‘They make it look so easy’: Lessons learned from trying 10 Olympic sports
Author: Jake Whittenberg
Published: 7:36 AM PST February 21, 2018
OPINION 10 Articles

Like most of you, I've always loved watching and experiencing the thrill of the Olympics on TV. So when I was given the opportunity to actually try the sports I grew up watching, I had to jump on the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Olympic heroes.

Needless to say, I'm following far behind! I quickly realized how amazing these world-class athletes really are.

In our journey, I checked 10 sports off of my Winter Olympic bucket list.

To try these sports, we traveled to the Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia, Canada, the site of the 2010 Vancouver Games. We also were given access to the ice in the Richmond Olympic Oval outside Vancouver. The Everett Silvertips, Granite Curling Club in Shoreline, Team Alpental Snoqualmie and Olympicview Arena in Mountlake Terrace also helped make our journey complete.

Remember, anyone can try these sports at these venues too. And after my experience, I strongly recommend you do. I'm so humbled!

Here is what I learned.

EXPLORE

‘They make it look so easy’: Lessons learned from trying 10 Olympic sports

OPINION
Chapter 1

Biathlon

I can see why this is such a popular sport in the world! Bill Moore at the Whistler Olympic Park Biathlon Range was an excellent instructor.

Moore first gave us a lesson in how to cross-country ski. Then, it was a full tutorial on how to safely manage a .22 caliber rifle. The stock is super light-weight and designed to quickly let the athlete unload five shots in 10 to 15 seconds.

Jake Whittenberg tries the biathlon.

While cross country skiing isn't especially challenging, it's the combination of the two sports that creates the challenge.

Athletes master the ability to calm their bodies and heartrates before they transition to shooting. And with the tiny targets 50 meters away, there is literally NO margin for error.

Jake Whittenberg and Laura Evans try the biathlon.

I was huffing and puffing and trying to hit the targets but only got one of five. And my target was smaller than the Olympic level targets. (In all fairness I hit four of five when I wasn't skiing.)

I learned how important it is to be a great shot too. That's because in competition, you get a penalty lap for every target you miss.

Chapter 2

Short track speed skating

This was one of my favorites!

I've ice skated before, but those were rental skates. When I slipped on the razor sharp, speed skates you can immediately tell the difference.

When you get brave enough to glide, the thin blade grips the ice and you really feel in control.

Our coach David Morrison, speed skating coach at the Richmond Olympic Oval, taught us how the athletes stay low and forward over their skates at all times. He used an upside down bucket to act as a brace to help us practice cross-overs and carving our turns.

Jake Whittenberg tries Olympic speed skating.

I also realized how important the arm swing is too. It isn't just to look like a pro!

Just for fun, I attempted the shortest race, which is the Men's 500 meter race. The world record, held by USA's J.R. Celski of Federal Way, is 39.9 seconds.

It took me 1.29.0, and my legs were BURNING. I think I have a long way to go before Beijing 2022!

Chapter 3

Bobsleigh

In the US, we call it the Bobsled, but in Canada they call it Bobsleigh. So, out of the respect for our new friends at the Whistler Sliding Centre, 'sleigh' it is!

This was an intense experience.

My producer Laura Evans and I were given a thorough safety lesson with several other tourists before the experience. We were assured it was safe.

It was about an hour build-up before we actually were shuttled to the top of section where we would enter the track. The Sliding Centre doesn't put tourists in at the top of the course, because they say we'd be sliding MUCH too fast to enjoy the experience.

Jake Whittenberg and Laura Evans try the bobsleigh.

Our friendly coaches gave us a few key rules: Never let go of the cables inside the sleigh. And always keep your spine straight and strong. That's because you get traveling so fast the 'G-forces' can become hard to manage.

This track is considered the fastest in the world. Olympians can reach speeds more than 90 miles per hour.

A professional bobsleigh pilot steers the sleigh and Evans sat in the 'champagne' seat behind him. I was thirrd, and another Sliding Centre employee sat in the rear. It is packed tight!

When we were pushed on the ice, it takes a moment to get going fast, but when you do, you know it. I could see why it was so important to hold on!

The entire experience is less than a minute, but there are about four to five seconds of really intense sliding where you can hardly see straight and you are being jostled around pretty good in the sled.

The minute went by so fast! I'd definitely do it again.

Chapter 4

Luge

This felt a little more dangerous than the bobsleigh. That's because I'm alone, and no professional is there to manage the steering required to take on the corners.

I was nervous for this one! And when I was placed on the ice, I was amazed at how quickly I got traveling to my top speed.

Olympians lie flat and point their toes with their head making just the slightest peek forward.

