What to watch for at 2014 Sochi Olympics

Scripps Digital Contributor - For the first time in history, every phase of competition during the 2014 Winter Olympics will be shown live, either by television or online Whether viewing in real time in the wee hours or during prime time, does one really know what he's watching? Is an athlete is in medal contention or out of the running?
Here's a cheat sheet to watching some of the Olympic sports.

What to watch for: Ski jumping

Takeoff. As a jumper speeds down the ramp, he waits to feel the G-forces let up just a bit and then launches into the air. This is usually about 10 feet before the drop-off.

Form. A jumper should be stretched far out over (almost parallel to) the skis, arms relaxed at the sides. Skis should be in a V pattern. All of this is to create maximum surface area and minimize drag, like an airplane wing, to fly as long as possible.

Landing. The jumper should land in a stable "telemark" lunge position, no flapping arms. Jumps are judged both on distance and style. Points for both jumps are added together.

Cool facts. For the first time, women will compete in ski jumping at the Olympic games. And contrary to how it may appear, there is no lip on the end of a ski jump run. Instead, the end hangs 10.5 degrees.

What to watch for: Speed skating (short track)

Distance. There are three distances – 500 meters, 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters. Each has different strategies. The 500-meter is a full-blown sprint, lasting less than 42 seconds. In the 1,500-meter, the pace is slower, with more jostling and jockeying for position.

Smart skating. Find the skater who looks relaxed, hands on his back, stroking efficiently in rhythm waiting to make a move. He's conserving energy by drafting off the skater in front. The best skaters are always aware of who is around them, who has right of way who can cut you off.

The Pass. When the skater's right hand starts to swing, that signals he's attempting a pass. Like horse racing, making a move on the outside curve is harder than the inside, but with enough speed that can be the way to go.

Cool fact. Speed skaters wear cut-resistant suits made of Kevlar. The glove on the left hand has ceramic tips to reduce friction when a skater puts his hand down as he pivots through the corners.

What to watch for: Bobsled

The start. A good start time – push-off and load on a 50-meter ramp – at Sochi will be 4.7 seconds or faster. Whether two- or four-man competition, the smoother the load the more speed the sled carries into the first turn. To the casual observer, it may appear four guys are jumping into a sled, but every move is choreographed with a specific spot for every limb.

Riding position. Once the athletes are inside the sled, check their position. The driver's helmet should be the highest, with the rest in a descending straight line. The No. 2 rider looks at the driver's neck. Number three is looking at the bottom of the sled, while the brakeman is face down almost bent in half.

The sled's path. This is sport governed by gravity, but drivers can steer their sled (though they want to do so as little as possible and only make minute adjustments). Sleds need to go straight down the course at all times and enter and exit in the middle of each turn. Too high or too low causes the sled to skid, and a skid means lost time.

Cool facts. The Sochi track is approximately 1 mile of ice with 17 turns. Speed could reach 83 miles per hours and an average run is 55 seconds or less. Sleds have no seats and no padding. A good run is a "controlled car crash".

What to watch for: Skeleton

Stillness. The racer must keep their head as still as possible, as if melting into the sled. Head and shoulders should be down and feet glued together. If the feet come apart, time is lost.

The curves. The best athletes have memorized the course and go blind into every curve, with maybe a quick peek on the straightaways. Rider and sled need to take a middle line. Too high in a curve and they will hit the roof. Pay attention to curves 10 and 14. They are where you are likely to see some wild action.

Cool facts. No other sport compares – flying down a one-mile tube of ice head first at 90 miles per hour. Skeleton racers dig their knees into the sled to steer and counter with their shoulders.

What to watch for: Figure skating (ice dancing)

Their feet. How close can two skaters get without tripping each other? The best ice dancing teams skate very close together, matching movement to music, while performing intricate footwork, innovative lifts and dizzying spins. They must maintain speed throughout the program and make even the toughest moves look effortless.
Twizzles. These one-foot pirouettes, side-by-side as skaters travel across the ice, are incredibly difficult

and where you often see mistakes.

The short programs. While all but die-hard skating fans focus on the free dance, the final four-minute program, all teams must perform a short program lasting two minutes and 50 seconds. For these Olympics, the "short" is a foxtrot/quick step. Dancers can use any music and choreography but must adhere to the steps and rhythm of that specific dance. Points from the short are added to those for the long to determine the medalists.

Cool facts. Ice dancers are only allowed to separate two arm lengths for a maximum of five seconds during their routine. Lifts are allowed, but not over the head. Ice dancers rarely fall, so a spill is considered disaster.

What to watch for: Snowboarding (parallel slalom)

Thor. Look for the racer with a powerful stance, chest up and open, ready to attack the course. Shoulders should be parallel to the fall line and racers need clean edges and smooth carving turns, as if they were surfing.

Consistency. Parallel slalom is all about agility and quickness. Giant Slalom combines speed with being fast and smooth. The athletes most likely to dominate will be those who calculate exactly when to make their turn to get to next gate as fast as possible.

Adaptability. Race courses deteriorate throughout the day and develop ruts, so watch for riders who can adapt to current snow conditions. Also, catching a bit of air is okay as long as the recovery is quick.

Cool facts. Parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom feature head-to-head racing, each run taking just about 30 seconds. A bracket system of two races per round means the winner has to ski the course 10 times in a single day.

What to watch for: Alpine skiing (downhill)

Smoothness. The Olympic downhill course at Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort is steep, long and challenging, with gullies, ridges and three big jumps. Look for the racer who seems to have found a good smooth line, relaxed and loose. They should be going fast and absorbing the bumps instead of getting bounced around.

The plume. Snow pluming out from the back of the skis means the racer is clean on his edges and not fighting the hill. A ton of snow spraying out from the sides signals the racer is losing time.

The tuck. During the last third of the race, watch for racers to drop into a tight aerodynamic tuck – elbows in line with knees, arms straight out front to punch a hole in the air and hands to block the wind from the face. It's easier not to tuck, but it can make up lost time.

Cool fact. Some alpine racers bring 10 pairs of skis with them and won't know which they'll use until race day. Speeds could hit 75 miles per hour or more. And unlike some sports, in downhill anything can happen. The race isn't over until the last skier crosses the finish line.
 

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