Figure skating and hockey are to capture the show in Vancouver. But alpine skiing is likely to be the most popular event in Whistler – a mountain village some two hours from the main Olympic headquarters. From the downhill to slalom, athletes will send their skis chattering across the broad swaths of Whistler Blackcomb.
A premier North American destination, the mountain bid unsuccessfully for five previous Olympic Games. So while athletes from Lindsey Vonn to Benjamin Raich (see video) will be here to realize their Olympic dreams, their presence will enable Whistler to do the same – more than 40 years after it launched its Olympic quest.
Who to watch
Carlo Janka, SUI (see video)
Nicknamed “The Iceman” by his teammates, the young Janka has been trading off with Austrian Benjamin Raich for the No. 1 ranking in overall World Cup standings all season. The young skier's successes, combined with those of team member and No. 3-ranked Didier Couche, have fueled a fierce Swiss-Austrian rivalry as a resurgent Swiss team challenges the Austrians' long-time dominance.
Lindsey Vonn, USA (see video)
Vonn is America’s most decorated female skier. She holds the No. 1 ranking heading into the Games and is well-placed to win her first Olympic medal – and, some say, her second, third, fourth, or even fifth medal. At the 2006 Torino Games, Vonn suffered a monstrous crash that knocked her out of medal contention – but she got back on the slopes two days later, finishing four out of five races. Once as wild as Bode Miller, Vonn became overall World Cup champion twice in a row after her racer husband Thomas Vonn convinced her to rein herself in just a hair.
A native Minnesotan who now makes her home in Vail, Colo., Vonn is close friends with her closest rival, Germany’s Maria Riesch. The two have spent holidays at each other’s homes and regularly give each other advice on courses, equipment, and race strategies. Read more at Vonn's website.
Other Americans to watch: Bode Miller, who has already won World Cup gold since announcing a surprise comeback this fall, leads an American team likely to improve on its performance in Torino. Olympic medalists Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso are back, along with four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper.
Click here for schedule and results.
Men and women compete in five events:
- Downhill: featuring the longest course of the alpine skiing events and highest speeds. Skiers are each given one opportunity to ski the course at their fastest.
- Super-G (see video): meaning “super giant slalom,” athletes race individually at highs speeds down a course shorter and more winding than the downhill's but longer than the giant slalom's. Skiers make only one run.
- Giant Slalom: fewer, wider, and smoother turns than the slalom. The skier with the best combined time after two runs wins.
- Slalom: the shortest alpine event with the tightest turns. The skier with the best combined time after two runs wins.
- Super Combined: skiers make two different runs: one downhill run and one slalom. The times of the two runs are combined and the fastest overall skier wins.
Scandinavians and Russians have glided atop snowy plains for some 5,000 years. The birth of what the world knows now as downhill skiing, however, dates to the 1850s, when Norwegian legend Sondre Norheim (see video) popularized skis capable of providing the skier balance at high speeds. Upper-class Europeans fell in love with the sport and by the 1920s, many of Europe’s most mountainous countries were taking advantage of this new form of winter tourism.
The sport of alpine skiing originated in the idea that an able skier should be able to cut a straight track down the side of a mountain while above the treeline. The slalom discipline emerged from the method of skiing through wooded areas. As the sport matured, the downhill track became more outlined and the trees were replaced with flags.
Sources: vancouver2010.com, nbcolympics.com, Oxford Encyclopedia of World Sports