I'm pretty sure my head was up and my feet were flailing!

Evans tried dragging her feet to slow down her run, which isn't recommended. But I just held on and tilted my head and shoulders in the direction of the turn to steer the sled.

Again, this went by incredibly fast. And holding on is harder than I thought!

Take this seriously if you try it, but it's definitely memorable.

Chapter 5

Skeleton

I was SUPER nervous to try this one. But believe it or not, I was assured that this was the safest of the three sports despite being thrust head first down the ice. That's because the sled is heavier and wider than the luge.

The number one talent of a professional skeleton athlete? Just relax. The more limp you can make your body, the more aerodynamic you become.

Jake Whittenberg tries the skeleton.

I was pushed down the ice and naturally tensed up my neck and back.

But a few seconds into the run, I managed mind over body and relaxed enough to experience the sensation of my chin being just an inch above the ice traveling 65 mph with 3 G's of pressure on me!

I only tried this sport once. But it was worth it.

Chapter 6

Curling

The team at Granite Curling Club in Shoreline was awesome! Derrick McLean was our coach. He tried to qualify for the Winter Olympics, but unfortunately missed out this year.

His instruction started with the best way to push off the block and slide down the lane on your knee. It's harder than it looks.

I didn't realize the "rocks" were so heavy. It's easy to overthrow them down the lane and smash them into other rocks.

I learned how important it is to slightly spin them too. That's actually called curling, so it's not just a clever name.

Also crucial in curling is the sweeping. You need to apply so much downward pressure on the ice that it's much harder to sweep than you might think by watching it on TV. And it really does make a big difference to slow the rocks down!

But I was sliding them so fast at first, sweeping didn't matter.

Chapter 7

Ice dancing

Mimi Jung and I had fun with this one. Anne Goldberg with the Seattle Skating Club is a great coach too.

The challenge I found with ice dancing, other than not falling on my rear end, was the importance of centripetal force with you partner. Finding that special balance is critical to keeping a good rhythm.

It's hard to see what your other partner is doing, so timing and trust is key.

Mimi Jung and Jake Whittenberg try ice dancing.

The easiest maneuver Jung and I practiced is called Chasse. It's basically skating left foot then right foot with your partner. We got that down!

Spinning…not so much yet.

I have great respect for Goldberg and the Olympic skaters that make this sport look so graceful and flawless. With a solid routine and a lot of practice, I can see why this sport would be so much fun!

Chapter 8

Cross-country skiing

One key to cross-country skiing is the use of poles.

Bill Moore with Whistler Olympic Park spent a significant amount of our practice time on poling. It's important to use big body muscles, as opposed to biceps and triceps.

Once we got the hang of that, we practiced the importance of applying pressure to the skis to give us good grip and pushing ability to propel forward. The skis have a special grip under your foot so that helps.

Cross-country skiing is almost equivalent to a light jog. The gliding sensation is so cool once you find a good rhythm. But lose that rhythm and you risk falling over.

It's also another sport that I can see would be so tiring. The marquee race in the Olympics is the 50 kilometer Classic Race. It's equivalent to a marathon. I don't know how they do that!

Chapter 9

Hockey

The hardest part for me was putting on the gear!

The pads are so heavy, especially since I was playing goalie. It makes skating that much harder. And once you step out on the ice, you realize how tiring it is.

Skating is such a big part of this sport. So is keeping the puck out in front of you when you are in control.

Jung tried to score on me, and luckily I did ok. But I have no idea how those Olympic goalies can do the splits and make such quick adjustments to stop a score. The pads are so heavy! Flexibility is critical in hockey.

We wanted to try slapshots, but I forgot my cup.

Chapter 10

Alpine skiing

I cheated a little on this one. I ski raced in high school and it was like riding a bike when I clicked back into the skis and ran through the course.

Chris Loewy with Team Alpental Snoqualmie had some great advice about staying out in front of your skis and carving the downhill edge into the snow to turn around each gate.

Jake Whittenberg tries alpine skiing at the Snoqualmie Ski Club.

There are four main races in alpine skiing; slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill. Each race gets faster and faster with Olympic downhillers reaching speeds of around 90 mph!

In the giant slalom course we tried, you are not traveling nearly that fast.

Each turn around the gate is met with deep ruts and ice too. That's hard to see on TV. Those conditions worsen, especially as the day goes on and the course sees more skiers.

Mimi Jung and Jake Whittenberg try alpine skiing.at the Snoqualmie Ski Club.

The best in the world train heavily for these races, and risk injury in the process.

I'm always in awe of the Olympians. They make it look so easy!