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). 

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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.

Lesson #67: The Inukshuk

Autobiographical note: I was blessed with a stupidly good sense of direction.* I can go somewhere once and six months later get myself back there without a map. It astounded my travel companions in Hungary that it took me less than three days to memorize the layout of the city and that when they thought I had no idea where we were going and was going blind without a map and I had to fight them every step of the way to trust me, I landed us back to a point where they knew where they were. It made me laugh when they just stood there in the square, perplexed, and went “how did you do that?” It’s really too bad this isn’t a marketable skill because I take an inordinate amount of pleasure from seeing how quickly I can learn to get around a new place.

Given that the symbol of the Vancouver Olympics is an inukshuk, I thought I’d look into them in more depth.

Here’s what I know about the inukshuk: they’re traditional Inuit structures made of stones to serve as navigational guides way up north where there are no trees or houses or roads to use as bearings.

Here’s what I learned: the plural is inuksuit, the word means “likeness of a person” in Inuktuit, they can be a single rock or many and can range from a few inches to a couple hundred feet tall, they were traditionally used as directional guides for travellers, but also to warn of danger, to indicate hunting or fishing grounds, to mark stashes of food or weapons, to mark a place of respect, or to assist in the hunt, there are different styles that mean different things, whether they indicate open water, direction, hunting or fishing grounds or a memorial. Most importantly Inuit tradition forbids the destruction of an inukshuk, which may explain the fact that so many survive and that they are one of the very few types of similar navigational guides that existed in the ancient world that remain intact.**

*How this happened is a bit of a mystery, to be honest. My maternal grandfather was famously bad with directions.

**More information can be found here.