On the climax of everybody’s favourite bobsleigh-based movie, 1993’s “Cool Runnings,” catastrophe strikes the upstart Jamaican staff when its ricketty sled flips over in the course of the last race. Everybody from Calgary to Jamaica fears the worst — however the teammates shake off the wreck, decided to complete the race. Collectively, they hoist up the sled on their shoulders, carrying it over the finish line. Cue that inspirational slow clap.
It was an actual factor that actually happened … properly, apart from a number of bits of inventive license. (For example, they by no means carried the sled; the truth that all 4 racers walked away from the crash in any respect was outstanding sufficient, given how it looked in gradual movement.) However one in all bobsledding’s most iconic moments was additionally a complete rarity. So far as Winter Olympic sports activities go, bobsled has one of many lowest charges of in-race mishaps, with racers finishing roughly 95 p.c of their runs. In different sports activities, against this, finishes aren’t anyplace close to as assured — we’re taking a look at you, Alpine snowboarding.
To measure how typically a run goes awry, we grabbed information from Sports-Reference.com’s Olympics site going again to 199420 for occasions in 9 timed sports activities: snowboarding (Alpine and cross-country), skeleton, luge, bobsled, speedskating (quick and lengthy observe), biathlon and Nordic mixed. For every occasion, we tracked how typically it led to a DNF — “didn’t end” — or a disqualification.
To make certain, not each DNF or DQ represents a crash just like the Jamaicans suffered in 1988.21 For instance, in skeleton (you understand, the one the place you slide face-first down an icy observe at stomach-churning speeds), the one DNF or DQ occurred not on the course however when Canadian racer Mike Douglas was late for a pre-race inspection.22 However DNFs and DQs do normally correlate with the issue in staying on target and avoiding spills, missed gates or different sources of misfortune.
Since 1994, these are the winter sports activities with the bottom (and highest) charges of DNFs and DQs among the many timed occasions in our information:
Along with skeleton and bobsled, luge is one other sport that appears liable to catastrophe, with its excessive speeds and steeply banked turns. Nonetheless, roughly 96 p.c of rivals find yourself ending their runs unscathed, an excellent higher charge than bobsledding can declare.23 Brief observe speedskating, by comparability, has a more deserved reputation for mayhem, with almost 9 p.c of runs ending prematurely — although the listing of offenses that may get you disqualified from a race is fairly lengthy. On the quick observe, crashes and chaos are options that add to the joy.
However the undisputed king of ending athletes’ races prematurely — and thus dashing gold-medal goals — is Alpine snowboarding. Since 1994, almost a 3rd of all ski runs have ended with out the racer really crossing the end line. And the breakdown throughout the sport varies fairly closely by occasion:
Maybe surprisingly, the lightning-fast downhill self-discipline has snowboarding’s lowest charge of incidents, with solely about 10 p.c of runs going unfinished. That quantity would nonetheless be larger than any of the sports activities we checked out above, however it’s low in contrast with different acquainted high-speed actions akin to NASCAR (the place 16 percent of individual races led to a DNF final season) or Components 1 (24 percent). Downhill takes super speed, skill and courage, and we’ve all seen what can go wrong when a racer makes a mistake, however these moments are nonetheless fairly few and much between by Alpine requirements.
DNFs and DQs develop into far more widespread, nonetheless, in disciplines that includes tighter turns and extra gates — these pesky markers skier should navigate round to finish the course. Regardless of the self-discipline, failing to ship the information of your skis (plus boots) within a gate will get you disqualified from the race.
Within the tremendous large slalom (or “super-G”), racers collect speeds similar to these seen in downhill, however in addition they should make sharper cuts round extra gates, that are bunched extra intently collectively. (In addition they aren’t allowed practice sessions beforehand, which doesn’t assist issues.) Between the women and men, solely about 78 p.c of Olympic super-G runs are accomplished cleanly.
And super-G is not considered a “technical” snowboarding occasion. Large slalom is, and it includes much more gates and extra side-to-side turning. Since 1994, a 3rd of Olympic large slalom runs led to DNF or DQ. However the final tough-to-finish Alpine self-discipline is the usual slalom, with skiers zigzagging back and forth across the slope round pylon-like gates in speedy succession. Nearly 50 p.c of slalom runs fail to cross the end line, a testomony to the perfection required to clear each gate at world-class pace.
Nothing in slalom is assured. For example, even in profitable runs just like the one which clinched the gold medal for the nice U.S. racer Mikaela Shiffrin on the 2014 Olympics, catastrophe is all the time lurking across the subsequent gate: At one level midrace, Shiffrin’s left ski misplaced contact with the bottom, requiring an knowledgeable restoration to avert a missed gate — or worse.
Once more, not each DNF or DQ is a crash, and research has shown that per-run damage charges are nonetheless highest within the pace disciplines (downhill and super-G) versus the technical ones (large slalom and slalom). This jibes with widespread sense: Though it’s simple to get disqualified for lacking a gate in slalom, these miscues don’t all the time end in terrifying crashes. Making a mistake on the speeds concerned in downhill, alternatively, can have extra devastating penalties.
All of that is value protecting in thoughts whereas watching Olympic races over the subsequent few weeks. A few of the most seemingly terrifying sports activities can really rank among the many lowest by way of on-course incident charges — though what few mishaps there are are typically fairly harmful. In the meantime, something can occur in essentially the most technical snowboarding occasions. Because it seems, hurriedly weaving down an icy slope on skis is troublesome to do with out skipping a gate or crashing. Who knew?
— Ella Koeze contributed analysis.