Olympic winter sports explained

(FILES) This file photo taken on January 07, 2018 shows Austria's Marcel Hirscher clearing a gate during ...
(FILES) This file photo taken on January 07, 2018 shows Austria's Marcel Hirscher clearing a gate during the first run of the Men's slalom race at the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Adelboden, Switzerland./ AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI

A record 102 gold medals will be awarded in 15 sports disciplines at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea from February 9-25.

We take a brief look at the medal events and how those sports disciplines work.

Alpine skiing 

Alpine skiing is divided into speed events and technical events. The downhill and super-G, run over one leg, provide the speed while the giant slalom and slalom, held over two legs, showcase technique. The alpine combined brings together the downhill and slalom. A new event in 2018, the National Team Event, sees teams of four (two men, two women) competing against one another on parallel slalom courses. Alpine skiing accounts for a total of 11 medals.


Eleven gold medals (five for men, five for women, one mixed) are also on offer in biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting over an array of distances. Speed on skis is crucial but shooting accuracy at designated targets along the way counts significantly towards the final tally.


In the four-man bobsleigh, two-man bobsleigh and two-woman’s bobsleigh, competitors ride a steerable sled down an ice track at speeds averaging 135 kph. A brakeman and pilot make up the two-person bob to which two pushers are added for the four-man format.

Cross-country skiing

Competitors compete for a total of 12 gold medals – six for men and six for women – over snowfield courses that include an equal measure of climbing, descending and flat racing in various race formats. Two styles of skiing are on show — classic style which involves competitors pushing their skis ahead in a forward movement, and skate style, whereby competitors move ahead by pushing sideways in a skating motion.


Curling offers three gold medals at the 2018 Games — men’s team, women’s team and mixed doubles (introduced for the first time in Pyeongchang). Four competitors in the team events each glide polished granite stones along a so-called curling sheet of flat ice with the aim of placing their stones closer to the target, or house, than the opposition. Each team has eight stones per round, or end. Games usually run to 10 ends. Players can use brooms to sweep the ice to ease the passage of their stones.

Figure skating

Skill and grace combine as competitors compete for marks from an international jury who rule on accuracy and artistry. Five gold medals are at stake in men’s and women’s singles, ice dance, pairs, and the team event.

Freestyle skiing

Unlike alpine skiing, the freestyle version belongs to the extreme sports category and is all about artistry  — aerial acrobatics including flips, spins and twists performed while gliding down the ski slopes on various course formats. Ten gold medals are on offer in Moguls, Aerials, Ski Halfpipe, Ski Cross and Ski Slopestyle.

Ice Hockey

Two gold medals at stake in men’s and women’s Ice Hockey. Teams of 20 players line up with six players typically on the ice for each team at any one time. Two referees and two linesmen officiate. Players attempt to fire a hard-rubber puck into a small goal while skating at high speeds swathed in extensive padding and helmets to protect them from injury.


Competitors ride a small flat sled in single or two-person format and accelerate feet first, face-up down a sharp gradient on an ice track measuring 1,000m to 1,500m. Maximum average speeds reach 140kph — faster that bobsleigh and skeleton. Medals are awarded in men’s singles, women’s singles, doubles and team relay.

Nordic combined

Nordic Combined brings together cross-country skiing, with its demand for strength and endurance, and ski jumping, which requires technical mastery and audacity. There are two individual events for men — normal hill jumping with a 10km race, and large hill jumping, also with the 10km race. The team events feature large hill jumping with a 4x5km relay.

Short-track speed skating

Short-track speed skating involves a mass start and an all-out dash to the finish on a reduced course the size of an ice-hockey rink. Eight events in total, four each for men and women.


Skeleton competitors ride a small lightweight sled head first down an ice course while lying flat on their stomachs in a sport once considered too dangerous for the Olympics. Two gold medals are on offer, for men’s and women’s singles. Unlike luge, there are no doubles or team event.

Ski jumping

Competitors launched themselves from the take-off ramp in an effort to fly as far as they can before making a touchdown in the landing zone. Five judges mark competitors for distance and style. The four events are: Men’s Normal Hill Individual, Women’s Normal Hill Individual, Men’s Large Hill Individual and the Men’s Team.


Competitors ride a board attached to special boots down snow slopes with most of the 10 gold medal events involving jumps and performance of trick routines for which points are scored. Big Air is a new event for Pyeongchang involving huge leaps and ever-more intricate aerial routines while Snowboard Cross offers a spectacular race-off down demanding snow terrain. In all 10 gold medals are awarded.

Speed skating

Competitors race two-by-two over a 400m track in the individual events apart from the men’s and women’s mass start introduced for the first time at the Pyeongchang Games. A total of 14 medals are on offer.



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