(L-R) Short track speedskating, snowboarding and ice hockey are among the most eagerly-anticipated events for Team USA athletes at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
The athletes who are training to compete at the quickly approaching Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang must be totally dedicated to their mission. Their bodies are finely tuned to excel in their discipline, and they know everything there is to know about their sport, having mastered it over thousands of hours.
But when they’re not competing, they’re just like any other fans, watching sports that they aren’t experts on. And they like to see action. No matter what an athlete’s own sport is, they all seem to enjoy Olympic sports that have a bit of an adrenaline rush to them.
Chris Mazdzer competes in luge, one of the most extreme sports there is at the Winter Games. But it’s a different ice sport that has his eye when he’s not on his sled.
“I love downhill skiing, and I also really like short track speedskating,” Mazdzer said in an unscientific survey at the Team USA Media Summit in the fall. “Short track is really fun; it’s a fun sport to watch. And it’s exciting, it’s fast, anything can happen at any moment. I guess I love the speed events, even though I say short track. But short track, they’re moving so fast and they’re right next to each other, and I love how dynamic it is. It’s pretty sweet. I didn’t know how much I loved short track until I watched it, I was like, ‘This is awesome!’’
Two-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor also loves speedskating, even planning her future family around the sport.
“I’ve already sworn that my kids, when I have them, they’re going to be speedskaters,” she said.
Curling national champion Jamie Sinclair’s sport moves at a bit more of a leisurely pace, but she enjoys the more extreme sports as well.
“I like to see like the extreme sports like bobsled and skeleton and ski jumping,” Sinclair said. “Those are awesome. Because when do you get a chance to see stuff like that, right? Those adrenaline rush sports are a lot of fun.”
Skiing and snowboarding were also popular answers. Figure skater Nathan Chen hopes to see some halfpipe while in PyeongChang, same with freestyle skier Joss Christensen.
“Since snowboarding halfpipe has been in the Olympics, I think since 1998, that was the one sport I loved the most during the Winter Olympics… ” Christensen said. “Just because slopestyle skiing relates pretty close to halfpipe snowboarding, slopestyle snowboarding. The fact that it was an Olympic sport, they were kind of like the rebels as I was growing up, the rebels in the Olympics. That was really cool for me to grow up watching that. That really inspired me.”
But the most popular answer at the media summit was hockey, and for good reason. A quintessential winter sport, hockey brought Team USA maybe its finest moment in 1980 with the Miracle on Ice. That still holds fond memories for Americans, even those that weren’t born yet. It’s a sport that Paralympic alpine skier Danielle Umstead said continues to bring U.S. athletes together. She recalled watching the U.S. sled team win gold at the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
“Like the whole team, in the Team USA room, we’re sitting around and like cheering them on, ‘U-S-A!’” she recalled. “And we did really good, so it was really awesome.”
“We’ve never actually gotten to a sled hockey game,” said Umstead’s husband Rob, her sighted guide, “because the venues have been so far apart in the past, but I think this time they’re close enough that we might actually go.”
Defending Olympic halfpipe skiing gold medalist Maddie Bowman is also looking forward to hockey.
“I loved at the last Olympics watching the women’s hockey team. I love going to men’s hockey, I like hockey I guess … I met a lot of the sled hockey guys, and they’re super rad, obviously we won’t be there at the same time but I enjoy watching them play as well.”
Biathlete Susan Dunklee also said hockey, while sled hockey player Declan Farmer said biathlon. It was a bit of symmetry that shows while each athlete is deeply tuned in to his or her own sport, they’ll also be tuning in to cheer on each other in February and March.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.