Geography and the 2018 Winter Olympics

Winter brings chills to various parts of whichever hemisphere is having winter. How chilly it gets, varies from place to place. You must have read about climatic controls – those factors that affect the kind of climate a place has.

These include: latitude, altitude, ocean currents, distance from a large body of water, human activity, and so on.

Some places get a lot of snow. In India, it is in the Himalayan region at higher altitudes. In areas such as North Dakota in the USA, the land is very flat, but the latitude is high.

The thick snow allows different kinds of sports to flourish. Where there are slopes, down-hill skiing and luge are very popular. Where it is flat, cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling are very popular.

The place of it all

The 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held from Friday, 9 February to Sunday, 25 February in PyeongChang, South Korea. And, of course, there is a lot of geography connections to this. Here are a few.

 


 

Toponymy: First of all the toponymy (place-name). The name of the 2018 Winter Olympics venue is spelled and pronounced very close to another toponym: Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Therefore, the name is being spelled the way I did above: PyeongChang to draw attention to the fact that it’s a different place!

Site and situation features: The Winter Olympics cannot be held at any old place! Certain conditions have to be met. It must have sufficient altitude, sufficient spread of challengingly steep slopes, there must be adequate snow cover, that snow cover must last the entire duration of the Games (geography concept: site features), the place must be accessible (geography concept: situation features).

Further situation features must include high quality facilities for the sports, the athletes; physical safety of everyone involved (no riots, warfare, and such), geologically safe (we’d prefer sites that are not very likely to shake, rumble, or explode!), signs must be posted everywhere in English (and any other languages the hosts may like), and so on.

The host country, South Korea, has boasted that apart from all the other site and situation features, the altitude of PyeongChang – 700 meters – is just perfect for the Winter Olympics.

Why 700 meters? The claim is that it is the perfect altitude for the human bodies to function well. You can read all about PyeongChang here.

If USA, then where? Recently, The Washington Post published an article on which places in the USA would meet the criteria for hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics. As The Washington Post always do, they have included some very good maps in the article. Check out the very short article and the very lovely maps here.

India?

Is there such a think as skiing in India? Of course, there is! Remember the Himalaya? You can find information about skiing in India here.

Skiing in Manali, HP, India. (Source: https://goo.gl/zMM8eA)

Yes, India competes in the Winter Games at PeyongChang. Two people are going to be compete – one in cross-country skiing (Jagdish Singh) and one in luge (Shiva Keshavan). Let us wish them well and hope they compete strongly. Read more here.

(A luge is a small one- or two-person sled on which the persons lie on their backs, and travel feet-first.)

Tropical competitors

In the 2016 olympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, athletes from the island nation of Tonga marched into the Olympics stadium. Leading them was Pita Taufatofua, a martial arts (taekwondo) expert. When he marched at the head of his team, he created quite a sensation. He became famous around the world in an instant, thanks to social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Why? Because he walked out bare-chested and oiled up and struck a very handsome figure.

After the 2016 Olympics, he announced his wish to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing. He was able to raise funds, travel around Europe, learn how to do cross-country skiing, and … he qualified!

So, Pita Taufatofua, born in Australia, raised in Tonga (which has no snow), has qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics! This is what determination and hard work can help a person achieve. You can read about him here.

Remember the climatic zones in your geography textbook? Torrid (tropical areas), temperate, and frigid zones, right?

It turns out even snowless tropical countries have competed in the Winter Olympics. This takes a lot of effort, determination, and money. But the lure of competing for one’s own country and one’s own glory is such that people make enormous efforts to compete. Read more here.

Things you can do:

    1. On a blank world map showing country boundaries:
      1. Identify tropical countries that have competed in the Winter Olympics before.
      2. Which of these countries are also competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics?
      3. Which of the countries in (a) are not participating?
      4. Which of the countries participating this year have not participated before?
    2. On a map of India showing state boundaries, identify where ski resorts are located.
    3. PyeongChang claims that 700 metres is the perfect altitude for the Winter Olympics. Why is Bengaluru not suitable?
    4. Which are the climatic controls that favor PyeongChang as the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics?
    5. Will North Korea – traditionally unfriendly to South Korea – participate? Look through the news reports and find out what you can about this.

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition in January 2018.

Featured image: 2018 Winter Olympics logo. (Source: https://goo.gl/qxrLHZ)