As with cocaine or evading taxes, extremity has always been a huge part of the Winter Olympics’ appeal. If you tune into NBC on any given night, you’ll see men and women doing death-defying flips on snowboards or barreling down an icy track headfirst on a thin sled. There’s a whole sport, ski jumping, that’s basically just people flying.
Maybe part of getting older is contemplating one’s own mortality, but now more than ever, my Winter Olympics–watching experience mostly consists of me thinking, Holy shit, I would die if I tried to do that. I did not experience this sensation while watching the Summer Olympics last year, which leads me to believe that its winter counterpart is, if not actually more dangerous, definitely scarier. A cursory review of Olympics fatalities supports this idea. (Although with the additions of skateboarding and BMX, the Summer Games are going in a riskier direction.)
My therapist tells me that a good way to deal with fear is to create order from chaos. In that spirit, I decided to rank the Winter Olympic sports by how afraid I would be to do them, beginning with the least terrifying.
I would probably slip on the ice several times if I attempted to curl, but this is definitely the least frightening winter sport. All you’re doing is sliding heavy stones into a bull’s-eye and sweeping the ice with great fervor. None of the guys on the U.S. men’s team looks like a typical Olympic athlete; they more have the vibe of a middle-school vice-principal or an assistant manager at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Becoming a semipro curler still doesn’t feel like an impossible dream.
12. Ice Hockey
There is a lot of potential for injury (both short- and long-term) in ice hockey — just look at how many players are missing teeth. But the danger element of the sport also looks pretty fun. I’ve never been in a physical fight before, but I’ve always been curious. It sounds way more pleasant than having a random 12-year-old call me a stupid bitch while I play Call of Duty or reading my Twitter mentions.
11. Speed Skating (Short Track and Long Track)
I’m sure I’m wrong, but the speed skaters don’t even look like they’re going very fast, and skating in circles looks low-key relaxing, like kayaking on a calm lake or riding on a carousel. When I was watching the other night, the announcers did mention one lady who fell during practice and sliced her finger with a skate, which is aaah!, but not super scary. I’ve chopped off part of my finger while peeling carrots and burned myself countless times with hot oil while cooking dinner, so I think I could handle that sort of injury with a surprising amount of grace.
10 & 9. Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing
Last night, I watched several snowboarders, including Shaun White, do a trick from like 30 feet in the air and fall on their asses. Yet I did not feel afraid or contemplate my own mortality. It’s not because I’m brave or anything — believe me when I tell you I’m a huge coward. It’s just that watching snowboarding or freestyle skiing and being terrified is like watching a John Wick movie and getting depressed by all the murders. The whole thing is just too improbable to get emotional about.
8. Ski Jumping
I would definitely die if I tried to ski jump. But I’ve always felt a little envious of the birds, with their ability to fly and all, so at least I’d go out on a high note … (haw-haw-haw.)
The shooting part of the biathlon doesn’t scare me at all — actually, it looks like it could be kind of fun. But as someone who hates running, the cross-country skiing part seems like absolute hell. Collapsing and expiring while simultaneously drenched in sweat and freezing cold means you’ll languish in eternal agony.
6. Cross-country Skiing
I would like to tell you that I didn’t have to Google what bobsled even is. Doesn’t look too safe! But at least you’re a little more protected than in its sister sports, like …
The sport is literally called “skeleton,” which makes it inherently scary. It’s like luge, except you’re going headfirst, so it should definitely be No. 1 on this list, right? No. Because of aerodynamics or something, you’re actually traveling at much slower speeds than the lugers, which knocks it down a few places. Not to say that it still isn’t very scary, because it is very scary.
3. Ice Dance
I realized how scary ice dance was when I saw a German duo do a Harley Quinn–Joker routine, the music peppered with samples from the widely derided 2016 Suicide Squad movie. (“Would you die for me?” Jared Leto’s Joker asks Harley. “That’s too easy. Will you … would you live for me?”)
Their routine didn’t inspire fear in my heart because someone fell and hurt themselves or anything like that. Rather, it revealed that if I tried ice dance, there’s an extremely high likelihood that I’d embarrass myself and subsequently suffer grievous emotional injury. And if I’m being honest, isn’t looking like a dumbass in front of millions of people at least as petrifying as death?
2. Downhill Skiing
This is a sport that involves traveling down a steep, snowy slope at upward of 70 miles per hour while having to make tons of sharp turns. Like driving on a mountain road except none of the snow has been cleared off and you’re going two to three times the speed limit and everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life is watching and instead of being in a car, you have two pieces of fettuccine-shaped fiberglass stuck to your feet.
When I watched some men’s downhill skiing Sunday night, it was quickly apparent that even the people who are the best in the world at this are still in terrible danger. The first guy I saw ate total shit. The next dude made it down okay, but then he took off his helmet and other accoutrements to reveal his face, which was smiling with relief and also dripping with blood.
The only reason downhill skiing didn’t take the top spot is that if I wiped out doing it, I imagine I would die a quick, painless death. That’s in contrast to our winner …
Slipping on ice is traditionally thought of as dangerous and something one should avoid. So the fact that luge is a sport where you have to glide down an icy course as quickly as possible makes this the Olympic equivalent of eating a raw chicken breast. The more I’ve learned about luge, the more convinced I’ve become that I would suffer a terrible injury or maybe even death if I ever even attempted it.
A few days ago, I tuned into the men’s luge trials and listened to the commentators tell a charming story. Last year, they recalled, Polish luger Mateusz Sochowicz was practicing on the track in Beijing and hit a closed gate (that should’ve been left open) which cut his right leg to the bone and fractured his left kneecap.
“They didn’t know what to do at all. Someone came to me and tried to touch my bone with a glove. Dantesque scenes were happening there,” Sochowicz said. I don’t remember the luging section of The Divine Comedy, but this is now definitely one of the circles in my own conception of hell.
And it gets worse if you can believe it. Turns out, two lugers have literally died while practicing for the Olympics. (There has also been one downhill skiing death and one in speed skiing, a former Olympic sport.) So even though people doing crazy snowboard flips might seem more dangerous than sledding down an icy course, luge is slowly replacing being forced to go back to high school as my recurrent nightmare.