by wjw on February 22, 2014

I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics with rather less enthusiasm than is my wont.  Possibly because so much else is happening in my life right now that the Olympics are more of an intrusion than a pleasure.  But still I feel obliged to watch, somehow.  (The NBC overlords are chortling as I’m typing this.)

My favorite winter sport is still curling.  Chess plus lawn bowling plus billiards, and on ice!  Plus, it’s the only sport where players get better as they age, which seems pretty significant when you’re as silver-haired as I am.

Rather than listen to the announcers’ inane chatter, I’ve devoted my off moments to research and discovered a few little-known fact about Olympic sports which I’m willing to share with you.

“Rock and roll” is a term originating in curling!  You throw your rock against the opposing stone, and then hope to “roll” it into cover.  Set it to music, and you’ve got a cultural revolution!

Ski jumpers used to wear feathers!  This was well before anyone understood about aerodynamics or how birds actually flew.  A feather was just this magic thing that helped a bird to fly, and should help a person as well.  So the early ski jumpers of the Viking age used to attach feathers to their sleeves, and flap energetically as they soared through the air.

There were of course no dedicated ski jumps in that period, so jumpers had to go off cliffs or frozen waterfalls or other bits of sharp terrain.  Which means that flapping their arms was actually the least stupid thing about their sport!

Frozen fish were used as hockey pucks!  The Seneca Indians, who invented ice hockey, had no access to the hard rubber used in a modern puck.  So instead they’d use a fish that had been left in a snow drift overnight and frozen.  (Makes sense, since the goals were made of fish net.)

Of course, if the fish weren’t biting, this could lead to long game delays.  Picture if you will the two teams standing around, sharpening their hockey sticks, as ice fishermen waited by their holes in the ice and prayed for a bite.

Skates were made from the bones of condemned criminals!  Skate blades made of metal were absurdly expensive for the average peasant of Flanders, and so blades were usually made of carved wood or bone.  It turns out that bones with a consistency and hardness most suitable for skating were the long bones of human beings.

There was a cultural taboo against robbing a church graveyard, so enterprising skate-carvers resorted to the bodies of criminals who had been hung up in cages for public display. This no doubt resulted in the legend of the Duivilschaatser, the Devilskater, a demonic figure who would skate into the houses of disobedient children to surgically extract their bones and leave them helpless blobby meat sacks.

The original halfpipe boarders were prisoners of war!  The ancient Etruscans, who invented halfpipe snowboarding, had a serious attachment to blood sports.  (Slaves forced to fight over the graves of their dead masters were the first gladiators.)  When the Etruscans captured enemy soldiers, they’d strap boards to their feet and send them down the halfpipe while groups of archers used them for target practice.  If the prisoner made it all the way to the bottom, he was given a horse and a suit of armor, and set free.

No doubt the acrobatics we see in the halfpipe originated in the prisoners’ attempts to dodge incoming arrows!

That’s all the research I’ve been able to do so far.  Is there any more ice Olympics trivia we should know about?

Dave Bishop February 22, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Sorry, Walter, but I don’t know of any … but PLEEEAAASSEE let it be over! God, how I hate sport!

V February 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Ice skating: Thank the Finns.
At least according to National Geographic and Italian researcher Frederico Fomenti.

Foxessa February 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

” “Rock and roll” is a term originating in curling! You throw your rock against the opposing stone, and then hope to “roll” it into cover. Set it to music, and you’ve got a cultural revolution!”

Absolutely not true. Read The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square and you will learn the etymology comes, of course, out of how music practiced by African and African American slaves was written about — as early as the late 18th century. Comes complete with sourcing.

wjw February 25, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Foxessa, what part of “writes fiction for a living” escaped your attention?

None of these facts are in the least bit true. But I wouldn’t object if they went viral.

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