Slalom is a two-run event, with the course gates repositioned between runs. The skier with the fastest combined time wins. Of the four Alpine events, slalom is considered the most "technical" event. The typical men's course is 55 to 75 gates. A women's course ranges from 45 to 65 gates. The course length is only about 2,000 feet. The Olympic slalom will be held on the steep Giovanni A. Agnelli slope at Sestriere.
Like slalom, giant slalom is also a two-run event. However, there is more distance between gates in giant slalom than in slalom. There is also a greater vertical drop along the length of the course -- about 1,200 feet compared to 700 feet. There is a greater variety in terrain, from steep to gentle, over a giant slalom course. In giant slalom, or GS, the typical course ranges from 42 to 57 gates. The course length is about three-quarters of a mile. The giant slalom courses will be held at Sestriere Colle on the Mount Sises course, with the women's run beginning part way down the men's course, which begins with a very steep section.
Super-G is an exciting combination of "technical" or turning skills and high speed. Skiers go as fast as 62 mph as they weave through gates spread more widely than those of a giant slalom course. The vertical drop of the course increases as well -- 1,970 feet for a women's race and 2,100 feet for a men's race. The course length is more than 1 1/4 miles. The super-G races will be held on one of three adjacent speed skiing venues in the San Sicario region on Mount Fraiteve.
Downhill is the speed king of Alpine skiing -- athletes go as fast as 80 mph as they ski through widely spaced control gates. The skier with the fastest time in a single run wins the Olympic gold. Unlike the other three events, the athletes have a chance to practice on the Olympic downhill course before race day. In fact, they enjoy three days of official training, which is conducted just like a race. The women's downhill extends from Mount Fraiteve to Mount Roccia Rotonda. The men's downhill will be held at Kandahar Banchetta.
The combined competition is a one-day event with a single downhill run in the morning and two slalom runs in the afternoon. The skier with the fastest combined time wins. All portions of the competition for men and women will take place on the lower section of Wildflower with the men's start slightly higher on the course than the women's start in both events.
The Nordic combined competition will consist of three events -- individual, team and sprint. All Nordic events will be held near Pragelato, with the ski jumping in the town on the right bank of the river Chisone and the cross-country race just a few kilometers away between the villages of Pattemouche and Granges. The two venues are about 2 kilometers apart, but their perimeters come within 200 meters at their closest point.
In Nordic combined, an athlete's score in ski jumping is paired with the results of a cross-country ski race. The skiers employ the skating or freestyle technique.
The athlete with the highest score in ski jumping begins the cross-country race first. Each succeeding athlete starts at an interval, or time penalty, behind the leader, based on the athlete's jumping score.
In the individual event, athletes take two jumps from the "normal" K106 jump and complete a 15-kilometer ski race. In the sprint event, there is just one jump from the K140, followed by a 7.5-kilometer race. The team event involves four athletes from each participating nation. They will take two scored jumps from the K90, followed by a four-person relay in which each team member skis 5 kilometers. Four athletes from each nation will also take part in the team relay.
There are two skiing techniques: classical and freestyle, or skate. The classical technique is the traditional one in which athletes keep their skis parallel, never deviating from the two tracks marked on the course. The freestyle technique allows the skier to choose a different style. Most adopt a skating-like strategy, pushing off the inside edge of each ski and then gliding. Twelve gold medals will be awarded in cross-country skiing.
Ski jumping is one of the most popular events in middle Europe, but it is not widely understood in the United States. In the sport, athletes speed down a prepared slope called an in-run, before taking off on a jump.
They then soar down the hill, before landing in a Telemark position at the bottom of the hill. In most cases, ski jumpers will reach speeds of more than 50 mph before the takeoff and soar farther than a football field in distance. Although it may appear that the jumpers are soaring high above the hill, they are typically no more than 10 feet off the ground at anytime.
In Pragelato, competitions will take place on jumps a little larger than those at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. The venue can hold up to 7,500 spectators.
Although distance is important, it is only one component of the event. Jumpers in the Olympic events also are judged on style and landing.
Aerials and moguls will be featured in the freestyle portion of this year's Olympic Games in Italy. The events will take place 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) from Turin outside the town of Sauze d'Oulx at the historic winter resort of Sportinia.
In the aerial events, skiers are launched 50 or more feet into the air off a kicker. While in the air, the athlete will perform twists and somersaults before landing on a steep, snowy slope below the jumps.
A panel of judges scores each athlete.
In moguls, the skiers pound down a field of moguls during which they are required to hit two kickers and perform aerial maneuvers.
A panel of judges at the bottom of the course rates skiers and gives them an overall score, which is based on speed, turns and airs.
Snowboarding was first introduced to the Olympic stage eight years ago at the Nagano Games and quickly became a spectator favorite. New this year is the addition of a snowboardcross, an event in which contestants break out of a set of starting gates and race elbow to elbow through a series of sharply banked turns and jumps.
