An Addendum to Lesson #8: Slew-Footing In Action

One of my first posts was about a hockey penalty that I didn’t know existed, something called slew-footing. Until last night, I had never seen it. During the third period of the Canada/Russia game, Dan Boyle (Canada/San Jose) and Alexander Semin (Russia/Washington) had a little scuffle behind the net, which ended when Boyle slew-footed Semin at the blue line. Apart from it being a dirty hit and stupid penalty to take, I thought it was awesome. Because I had never seen it called before.* And no one got hurt.

*I’d have thought it decidedly less awesome if the game had been close or we’d been losing and taken that penalty.