5 Winter Sports The Olympics Are Missing

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Getty Images

Winter sports fall into three convenient categories: Hockey, Things That Claim to Not Be Hockey But Aren't Fooling Anyone (bandy, ringette, broomball, etc.) and Things That are Not Hockey. If you're scanning the latter group for a way to stay fit this winter, you may be disappointed by the apparent dearth of options that don't require snowmobile ownership or expensive ski lift tickets. Before giving up entirely or resorting to hockey, consider trying one of these underappreciated snowy-day activities.

1. Skijoring

It only takes one ill-fated ski tour or impulsive NordicTrack purchase to expose the true nature of cross-country skiing. It's hard, grueling work. Although its proponents tout the sport as a wonderful way to experience the sights and sounds of winter, these sights usually involve fogged goggles while the sounds are the skier's own grunting and repeated calls of "Dude, can we take another little break? I just need to catch my breath. Yes, again." The whole endeavor would be so much more enjoyable with some sort of pack animal to drag the skier.

That's where skijoring comes in. Instead of powering themselves along using their own legs like a bunch of common animals, participants hitch themselves to a dog or two and glide through the winter weather. Although this activity sounds like the invention of people who wanted to get into sled dog racing but were too cheap to buy a sled, the sport supposedly originated in Scandinavia several hundred years ago as an easy reindeer-powered way to get around during the winter. Its recreational popularity steadily increased, and the horse-drawn variety earned a featured place as a demonstration sport at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which still holds annual equestrian skijoring races as part of its century-old White Turf series.

2. Skibobbing

"Lousy bike! I could ride you in the winter if your tires were replaced by skis!" Millions of frustrated bikers find themselves muttering these words every snowy day. Little do they know that skibobbing could solve all of their problems, or at least the ones unrelated to cursing inanimate objects. At its core, skibobbing entails riding a bicycle-like frame with skis instead of wheels down a mountain. Really, that's pretty much all it entails.

The sport traces its origins to 1892, when American J. Stevens received a patent for his "ice velocopide." This catchy name somehow failed to trigger widespread use of the device, though, and according the Skibob Association of Great Britain, the sport only gained momentum in the 1940s when patents by German Georg Gfaller and Austrian Engelbert Brenter were combined to form the modern skibob. Enthusiasts competed in the first international race in 1954 and formed the Federation International de Skibob in 1961.

Since the rider's center of gravity remains lower than in regular skiing and the feet and skis combine for four potential points of contact with the ground, skibobbing is relatively safe compared to other downhill sports, and prospective riders can supposedly get the hang of it fairly quickly. Riders shouldn't expect to look cool while doing it, though; the American Skibob Instructors Association recommends wearing a fanny pack of maintenance supplies when skibobbing.

3. Snowball Fighting, Military-Style

History lessons on the American Civil War tend to focus on its depressing aspects: a divided country, rampant gangrene, and Ken Burns appear prominently in most classes. However, despite schedules packed with receiving shoddy medical care and standing still for minutes on end to have their photos taken, some Confederate soldiers found the time to stage what sounds like one of the most strategically sound snowball fights in history.

On January 28, 1863, two feet of snow covered a large contingent of Confederate troops camped in Virginia's Rappahannock Valley. Rather than complaining about the cold weather, the First and Fourth Texas Infantry put their military training to work. On the morning of January 29, they launched a major snowball offensive against their comrades in the Fifth Texas Infantry, who somehow repelled their attackers before deciding to join them in a snow assault on the Third Arkansas Infantry, which surrendered quickly beneath a slushy barrage. The conquered Arkansans joined forces with the victors, and together they set out to pelt the encampment of the nearby Georgia Brigade.

This combined expeditionary force rolled into the Georgian camp armed with bags of snowballs and decorated with battle flags, but the Georgia Brigade had received advance notice and managed to put up a valiant fight for over an hour before eventually falling. The defeated Georgians joined their conquerors and attacking another division. By this point, upwards of 9000 troops were engaged in ice combat that grew increasingly more dangerous as rock-centered snowballs entered the mix.

After hours of this melee, the Texas Brigade apparently won a Pyrrhic victory in which many soldiers sustained slight injuries. In response to the upheaval and the disfigurement of a few troops, General James Longstreet, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, reportedly banned snowball fighting.

4. Wok Racing

Most people look at a wok and see a cumbersome Chinese cooking vessel they probably shouldn't have put on their wedding gift registry. In 2003 German TV host Stefan Raab looked at one and saw not just a pot in which he could create a delicious stir fry, but also a valid form of downhill conveyance. I don't want to resort to hyperbole and use the word "hero," but, well, the facts speak for themselves. Fans hail Raab as the father of the sport in which single contestants or four-man teams ride reinforced Chinese woks down a bobsled track in timed runs that can exceed 60 mph.

As part of a bet, Raab organized the first wok world championship races at Winterberg in Novbember 2003. Not surprisingly, he also won the first world championship in the sport he'd just made up. Raab's reign at the top was brief, though, as fellow German and three-time Olympic luge gold medalist George Hackl brought his considerable riding-things-down-an-icy-tube prowess to the sport and grabbed the next two world championships. The Jamaican Bobsled Team has also made appearances at the annual championship, thereby igniting speculation that the team probably didn't invest the royalties from Cool Runnings all that wisely.

5. Shovel Racing

Unfortunately, there are significant barriers to entering the wild world of wok racing. Not everyone has a spare wok, and even fewer potential racers have access to an Olympic bobsled track. For those who are completely hell-bent on outrunning their friends while riding a household item, shovel racing may be the answer.

