Inside the Olympics: How to watch the games
February 4, 2018
The Olympics can come at you fast, or at least some Olympians can.
The man who will win the gold medal in freestyle aerials skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, very well could squeeze five flips and three twists into his medal-round jump.
To an aerials judge, landing that trick — the Hurricane, made famous by silver-medal winning aerialist Jeret Peterson — cleanly will almost certainly warrant a high score.
To competitors, it will almost certainly elicit a hearty congratulations — game respects game.
To your average never-done-a-trick-on-skis Olympics viewer at home on the couch, however, it probably looks like a blur, an impressive blur, but a spinning, flipping blur all the same. Five spins and three flips? If you say so.
What's a fan to do?
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"Honestly, make sure your volume is on," said 2014 ski slopestyle Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy.
His biggest trick in qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics was a triple cork 1440, or four complete off-axis spins.
His advice? Make sure you're listening to the commentators.
"If you're watching it without any audio, you'll be so incredibly lost," he said. "You may not understand all the dialogue and all the words, but you'll get what the judges are looking for."
Even with the audio, it can be hard for the uninitiated to know just how awesome that trick was, so Kenworthy and other U.S. Olympians offered some tips for the 2018 Olympics' couch-bound fans.
There are some obvious tells.
"You don't want anything touching the snow besides your skis," Kenworthy said. "If you have your hand touch or you land and hit your butt because you're a little backseat, those are really big docks from the judges."
Beyond that, look not just for whether or not a skier does a grab, but how well he or she does it. For instance, it's easier on a tail grab to reach a hand back and touch the edge of the ski anywhere. It's more difficult to get the hand right over the end of the ski.
"That's called capping," Kenworthy said. "It's harder to get and it takes more muscle memory to know it's there."
If you're having trouble counting rotations in a spin, watch the skier's hand that isn't reach for a grab instead. It could be an indicator of trouble.
"You want it pretty much stationary," he said. "Sometimes it's natural when you get a grab with one hand for the other hand to go up, but that's not good. It sounds cool, but it's just not. If you see flailing and movement, that's bad.
"It's about trying to stay in a really controlled position, and you want to land and look like you never left the ground."
Snowboard big air and slopestyle
It doesn't really take an expert eye to judge a run according to snowboard big air and slopestyle competitor Ryan Stassel, who said “go with your gut.”
"If you can watch something and just from the feeling, from seeing the person do it and how it was done, if you're like, 'That was cool,' that is a good indication it was a good trick," he said.
"It's like a dance," said Jamie Anderson, gold medalist in women's snowboard halfpipe at the 2014 Olympics who will be back to defend her title in Pyeongchang.
"You want to look for what feels good and what doesn't have a lot of jerk and twerk motions," she said. "You're looking for something very smooth and graceful and consistent. You don't have to know all the tricks, but if you can notice how they all connect top to bottom, that plays a huge role."
Big triple corks will likely decide the podium in the big men's snowboard competitions. Picking those tricks out doesn't have to be hard, either.
"What you're looking for is their board going over their head three times," Stassel said. "Once, twice, then the third time, they're bringing it around to their feet."
A viewer doesn't even really need to get caught up in spins and flips, at least not in the eyes of David Wise, 2014 ski halfpipe gold medalist.
"There's a lot that goes into a halfpipe run and that makes it good in the eyes of judges, but the easiest thing to see is amplitude, going really high," he said.
"A lot of people think going really high just means you're the most fearless and you take the most speed into it, but really it's a lot more skill based,” Wise added. “Everyone can go high on their first trick, but one of the main things you can look for is if they go as high on their first trick as they do their last trick. That shows their lines in the halfpipe are perfect, because you haven't lost any speed. That's really hard to do."
A skier who's riding across the flat part of the halfpipe can also give away hints as to how a run is going.
"If you see snow coming off the bottom of their skis, that means their line isn't very clean," Wise said. "Guys who really land well, you won't see any snow, just a clean, straight line."
You're not the only one who needs slow motion to really understand a trick in freestyle aerials.
"Even my parents who've seen it hundreds of times have trouble understanding sometimes," said Kiley McKinnon, a World Cup season championship aerialist who just qualified for her first Olympics.
She competes with two different tricks, and the differences underscore some of what makes following the sport so difficult. One trick is a full double full and the other a double full full.
"Full" means one flip and one twist together while the double is two twists for one flip.
"We want to be straight in all three flips," said Mac Bohonnon, set to represent the U.S. in his second Olympics. "You want your body in a straight, tall position with your arms at your side, like a diver."
One small giveaway in how many twists a jumper is intending comes with the movement of those arms. Pulled tight under the chin and against the chest, and the goal is two twists for that flip.
That's the same maneuver with the arms Bohonnon uses when he needs to squeeze three tricks out of a spin, too.
The only difference?
"You pray," he said.
And if you're watching from home, you turn up the volume.