Archive for February 11th, 2010

The origins of 10 Winter Olympic sports

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Just in time for Friday’s Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, here’s a neat rundown of the history of 10 of the featured sports.

Did you know that Curling originated in Scotland? I assumed Canada because that’s where it’s a national obsession second only to hockey.

My favorite anecdote is the origin of the bobsled and luge events.

In the late 1860s, Swiss hotelier Caspar Badrutt had a problem: no one wanted to spend the winter at his chilly resort in St. Moritz. Rather than spend the winter with an empty hotel, Badrutt convinced some of his regulars that it would be fun to spend some time at a “winter resort,” and English guests started flocking to St. Moritz during the cold months.

The guests found a particularly exciting way to pass their time when they started modifying delivery boys’ sleds and zipping down the town’s streets. (If you lashed two of these sleds together, you had the precursor to the modern bobsled.) All of this sledding was great fun, but Badrutt soon had a new problem on his hands: since the only place to run the sleds was on the city’s streets, sledders kept careening into pedestrians.

To combat this dangerous problem, Badrutt built an icy halfpipe track to keep the sleds off of the streets. Within a decade, the sledding events had grown into competitive sports, and bobsled was on the program for the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

Badrutt didn’t just convince five of his wealthy regulars to give it a try, he actually made a bet: if they didn’t have fun at the Palace Hotel over a long winter stay, the vacation would be free. If they did have a good time, they had to spread the word among their spendy society circles for the whole next year.

So we owe the entire concept of winter Alpine sports to Caspar Badrutt’s willingness to take financial risks and rich Englishmen’s willingness to risk boredom (not to mention their willingness to haul ass down icy streets at top speed).

The sledding track Badrutt built was also world’s first halfpipe, so really you can say that Badrutt was the father of competitive skateboarding as well.

Postcard of Badrutt's Palace hotel

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