Tips from a slush-soaked spectator
| TURIN, ITALY
You know you are a winter Olympics neophyte when:
• You show up at a mountain event without a sheet of plastic, or at least a newspaper, to put on your seat once you have swept the slush off it.
Experienced spectators (who tend to have Norwegian flags sticking out of their backpacks) arrive with folding waterproof cushions to keep their backsides dry.
On recent days a pair of goggles, such as the athletes wear, would have been an advantage, making it easier to follow the proceedings through a blizzard.
Thermal underwear is a must.
• You don't know who Kjetil Andre Aamodt is. Nobody could possibly have begrudged the Norwegian his gold medal in the Super-G on Saturday - not even fans of Hermann Maier, the Austrian favorite in the event. Not that Mr. Aamodt is unfamiliar with gold: He has won a record eight Olympic alpine skiing medals in his 14-year career. But the medal he won here is the only one he will be able to show his grandchildren. Two years ago he gave his hoard to his dad for safekeeping:Not long afterward, thieves stole the lot of them.
• You believe the first advice the Olympic volunteers tell you about which bus to take to your chosen event, or how to find the entrance once you are close.
I have adopted a practice refined over years of foreign travel: discount any advice preceded by a pause suggesting uncertainty, and for good measure, triangulate. This means you ask three people for instructions, and follow only those given by two or more.
• You sit in the seat you paid for. Often it is much more exciting to come down from the stands and get close to the action. At the men's skeleton race, the stands - set well back from the bobsleigh track - were almost empty. Most spectators preferred to pack in by the railings alongside the ice where they could hear the scrape of the sleds' runners and feel the wind as the racers flashed by.
And even if you stay in the stands, you don't always want to sit in your seat. Fans at the men's 4 x 10 km cross-country relay on Sunday spent the whole of the nearly two-hour-long race on their feet, jumping up and down with excitement as they followed the action and standings on giant screens. Sitting down was simply not an option.
• You spend most of the ski jumping event trying to puzzle out the arcane scoring system, rather than simply admiring the elegance of the athletes.
No matter how hard I tried I could not see how the judges' style points and the distance the jumpers achieved - displayed on a board - added up to the total score.
That, I discovered when I consulted the official rulebook the next day, is because "distances shorter than the K point are calculated by multiplying the 'm' value by the length difference and subtracting this number from 60; by contrast, distances longer than the K point..." You get the picture.
• You mistake an ice dancer's anger at himself for anger at his partner.
Even Olympic veterans could have been forgiven for getting this one wrong as Italians Maurizio Margaglio and Barbara Fusar Poli glared venomously at one another at the end of their program on Sunday night.
Ms. Fusar Poli had fallen, dragging Mr. Margaglio down with her, on their last lift, and their gold medal hopes had evaporated. For 26 icy seconds, before even bowing to the judges, the two simply stared each other down, Margaglio's face frozen in fury, Fusar Poli's blank with disbelief. It was hard to imagine them even talking to each other, let alone dancing together, ever again.
But Fusar Poli explained the next day, "We were speaking with our eyes, like what we did? We did a mistake. It was nothing bad between us." And indeed that night they did dance the free program together, and gave each other hugs and kisses at the end.