Ski slope workers around Angel Fire, New Mexico supposedly began shovel racing in the early 1970s in an effort to get down the slopes quickly after the lifts had closed for the evening. The logic behind why they chose to stick a shovel handle between their legs and slide down the mountains on their rears rather than using skis seems to have been lost to history.

However, it is known that in 1975, Angel Fire Resort began hosting the World Shovel Racing Championships, which offered competitors the chance to square off in two divisions. In the Production group, racers got a regular old hardware-store shovel, waxed it up, and took off down the slopes using only their arms for steering; riders of these stock shovels could hit speeds over 60 mph. In the Modified division, racers turned their shovels into enclosed aerodynamic crafts that bore little resemblance to their cousins used to clear suburban driveways. These 500-pound vehicles could top out over 70 m.p.h. while shooting down the thousand-foot course.

While it may seem difficult to believe, riding a shovel at such high speeds is somewhat dangerous. More specifically, it's incredibly dangerous. In super-modified shovel racing's lone appearance at ESPN's Winter X Games in 1997, leading racers Gail Boles and John Shrader experienced separate horrific crashes in which Boles was knocked unconscious and Shrader broke his back in three places. The sport was not invited back to the games. Even the birthplace of organized shovel racing was forced to abandon the sport; resort administrators eventually cancelled Angel Fire's annual championships in 2005 due to liability concerns. Still, if you've got a shovel, a snowy hill, and no qualms about sticking a shovel handle between your legs, you might want to give it a shot. 

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6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

6 Surprising Ways Baseball Actually Favors Lefties

Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If you grew up playing baseball, tee-ball, softball, or any other derivative of America’s favorite pastime, you might be familiar with certain positions left-handed people are unofficially prohibited from playing—you’ll hardly ever see a left-handed shortstop or third baseman, for example, because they’d be facing the wrong direction for any throws to the right side of the field. However, there are plenty of other parts of the game that are equally important as efficiently making outs at first or second base, and some of them can even favor lefties. Read on to find out how left-handed batters, pitchers, and more have an edge against their right-handed competitors below.

1. Left-handed pitchers have a better view of first base.

Since a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he’s gearing up to pitch, he can easily see if a first base runner is leading off (i.e. taking a few steps off the bag, with the intention to steal second base). This makes for some pretty spectacular fake-outs where a pitcher will feign throwing a pitch and instead flip it to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out before he can get a foot (or finger) back on the bag.

2. Left-handed batters are closer to first base.

Left-handed batters are simply standing a little closer to first base than right-handed batters. As former MLB player Doug Bernier explained for Pro Baseball Insider, an extra step or so can be the difference between getting thrown out at first base or making it safely there, especially if it’s an infield hit. That said, not everyone agrees the slightly shorter distance to first base is enough to give left-handed batters an advantage on infield hits in general. In a 2007 article for The Hardball Times, John Walsh argued that since lefties hit more ground balls into the right half of the infield—giving first and second basemen a shorter distance to cover to make the out at first—their one-step head start isn’t statistically significant overall.

3. Left-handed batters’ momentum is already carrying them in the direction of first base.

Even if a shorter distance to first base isn’t enough to give a left-handed batter the edge on every occasion, he also has the laws of physics on his side. When a lefty swings, the momentum of the bat is moving to the right—i.e. toward first base—so he gets to run in the same direction he’s already moving. Righties, on the other hand, swing toward third base and have to break the momentum to sprint in the opposite direction. Dr. David A. Peters, a professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (and baseball aficionado), calculated that lefties’ momentum means they’re able to travel to first base about one-sixth of a second faster than righties.

4. Left-handed first basemen are facing the right direction to throw the ball to another infielder.

If the ball is hit to a left-handed first baseman, he’s already in the ideal position—with his right foot closest to his target—to throw it just about anywhere else in the infield. This is especially helpful when there’s an opportunity to make an out at second or third base, which he’d usually prioritize over the first base out. A right-handed first baseman, on the other hand, might have to pivot as much as 180 degrees to get his left foot where it needs to be to throw it to another infielder.

5. Left-handed batters perform better against right-handed pitchers, which are more abundant.

In baseball, it’s generally agreed that batters fare better when hitting against opposite-handed (OH) pitchers, so much so that coaches sometimes stack their batting lineups with lefties when they know a righty will be pitching, and vice versa. “With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game,” Dan Peterson writes for gameSense Sports, “the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage.” The advantage itself has to do with the direction of the pitches.

“With a right-handed release to a right-handed batter, the ball seems to be coming right at him,” Peterson explains. “The same pitch coming from the opposite side provides a better view across the body.”

6. Right field is shorter than left field in some parks.

detroit tigers comerica park aerial view
An aerial view of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When professional baseball stadiums first started cropping up in the late 19th century, there wasn’t a league-wide set of dimensions to standardize their size and shape (in fact, for the most part, there still isn’t). Since the majority of batters were right-handed—and, as such, more likely to hit the ball into left field—some stadiums featured left fields that were significantly deeper than their right fields. Take Philadelphia’s Columbia Park II, which opened in 1901 with a 340-foot left field and a 280-foot right field. Those short right fields meant left-handed batters would have an easier time hitting home runs. While most modern stadiums have quite literally evened the playing field with more symmetrical dimensions, some of them still have discrepancies; the right field foul pole at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, is a whole 15 feet closer to home plate than its left field foul pole.

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