Going Downhill Fast
It came in with a snowflake which steadfastly refused to unfold into the fifth ring. It went out with a giant bear extinguishing a tiny cauldron whilst shedding a single tear. In between, people slid, slipped, slammed, swished & shot their way to glory or otherwise.
How was your Winter Olympic experience?
Me? Well I’ve been a fan of winter sports ever since Franz Klammer froze his way into my subconscious in that yellow suit back in ’76. Skiing became my Sunday teatime viewing of choice thereafter. As a fat kid with dodgy ankles I knew I had no chance of taking to the slopes myself: That and my nearest mountain being x-thousand miles that-a-way.
Then along came 1980, and on Olympic ice a bunch of American schoolboys put the might of the Red Army to the sword. It was hockey and I was hooked. A few years later rinks sprang up all over Southern England (thank you Jane & Chris) and that would be 25 years of winters Saturday nights handed over to puck-chasing. Plus an explanation as to why I’m such a regular and good customer of Canada!
But perhaps you turned on the Winter Games and thought to yourself: This is all a bit too technically perfect. Everything computer designed, aerodynamically stable, competitors mentally & physically tuned into success. Perhaps you want your winter sports a little more primitive.
Then say “guten tag” to the “Hornschlittenrennen”
Now what would that be? Well I was in Bavaria one New Years a little while back, and decided to take a train ride from Munich to the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If you know your Olympic history you’ll know they hosted the Winter Games of 1936 (Team GB won the hockey – yay!). And on January 6th every year they hold this unique race.
This is cattle country. And in times past to ensure feed reached their herds in the snow, farmers would use what could only be described as hay wains – but on runners instead of wheels. The term is “horn-sled” or “hornschlitter”. Any every year these big sleds have their moment again. Bereft of hay they become four man toboggans. One man steers, one stands at the back to work the brake, the others are there to balance. Now, just to reassure you they don’t take to the bobsleigh run. But they do get to go down the last kilometre or so of the downhill course. Everyone who isn’t actually competing seems to turn out to watch. White beer and mulled wine is broken out, you can only imagine the wurst.
Performance of the day the year I was there? A winning time for the course is around ninety seconds. One team… well the skipper & #2 walked over the finishing line with the front half of their craft. Then, nigh on half an hour later, the clock running & the course closed, came the brakeman & #3 carrying the other half. They needed to pass the whole sled over the line to get their medals…
The next Winter Olympics will be with us in 2018. But in the meantime, if you want to see winter sport back in its purest, most joyful form, then you could do worse than to take a trip to “GaPa” early next year.