The alpine skiing event first joined the Winter Games in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Back then, the only two downhill skiing events in place at the time were slalom and downhill. That changed in the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, where three alpine disciplines were added: giant slalom, slalom and downhill. Thirty-six years later, the popular super-G (or super-giant slalom) event was added to the mix at the Calgary Olympic Winter Games .
The downhill slope at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games is all about speed. In a nutshell, an Olympic skier heads down a churning slope, zigzagging along the way (hopefully, without wiping out) and getting to the bottom of the hill in the fastest possible time.
Lindsey Vonn, an American World Cup alpine ski racer, is the reigning downhill gold medalist among women from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Didier Défago of Switzerland is the reigning champion among men.
Ten basic terms to know for the Sochi alpine skiing event:
1. Quota: During the 2014 Winter Olympics, you'll likely hear the word "quota" frequently. Basically, it's a total of 320 athletes are allowed to compete at the Winter Games. Additionally, a maximum of 22 athletes per nation are permitted to compete. Simply put, only 15 males or 15 females from a nation are allowed to participate in the alpine skiing event at the Sochi Games in Russia.
2. Downhill (or DH): This is the longest and fastest course in the mountain cluster at the Sochi Winter Games. It spans 1.250 meters long and has a vertical drop of 210 meters. Speeds can reach 120 km/h (75 mph). This part of the mountain is shared between skiers and snowboarders. Skiers barrel down the slope on a single run several times and their fastest time is used to determine their place in the finish.
3. The slalom (or SL): At the Sochi Games, this is a two-run event in which an alpine skiing athlete makes their way downhill, weaving in and out of poles or gates that are closer in proximity than in super-G, giant slalom or downhill. This offers sharper and faster turns with little room for error. The winner is determined by the faster of two combined cores.
4. Giant slalom (or GS): This event involves skiing between sets of gates spaced at larger gaps than slalom and smaller compared to the super-G. For men, the number of gates range from 56 to 70 and 46 to 58 for women. The final time is based on the faster of two-runs.
5. The super giant slalom (or super-G): This grueling event is a mix of the giant slalom and conventional alpine skiing. Although a skier goes through fewer turns at posts/gates, the slope speeds are similar to the downhill competition.
6. The super combined event: This part of the competition includes one downhill or super-G run and one slalom run on a single day.
7. Berm: A skiing term that simply means snow bank, which is often used to provide stability on the outside of a turn. You'll likely here this often during the slalom downhill events, particularly when skiers are rounding gates down the slope.
8. Traverse: This term is used very frequently as commentators talk about the super-G competition. Basically, when a skier traverses, they ski across a slope, making a zigzag pattern in an attempt to control downward speeds and to make lateral moves and turns safely.
9. Fall Line: If you hear any mention of this, it's usually bad news for the skier. A fall line is the most direct line down a slope or trail. It's the linear direction you follow (similar to a ball) should you take a tumble downhill.
10. Slideslip: This happens when the skis slide sideways (typically in a turn), but the skier is in full control.
Again, these terms are just a snapshot of the jargon you are likely to hear during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic alpine skiing event. The complete glossary is here (PDF download).
I strongly suggest downloading the SportLogik iPhone App (via Apple iTunes) that allows you to keep tabs on all the latest updates at the 2014 Winter Games.
Bradley is a professional writer, journalist, sportswriter and avid fan of the Olympics, NBA, NFL, NCAA, PGA and tennis. He keeps a watchful eye on Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins developments.
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- 2014 Winter Olympics
- alpine skiing