From skating to skiing, a total of 92 countries will be competing in this year’s Winter Olympics, with the lavish opening ceremonies kicking off this coming Friday in PyeongChang, South Korea. Athletes in fifteen sports are preparing to compete with the best of the best. This year 75% of students plan on watching the games, with figure skating being a fan favorite for 42% of students.
Awaiting the games are students who are hoping to see the world’s best winter athletes perform under the spotlight.
Sophomore Grace Olsen, goalie for the Glenview Stars U-16 travel hockey team, is looking forward to seeing new strategies on the ice. “I watch for the positioning and if the players are in the right areas to receive a pass or to even shoot the puck. Being in position is very important to the game. Goalie-wise I look for goalies who are squared to the shooters and are ready for the shot,” Olsen said.
Junior Nico Lavalle of the Maine 207 team is excited for intense matches. “I watch professional hockey as well as the Olympics. I look for close, back-and-forth games that are fairly low-scoring and fast paced,” Lavalle said.
For students who want to give hockey a shot, Olsen recommends going to the Franklin Park Ice Arena as “they have a great open house program open to everyone.” Lavalle suggests the Ice Land Skate & Swim Complex in Niles. “There are rat hockey [scrimmage] sessions held at Niles each week. Anyone is allowed to play in these sessions, and there are always some beginners there trying to learn the flow of the game,” Lavalle said.
Figure skating is home to more icy action. Sophomore Sarah Borgman, a figure skater for twelve years, said her favorite Team USA skaters are Nathan Chen and Mirai Nagasu. “For men, I like to watch Chen because he has amazing jumps, but he has also improved his artistry a lot. For ladies, my favorite is Nagasu because of the fight she has had in her these past four years. I look at the technique on their jumps a lot to see how I can apply that to myself, to challenge myself to try and do the same spins they perform, and also to watch the way they perform to the music,” Borgman said.
Alpine skiing, along with other ski disciplines, have been present in the Olympics since the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games in 1936. “Downhill skiing is my personal favorite. It gives you a kind of special thrill almost like a rollercoaster, which I enjoy,” senior Amanda Grzebien said. Like many others at West, Grzebien cheers for the US athletes. “I love watching the Olympics; I’ll be rooting for team USA all the way. A personal favorite moment of mine from the last Winter Games would have to be [skier] Ted Ligety winning gold,” Grzebien said. Currently, American Mikaela Shiffrin is the top-ranked female skier in the world, based on International Ski Federation competitions this winter, and she will be representing the United States in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, and super-G events. Among the men, Ligety will be back on the team competing for medal-winning runs.
Students who want to try the sport themselves can rent skis and learn to carve through the snow at several nearby ski hills, including one at Villa Olivia just 30 minutes west in Bartlett or at Wilmot Mountain, an hour north on the Wisconsin border.
Other Olympic sports include the bobsleigh and luge, with both sports hailing from Switzerland. Luge is an older sport, with its roots set deep in the 1600s. Like the bobsleigh, luge gained popularity when Swiss hotels began offering the sport to its wealthy guests. Daring students can attempt the luge at the Muskegon Luge Track, a roughly four hour drive from Maine West in Muskegon, Michigan. The Muskegon Luge Track is a facility designed for beginners; it is staffed with coaches to teach you the skill and rentable luges. Currently, only 17 competitive luges exist in the world, with only two of them being here in North America.
Whether attempting a sport or leaving it to the professionals, the Winter Olympics offer the excitement of global competition as well as inspiration to try new sports.