Alpine Playground


Brian Bethune,Stephen Brearton,Ann MacGregor December 2 1991

Alpine Playground


Brian Bethune,Stephen Brearton,Ann MacGregor December 2 1991

Alpine Playground



ALPINE SKIING: A popular pastime in the Alps since the turn of the century, the thrilling downhill events required modem technology—including ski lifts and snowmaking machines—to bring them into the Olympic mainstream. Formally added to the Winter Games of 1948, Alpine skiing quickly became one of the glamor sports. Men and women compete separately in five events: downhill (a test of pure speed); slalom (not as steep a course, but with technically demanding twists and turns through gates); giant slalom (a longer course); the super giant slalom (longer and steeper); and the Alpine combined, in which skiers compete in separate downhill and slalom competitions and their marks are combined. The 1992 Games will also feature speed skiing as a demonstration event—on a steep new run in which contestants may break the world speed record of 140 m.p.h.

The contest: Western Europeans, particularly the Italians, Swiss, French and Austrians, dominate all events. Canada’s best chance for a medal lies with Calgary downhill specialist Kerrin Lee-Gartner.

BIATHLON: Part of the Winter Games since they began at Chamonix, France, in 1924, the event combines fast cross-country skiing with target shooting. The sport has a long military history—skiing marksmen served as the front line of Nordic armies for two centuries. Until 1936, the event was known as the military patrol. When the Winter Games resumed in 1948 after a wartime suspension, organizers dropped the event because of its military associations. It resurfaced during the 1960 Winter Games as the biathlon. There are individual events for men (10 km, 20 km and a four-by-7.5-km relay) and women (7.5 km, 15 km and a three-by-7.5-km relay).

The contest: Usually dominated by Germany and the Soviet Union. But Myriam Bédard of Neufchâtel, Que., who placed second in the 1991 World Cup, is a strong medal contender.

BOBSLED: Invented in Switzerland in the 1870s as a holiday pastime for the idle rich, the high-speed, high-risk sport has been part of the Olympic Games since 1924. Teams of two or four men plummet down winding, ice-lined tracks roughly a mile long at speeds of up to 95 m.p.h. in sleds that, in the four-man event, weigh up to 700 lb.

The contest: A Canadian team led by Chris Lori of Windsor, Ont., 1990’s World Cup champions in the four-man event, poses a strong challenge to long-standing East German and Swiss domination.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Two of the three freestyle skiing events (ballet and aerials) remain as demonstration events—all three were demonstrations at the 1988 Games in Calgary. But skiers in the third category, mogul, get their first opportunity to compete for Olympic gold at Albertville, where separate contests for men and women freestylers will be part of the official medals program. The mogul event emerged mainly in the Alps in the late 1960s. Contestants perform two aerial manoeuvres (specific turns or positions in the air) while navigating a steep, bumpy course.

The contest: Canada excels in the two categories that are still

demonstration events. In last season’s Grand Prix events, Philippe LaRoche of Lac-Beauport, Que., won the aerials gold medal and David Walker of Thunder Bay, Ont., won the bronze in ballet. Canada’s topranked mogul skier, LeeLee Morrison-Henry, who lives in Naples, Me., won the bronze medal in the women’s 1991 Grand Prix.

CURLING: A demonstration sport at the 1924 and 1932 Games, curling disappeared from the Olympic scene until its return at the demonstration level in Calgary in 1988. It will have the same status at Albertville, although the Canadian Curling Association and other organizations are lobbying for its recognition as an official sport in future Winter Games.

The contest: Men’s skip Kevin Martin of Edmonton and women’s skip Julie Sutton of Victoria both lead rinks, as the four-member teams are known, capable of victory in Albertville. They both won silver medals in the 1991 world championships.

HOCKEY: Canadian teams dominated the sport from its Olympic beginning, in the Summer Games of 1920 and in the Winter Games from 1924 on. They won the gold medal in five of the first six competitions. But Canada has failed to capture a medal in the sport since it won a bronze in 1968. Over that period, the Soviet Union has dominated.

