If watching the Olympics stirs feelings of longing in you, awakening a latent desire to compete, stand on a podium during a medal ceremony or simply be that fit, well, you’re not alone. Local businesses that offer classes in popular Olympic sports often see enrollments spike around the Games, which kicked off Friday in South Korea.
For example, Olympic years drive interest in curling, a game in which players push round stones across ice toward a target, said Joe Rockenbach, president of the Potomac Curling Club (13810 Old Gunpowder Rd., Laurel). When the club opened its facility around the 2002 Olympics, about 900 people showed up for an open house, and this year, the sign-up sheet for the club’s Feb. 17 open house was full with 300-plus names within eight days, compared with 100 to 120 in non-Olympic years.
“People see it on TV, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I can do that. I want to try that,’ ” Rockenbach said.
It’s true for figure skating, too, said Brenda Denny, an instructor at the Fairfax Ice Arena (3779 Pickett Rd., Fairfax). “People start seeing the winter sports they might have done as a kid, and they get inspired to come back and do it again,” Denny said.
Another motivator, she said, is exercise. “People can get pretty toned from doing this,” Denny added.
Whether you want to get competitive or just break a sweat, here are five Olympic sports you can learn at any age.
At Denny’s “prealpha” — or complete beginner — class ($140), Vienna resident Matt Kasun, 59, squatted slightly as he tried a swizzle, a move that propels skaters forward. To do it, they sit slightly with their heels together and then bring their toes together as they stand.
Denny also teaches forward stroking, a fundamental move in which skaters push out with one foot, bring their feet together and then push out with the other foot, and the reverse swizzle during the seven 30-minute classes per session.
It had been 50 years since he’d donned skates, but Kasun wanted to keep up with his girlfriend and “not be a danger to myself and others,” he said. “I can get out there and skate for fun now and enjoy myself.”
His ankles and legs are getting stronger, too, which isn’t surprising, Denny said, adding that students are surprised by how much their muscles ache after sessions. “It’s a lot of back and stomach muscles,” she said. “Most people have pretty strong stomachs, but their back is kind of weak, so they start to really feel it after their first 20 minutes or so on the ice.”
Great for: People who want to work on balance and lower-body strength.
A strong core and good balance are also helpful on the 16-by-30-foot adjustable slope at the Inside Ski Training Center (34-B Catoctin Cir. SE, Leesburg) in the Pro-Fit Ski & Mountain Sports shop.
“It’s basically a big treadmill,” said Katie Brennan, ski school director. “It’s covered in AstroTurf that we spray with water. When we turn it on, it starts to spin, and the skis will slide on the surface.”
Instructors control the speed and pitch, which varies from 10 degrees to 17 degrees, with a remote. It has a color-coded scale that matches European ski run markings: Green is easiest, while black is hardest.
Open since November, the center offers about 60 30-minute classes a week ($49/group class). First-timers start on a static, carpeted slope to learn basics such as the wedge, a position in which the tips of the skis point inward to slow a skier’s speed, before hitting the moving deck.
It’s harder than skiing on snow, said Cindy Trochill, the center’s marketing director. “When you’re on the snow, you can cheat a little. Your ski doesn’t have to be completely flat to pivot, but on here it does,” Trochill said. “Your thighs will burn. There are people you can watch their legs starting to shake.”
Great for: Improving balance, but it can be tough on knees and ankles.
Lisa deCardona glided around small yellow cones, carving loop-the-loops in freshly smoothed ice during a recent Learn to Play hockey class ($210) for adults at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston (627 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington).
“This is my happy place,” said deCardona, a McLean resident who played hockey as a kid. “When I’m stressed out, I’ve had a tough day at work, I can come here, I can get it out.”
Meanwhile, goalie in training Collin Hunt, 24, of Arlington fought off pucks that players lobbed toward the net. Only one got by.
“It’s added a lot to my cardio endurance-wise,” said Hunt, who also lost 10 pounds since he took up the sport two years ago.
They were part of a class of about 40 who meet for six Mondays from 9:40 to 10:50 p.m., spending the bulk of the time on drills to learn how to control the puck, stick and themselves. During the last 20 minutes of each session, they scrimmage.
“This is where we get to teach them how to stick-handle, shoot, some team concepts and just get them ready for getting into a league,” lead instructor Benny Kwon said.
A prerequisite to this class is Kettler’s Learn to Skate classes ($147 for seven 30-minute classes), where players can perfect forward and backward motions, turns and stopping.
Great for: People who want a full-body workout and don’t mind taking some spills (in heavily padded gear).
The Potomac Curling Club offers Curling 101, a four-week class ($100) open to eight four-person teams of newbies. The next one starts March 9.
“We’re going to pair them up with a mentor, an experienced member of the club, and the idea is we’ll do some practice, we’ll learn about the game, we’ll learn about the etiquette, we’ll learn how to deliver, how to sweep, basic strategy,” Rockenbach said.
At the end of the course, players should be able to play a game — and feel stronger.
“Core strength is pretty important for stability and balance. Leg strength — that’s where you’re going to be pushing out,” Rockenbach said. “Upper body is essential for sweeping. Pressure and speed on a broom are both equally important.” Players sweep the ice ahead of a rock to reduce friction between it and the ice, enabling the rock to go faster and straighter as it moves toward the target.
Great for: People who want to glide on the ice without being on a blade, but the deep lunges can be tough on knees.
No place in the area offers biathlon training per se, but you can learn each part of the sport — cross-country skiing and rifle shooting — and put them together on your own. For those willing to travel, check out the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation’s Biathlon Experience for fun. NYSSRA-
Nordic’s New York Biathlon and the Washington Biathlon Association in Seattle are geared more for wannabe competitors.
The Ski Touring Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club offers weekend training in cross-country skiing each January. Groups of six to 24 head to Canaan Valley, W.Va., or Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands area to learn to navigate snow-covered wilderness on skis using their own power, rather than momentum from a slope like in downhill skiing. The classes focus on track skiing, which involves keeping skis pointing straight ahead and parallel as you follow set tracks, rather than backcountry skiing on virgin snow and making your own trail. Trip prices vary, with the bulk of the cost coming from lodging and meals, said Robert Swennes, chairman of the PATC Ski Touring Section.
Get familiar with shooting at a FIRST Steps Rifle Orientation taught by National Rifle Association-certified instructors. Prices vary by instructor, and classes must be at least three hours long.
“It’s a course that’s going to cover everything: the safety aspects, proper loading and unloading,” said Debbie Crews, assistant manager of the NRA Range. “We teach you to shoot using all of the fundamentals: sight alignment, sight picture, proper grip and stance, hold control, breath control, follow-through, trigger control — all those good things. And then you get to go out onto the range and actually practice everything that you learned in the classroom with live ammunition, with an instructor there with you.”
Biathletes use rifles that are at least 7.7 pounds, but most guns are heavier, so expect to work your muscles, Crews said. “You’re going to get muscle fatigue in your arms. You’re going to have to strengthen your core in order to stay in a good, solid form so that you’re well balanced,” she said.
Great for: People who want to work on strength, balance and focus without worrying about the speed of downhill skiing.