What's the Difference? Winter Olympic Sports

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The Winter Olympics are in full swing, which can be as confusing as it is exciting. Since slalom skiing and ice dancing aren't quite as familiar as basketball and football, the nuanced differences between certain events can be a bit difficult to decipher. Let's take a look at some of the key differences between similar events.

Ice Dancing and Pairs Figure Skating

dancing-skating

Ice dancing is obviously a form of figure skating, but there are important differences that may seem a bit subtle to those of us who are uninitiated. The easiest way to think of ice dancing is that it's ballroom dancing with skates on. Dancers have to perform to music with a definite rhythm—pair skaters can rely more on melodic tunes. Ice dancers also have to stay close to each other; they usually can't be more than two arm lengths apart.

The technical aspects of ice dancing are different, too. Ice dancers can't employ the throws and multi-revolution jumps that pair skaters use, and any spins have to be done as a couple. Ice dancers also use different lifts than pair skaters; in ice dancing, the male partner can't extend his hands above his head.

Skeleton and Luge

skeleton-luge

The two icy speed sports are very similar, but the easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at the racers' noggins. If they're going down the track head-first it's skeleton. Feet-first is luge. Lugers (or "sliders") steer by applying pressure with their shoulders or moving their sled's runners by subtly moving their legs. Skeleton sliders, on the other hand, steer by shifting their weight or dragging their feet.

Slalom and Giant Slalom and Super G

You're probably familiar with slalom skiing. Skiers go down a course marked with a number of gates that they have to maneuver between. What's the difference between all of these different flavors of slaloming, though? The regular slalom features the most tightly packed gates and is contested on the shortest course. The giant slalom takes place on a longer course with more distance between the gates.

The super G, which is short for "super giant slalom," attempts to blend the speed of downhill skiing with the strategy involved in slalom skiing. Super G courses feature the greatest distance between gates, so skiers pick up more speed than they would on a slalom or giant slalom course. Because of this quickness, super G is considered to be a "speed event" along with downhill, while slalom and giant slalom are considered "technical events."

Olympic Hockey and NHL Hockey

USA-NHL

If you're a hardcore NHL fan, Olympic hockey might be a tiny bit disorienting. The basic game is obviously the same, but there are a few small changes in the rules that make a big difference.

In the NHL, goalies can only handle the puck behind the goal line if they're in a small area directly behind the net; in Olympic hockey, they can have the puck anywhere behind the goal line. Also, whereas NHL players have to shoot their own penalty shots unless they're injured, Olympic teams can choose anyone on their squad to take penalty shots.

On top of that, while fighting in the NHL earns a player a trip to the penalty box, in Olympic hockey it's a one-way ticket to the locker room following an ejection. The icing rule in Olympic hockey is different as well. In the NHL, a linesman only stops play due to icing once a defensive player touches the puck; in Olympic hockey, play stops as soon as the puck crosses the goal line.

At most Winter Olympics, the hockey games are contested on longer, wider rinks than the ones used for NHL games. However, to save money, the Vancouver Games are being played on an NHL-sized rink to save on construction costs.

Men's Hockey and Women's Hockey

The two variants are fairly similar, except body checking is strictly forbidden in women's hockey and will draw a penalty. Also, women's players are required to wear full facemasks while they're on the ice, which probably makes their dentists very, very happy.

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February 15, 2010 - 6:20pm
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