The contest: With the Soviet Union in political disarray, and with the brilliant 18-year-old forward Eric Lindros playing with the Canadian squad, Canada re-emerges as a legitimate medal contender.

FIGURE SKATING: A staple of the Winter Olympics from the start, it is the most subjective winter sport to judge—and a rule change this year promises to further complicate the task. Skaters will continue to

compete in the four traditional categories—individual men and women, pairs and ice dance. But for the first time at the Olympic level, there will be no compulsory figures, a technical—and relatively easy to judge— category that formerly accounted for 20 per cent of the mark in individual competition. Instead, the men’s and women’s 21/2-minute short program (highlighting specific moves and jumps) will determine one-third of the score, and a 41/2-minute free-skating program (showcasing the skaters’ artistry) will account for the rest.

The contest: No one nation dominates all aspects. In the individual men's category, Americans won the gold in the past two Winter Olympics. Now, Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alta., the reigning—and

three-time—World Cup champion, is well poised for gold, if he can overcome back problems. East Germans won the women’s gold in the past three Games; Canada’s best chance lies with Josée Chouinard of Laval, Que., sixth in last year’s World Cup. The Soviets are consistently strong both in pairs, where Canada’s Lloyd Eisler and Isabelle Brasseur are contenders, and ice dance, where Canadian-raised Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay, who skate for France, are likely medallists.

NORDIC SKIING: Practised for centuries by armies engaged in winter campaigns over snowbound terrain, Nordic, or cross-country, skiing first became part of military competitions in Norway in 1767. A Winter Olympics event since 1924, it is now divided into two categories. In the strict cross-country portion, men compete in 10-, 15-, 30and 50-km rims, as well as a 40-km (four-by-10-km) relay. In the same category, women have five-, 10-, 15and 30-km runs and a 20-km (four-by-fivekilometre) relay. The second, men-only category is the Nordic combined, featuring a 70-m ski jump followed a day later by a 15-km race.

The contest: Dominated by Germans, Scandinavians and Soviets. Canada is not a significant medal contender.

SPEED SKATING: Men’s speed skating has been part of the Winter Olympics since they began in 1924; a separate category for women was started in 1960. In traditional long-track (400-m oval) events, competitors compete against the clock over five distances for men (500 m, 1,000 m, 1,500 m, 5,000 mand 10,000 m) and four for women (500 m, 1,000 m, 1,500 m, 3,000 m and 5,000 m). A more dramatic version of speed skating enters the Olympic schedule as a medal sport for the first time at Albertville. It is short-track racing, in which groups of as many as eight skaters speed around tight 110-m ovals on an ice surface smaller than a hockey rink. Individual shorttrack events are 500 m for women and 1,000 m for men; relays are 3,000 m for women and 5,000 m for men.

The contest: Quebec’s Gaétan Boucher captured two gold medals at Sarajevo in 1984, but Sweden, Germany and the Soviet Union have won most men’s medals, while the eastern Germans have dominated the women’s events. In short track, Canada’s main medal contender is Sylvie Daigle of Sherbrooke, Que., who set a 500-m world record at a pre-Olympic meet in Albertville on Nov. 16.

SKI JUMPING: A sport with a long tradition in Europe, ski jumping has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. A men-only event, it consists of two separate jumps, the 70 m and the 90 m, based on the distance from the point of takeoff to the landing area.

The contest: Scandinavians, Germans and Eastern Europeans are consistent winners. Canada is not a major medal contender.

LUGE: The luge (French for sleigh) emerged as a racing vehicle in Switzerland in the 1800s and—despite protests that it was too dangerous—became an official Olympic event, using the bobsled run, in 1964. Contestants in skintight, aerodynamic bodysuits, either alone or in pairs, lie on their backs and plummet feet-first down a 920-m-long track of ice at speeds up to 75 m.p.h., steering by pushing the runners with their ankles.

The contest: German men and women, mainly from the east, thoroughly dominate the sport. Canada is not a likely medal contender.

Compiled by Brian Bethune, Stephen Brearton, Ann MacGregor