The remaining snowboarding events are divided into two different formats -- Alpine and freestyle.
Alpine most closely resembles its skiing cousin in that racers make their way through slalom, giant slalom and even super-G courses. The fastest racer across the finish line without missing a gate wins.
The snowboarding courses are very similar to the skiing courses (the main difference is that in snowboarding the gates are triangular and closer to the ground) in that slalom races take place on a compact course with evenly spaced gates placed close together. In the giant slalom, the gates are slightly farther apart and racers are able to gain more speed between turns and the super-G event is flat out and very fast.
In the halfpipe event, the athletes will drop into a smooth, carved-out cavern of snow with steep walls. Each athlete will perform a number of tricks as they zigzag down the pipe to a finish area. The athletes are then judged on how they perform each trick. The harder the trick is to complete, the higher the scores will be. The Olympic snowboarding events will be held in Melezet, outside Bardonecchia, where the Olympic Village is situated. Bardonecchia, with a permanent population of 3,000, is the largest village in the area. The snowboarding venue is divided by a river -- Dora Melezet.
Biathlon, which became an official Olympic sport in 1960, combines cross-country skiing and target shooting with a small-caliber rifle. The biathlon requires stamina, strength and concentration. Athletes race on loops of varying lengths, stopping periodically at the shooting range to execute a series of target shots. Athletes incur penalties for each missed shot --ither adding a minute to their total time or requiring them to ski an additional 150-meter loop.
Athletes must use manual-loading rifles and shoot at targets from 50 meters away that are about the size of a silver dollar.
There are a variety of men's and women's events, including individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start and relay.
In bobsledding, teams of two or four athletes race against the clock on an artificial ice track. The two-person bobsled teams are made up of a driver and a brakeman, who are joined by two other competitors in the four-person race.
The race begins with all team members pushing the sled for about 50 meters, which usually takes about six seconds. The teammates then jump into the sled to continue the race, reaching speeds of about 80 mph.
There will be three bobsled events in these Olympics: a men's two-person race, a men's four-person race and a women's race.
Curling is a team sport played on an ice rink. The goal is to use handles to deliver smooth granite stones across the ice and as close as possible to the center of a target, which is called the house.
Each team has four athletes: the lead, who delivers the stone; the second and the third, who sweep the ice; and the skip, who provides the strategy.
A team's stone can knock an opponent's stone out of the scoring area, and a point is awarded for each stone placed closer to the house than the opponent's. Each game consists of 10 rounds, or "ends," and extra ends are used in the event of a tie.
One of the most popular Winter Olympic events, figure skating features men, women and mixed pairs executing complex routines on ice and set to music. Judges evaluate the skaters on the difficulty and precision of their routines and their artistic value.
Each routine consists of two programs: a short program and a free skate. The short program, which counts for one-third of the total score, consists of a combination of eight required elements. Skaters can complete the tasks in any order, and the short program must be done within a two-minute, 40-second time limit. The free skate encourages individual creativity, and there is a four-minute time limit for women and a four-minute, 30-second time limit for men and pairs.
Ice dancing, unlike pair skating, doesn't allow jumps or overhead lifts. Ice dancing consists of three parts: the compulsory, the original and the free dance.
Very similar to the version of the sport played in the National Hockey League, Olympic ice hockey features a men's and women's tournament. There are 12 men's teams and eight women's teams, with each tournament dividing its squads into two groups. The first phase of the tournament is a round-robin format in which all teams play once against the other teams in their group. The four best men's teams and the two best women's teams advance to the quarterfinals and semifinals.
In luge, athletes lie feet-first and on their backs on a small sled. The initial thrust is very important for a good time on the ice track.
Athletes start in a sitting position and push themselves from the top of a ramp. Athletes who cross the finish line without their sleds are disqualified, but athletes are allowed to stop during their descent and start again after repositioning the sled on the track.
The Olympics feature men's single, men's double and women's single competitions.
Speed skating features pairs of athletes competing against one another on a long oval track. Athletes race against the clock and can reach speeds of nearly 40 mph. Skaters start the race side by side and switch lanes once per lap so that both skate the same distance.
Short track speed skating, a cousin to normal speed skating, is a fast, exciting event during which competitors skate at fast speeds around a small oval track. There often are collisions and falls in short track speed skating.
Athletes compete against one another in groups of four or six. Tactics and skill in studying the opponents' moves are very important. Serious collisions, pushing and obstructing are infractions worthy of disqualification.
There are eight events: men's 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters and a 5,000-meter relay; and women's 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters and a 3,000-meter relay.
In skeleton, athletes speed down an ice track at speeds reaching 80 mph. They lie facing downhill and steer with body movements. Skeleton sleds are not allowed to have brakes or steering devices.
There are only two skeleton events: a men's single and a women's single.
Sources: Steamboat Pilot & Today staff
and the Spectators Guide to the Winter Olympics
on the official 2006 Olympic Web site.