Olympics - Mike Rowbottom: Making sense of moguls, half-pipes and brooms

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The Independent Online

You never stop learning at the Winter Olympics. Here, for instance, are a couple of things I have discovered since getting to Salt Lake City, vouchsafed for me by Zion's First National Bank:

"Exhilaration – is a home equity credit line approved in 60 minutes" and "Beauty – is free checking with no minimum balance." No word yet on what Truth is, but I'll keep you posted.

I've learned, too, about inversion. Those round here know it as the weather phenomenon that keeps a dense mass of smoggy air trapped in the valley where the Mormon city stands. In Olympic terms, however, it refers to a basic rule whereby understanding of an event is in inverse proportion to information available.

Someone who knows about such things tried to tell me the other day about Jonny Moseley's dinner roll, by which I mean, of course, the special trick devised for these Games by the 1998 Olympic freestyle skiing men's moguls champion. As you may know, it involved him rotating 720 degrees while remaining horizontal to the ground, a flourish worth a potential of 12.5 per cent of his overall score.

First question: how would the judges have known if he had completed all 720 degrees? Second question: did it matter? Third question: If he did his dinner roll and it was so great, why didn't the judges give him a medal? Fourth question. I'm sorry. I'm too tired to go on with this.

Moguls.

I may be sticking my neck out here, but I've always worked on the understanding that skis were invented to speed man's progress over snow. Moguls, perversely, turn snow into boulders. And every time I see freestylers making that manic, juddering progress down their long, white egg-box of a course it makes as much sense to me as watching underwater archery.

I felt a similar swimming sensation at the curling venue this week as I became involved in a discussion over the technicalities of the game with the British team manager, Huw Chalmers. I got the point about how teams would sometimes sacrifice leads in order not to have to give up the advantage of throwing the final stone. But when our talk moved on to the recent rule changes restricting either side's ability to knock out the opening stones of any end before... or was it unless... I don't recall clearly. The idea, I do vaguely remember, was to... no. It's gone.

At times, it's simply easier to sit back and watch other people's learning curves banking steeply.

Two young women with maple leaf flags sitting rinkside at the curling last Monday realised towards the end of their team's match against Britain that there was a crucial gap in their knowledge of the game.

"Hey Canada!" one shouted. "What's that clock for?"

"That's the time clock," said the skip of the Canadian team as he leant equably upon his broom, studying the formation of shots in front of him. "We have 49 minutes left."

Transfer the moment to the Crucible Theatre. Ronnie O'Sullivan is leaning over a long pot. "Hey O'Sullivan!" some johnny in the audience pipes up: "Which one are you aiming at now?"

Transfer it to Wimbledon's Centre Court. Tim Henman is winding up for a second service. "Hey England!" some johnny in the audience pipes up: "Where's this one going, then?"

Unreal – although, as I think we're already realising, understanding the Winter Olympics can be a tricky business.

A colleague of mine musing on snowboarding's half-pipe event this week – these are trying times, believe me – wondered aloud if there was such a thing as a full pipe event. Not yet, my friend – but it might catch on if someone could show there's a youth market for circulating like so much strategically-ripped clothing in a tumbler.

The carefree Canadian pair were not the only ones to get a new perspective on things at the curling. My task at one point was to try and find some British supporters to talk to, preferably deeply knowledgeable supporters. I subsequently learned that none of the Brits was due out here until four days later, which was why I found it so hard to spot anything other than Maple Leafs and Stars and Stripes in the crowd.

Continuing my efforts to locate likely-looking banners, I moved right down to the bottom of the stand and began scanning the fans directly above me – five of whom, as luck would have it, were men and women of the Salt Lake Scots who had piped the teams in that morning.

All kilted, of course.

I fear one of the women was staring at me as I hurried to higher ground.

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