Sliding into the Winter Olympics

Biathlon

The biathlon is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. During the competition, the athletes ski for long distances around a course and then stop and shoot at targets, which are about the size of a coin. For each target missed, the athlete must ski a penalty lap, adding time onto their final score. The athlete with the shortest time wins the event. In the Winter Olympics, there are a variety of biathlon events, including individual, relay, pursuit and sprint.

Germany, Norway and Russia have dominated the Winter Olympic biathlon so far. However there is one biathlon event today and six more left in the Olympics, and teams from both China and France are expected to do well.

Bobsleigh

The sport of bobsleigh, or bobsledding, is considered the first sliding sport in the world.

The participants slide down a track of ice on a sled. The sled teams include two or four people, and the athletes ride in a partially enclosed sled.

The team with the shortest time wins the competition. The Winter Olympics includes two-person races for men and women as well as four-person races for men.

The bobsleigh competitions begin Sunday. The United States won gold, silver and bronze medals in the 2002 Winter Olympics and has returning athletes.

Curling

In curling, teams attempt to slide a 42-pound stone over textured ice into a target area. Brooms are used to “sweep” or clear a pathway for the stone so it stops in the target area. The team is awarded points for the final location of the stone on the target area. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins. Each team consists of four men or women. Winter Olympic curling events include men’s and women’s teams.

The Winter Olympic curling events have not yet begun in the Olympics. Norway and Great Britain took home the gold medals in the 2002 Winter Olympics. However, the United States women’s team took second place at the 2005 World Curling Championship and is expected to well in the event.

Luge

In the luge, one or two athletes on a sled, with no brakes, slide feet-first down a track and can reach speeds up to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour).

The riders use handles for push-off and wear gloves with spiked fingertips to help start themselves on the track. They lay flat on their backs on their sleds and steer by shifting their body weight. Whoever has the fastest time wins the competition. In the Winter Olympics, the luge events include individual men’s and women’s and doubles races. The doubles teams can be either same-sex or mixed athletes.

The luge captured medals for Austria, Germany, Italy, Russia and Latvia in the Winter Olympics. Germany dominated the women’s luge, winning all three medals. They also won the luge, with a total of four medals.

Skeleton

In the skeleton, athletes ride down the ice track face first while lying on their stomachs.

The sled travels at speeds between 120 and 135 kilometers per hour (75-84 miles per hour). The sleds, which have no brakes, are steered by body movements. There are individual races in the Winter Olympics for both men and women.

The skeleton competition begins today with the women’s skeleton racing. Two U.S. women, Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsley are coming back with Olympic gold and silver under their belts and are expected to do well.

Speed Skating

Speed skating is divided into two sections: short track speed skating and speed skating.

In short track speed skating, four skaters at a time compete against each other in heats. The skaters usually end up in a pack and try to out skate their opponents. The first two skaters to cross the finish line advance. This continues until a skater wins.

In speed skating, skaters race against each other around a track of ice. To stay on the ice longer, the blades on their skates have a hinge on the front and are not connected to the back of the boot. There are multiple lengths of races in both short track and regular speed skating for both men and women.

Speed skating has begun in the Winter Olympics, with Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, South Korea and the United States winning medals.

American Chad Hedrick, who broke a world record in speed skating in late 2005, won the gold in the men’s 5000 meter. Seven days are left of the competition, with three events for women and two events for men.

Around 10 million people are estimated to watch the Winter Olympics on TV. The remaining events can be viewed on NBC, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. each day. The 2006 Winter Olympics will officially end on Feb. 26 with the closing ceremonies.

– NBC.com and infoplease.com contributed to this article.