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8 Winter Olympics Demo Sports

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Wikimedia Commons

This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have added 12 new sports to the global competition, making the 22nd Winter Olympics the largest version of the event yet. But this isn't the first time the Olympics have attempted to introduce new competitions to the world. The event has long made both room and time to include “demonstration sports” during their run. These sports are played for promotional purposes and some eventually become official Olympic events. Most don't—but there are certainly some interesting entries here (including two that involve dogs).

1. Skijoring

Sure, there are plenty of Olympic-level sports that the layman should not try at home, but few seem as primed for disaster as skijoring, a game that centers on being pulled by animals while on skis. Picture your goofy neighbor who likes to go skateboarding with his or her pup pulling them along. Then imagine that all happening on snow and ice.

Skijoring involves one cross-country skier either being pulled by dogs (often from such go-get-'em breeds as Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Inuit dogs) or one trick skier going over jumps and obstacles while being pulled by a single horse. Equestrian skijoring also includes cross-country style races, but most competitions involve the acrobatic elements. You can also skijor behind a snowmobile, but it's far less cute.

Skijoring was only demonstrated at one Olympics—1928 in St. Moritz—but the sport is still in competition across the world. Whitefish, Montana is home to the annual World Skijoring Championships.

2. Ice stock sport

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Though curling is now curiously en vogue when it comes to nifty Olympic sports, it’s not the only “sliding things across ice” competition to take the Games by storm. Ice stock sport (also known as “Bavarian curling”) has demonstrated at two different Winter Olympics—in 1936 in Bavaria, Germany (of course!) and in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria.

Like curling, ice stock sport centers on sliding an object (in this case, the eponymous “ice stock,” which looks like a big, flat circle with a stick on top) across ice. Winning at ice stock sport hinges on hitting a target or covering the longest distance. There are many version of ice stock, but “target shooting” and “distance shooting” are the most popular. Despite being a winter sport, athletes will also play the game during the summer, using tarmacs to slide their ice stocks along.

3. Military patrol

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Nothing says “fun Olympic sport” quite like the name “military patrol,” but this demonstration event actually has some niftiness to it—like its team element and strict backpack weight requirements (OK, maybe the latter isn’t as fun). Military patrol has so far demonstrated at three different Winter Games, making it the most popular demo event. It's a combination of cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering, and rifle shooting.

If that sounds familiar, it's because the sport inspired the biathlon, which is still an Olympic sport today.

4. Ski ballet

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Though ski ballet (also known as “acroski”) is no longer a part of freestyle skiing, it’s hard to deny the allure of a sport so rigorously dedicated to embodying its name. Ski ballet is a choreographed event performed on a smooth slope. While the sport tried to adapt to changing times–in the '70s, routines came with music, and in the '80s pair ballet competitions emerged—the International Ski Federation ceased all formal competition of the sport in 2000.

Ski ballet demonstrated at two different Olympics during its heyday—in 1988 in Calgary and then again in 1992 in Albertville, France.

5. Bandy

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A precursor to hockey, bandy is another on-ice game that involves skating, sticks, and goals. Its rules are similar to soccer and bandy teams put at least eight players on the ice at any given time. The ice area is much bigger than in hockey, and is best compared to a football field. Another big difference between bandy and hockey is that bandy is played with a small round ball, not a small flat puck. Bandy only demonstrated at the Olympics once, back in 1952 in Oslo, Norway. 

6. Sled-dog racing

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Perhaps the most well-known sport of all the demonstration events, sled-dog racing showed at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid and then again in 1952 in Oslo, but it never made it to official status.

Still, sled-dog racing is incredibly popular and has plenty of its own competitions (like the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race) to keep it going.

7. Speed skiing

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You’ve got to hand it to speed skiing—they’ve certainly got some simplicity going on here. As the name lets on, speed skiing is all about velocity, and the aim of the sport is to ski downhill in one line as quickly as possible. It's both totally exhilarating and horrifically terrifying. While the Olympics still play host to plenty of other fast skiing events, the speeds that speed skiers hit (around 125 MPH) are much faster than the numbers put up by slalom racers and the like. The current record holder, Italy’s Simone Origone, was clocked at 156.2 MPH back in April of 2006.

Speed skiing was shown at the Olympics just once, back in 1992 at the Albertville Games, home to the famous Les Arcs course, a 2 kilometer trail that has seen three of the four world speed skiing records.

8. Winter pentathlon

If you think the biathlon features a weird pairing of events, it’s time for you to get hip to the winter pentathlon.

Like the biathlon, the pentathlon involves both cross-country skiing and shooting, but also adds downhill skiing, fencing, and horseback riding. It was demonstrated only once, at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Fourteen athletes competed in the complicated sport, and while it sounds like the sort of sport that needs a bevy of different arenas, they simplified things—every event was held outdoors, including the fencing.

While not an official Olympic event, the winter pentathlon is held every year at the Military World Games.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
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NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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