The world comes together during the Olympics. This winter, athletes came together to perform and compete for gold in Beijing, China. The 109 events in 15 Olympic winter sports are held in the three competition zones of central Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou. The addition of seven new events – women’s mono bob, freestyle skiing big air (men’s and women’s), and mixed team events in short track speed skating team relay, ski jumping, freestyle skiing aerials, and snowboard cross – to Beijing 2022’s sports program will bring about the most gender-balanced Olympic Winter Games to date. Here we offer a rundown of the different sporting events in the winter Olympics schedule, along with the ways in which each athlete uses their eyes and vision to bring their very best to the competition.
Event schedule: Feb. 6-11, 13, 15-19 at the Yanqing competition zone
Fun Fact: Alpine skiing is one of the signature competitions at the Winter Olympics. Men’s and women’s Alpine skiing both debuted on the Olympic program in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
How Vision Plays: Ski goggles are an important factor in Alpine Skiing to protect the eyes from winter elements like wind, snow, and sunshine.
Event schedule: Feb. 13-15, 18-20 at the Zhangjiakou competition zone
Fun Fact: The word “biathlon” comes from the Greek word for “two tests”, and is today seen as the joining of two sports; skiing and shooting.
How Vision plays: Biathlon combines the endurance and intensity of cross-country skiing with the precision and skill of rifle shooting. Biathletes must be able to visualize 4.5-inch and 1.77-inch diameter targets from more than 50 yards away with pinpoint accuracy without magnification.
Event schedule: Feb. 5, 7-8, 11-13, 15-16, 18-19 at Yanqing National Sliding Centre, located in the Xiaohaituo mountain area. In bobsleigh, athletes make timed runs down a narrow ice track in a specially designed sledge.
Fun fact: The sledge has been used as a mode of transportation for centuries, but the sport of bobsleigh didn’t begin until the late 19th century when the Swiss attached a steering mechanism to a toboggan.
How vision plays: In bobsleigh, helmets and goggles are worn for protection and specifically designed to provide the widest possible field of vision, so as not to impact the athlete’s reaction time. Helmets make wearing glasses difficult, and even the most precise prescription goggles are unlikely to provide the visual acuity needed at the speeds these sledders achieve.
Event schedule: Feb. 5-6, 8, 10-13, 16, 19-20 at the Zhangjiakou cluster
Fun fact: Cross country skiing is the oldest type of skiing and has its origins in Norway. In fact, the word “ski” is a Norwegian word that comes from the Old Norse word “skid”, a split length of wood.
How vision plays: Sunlight reflecting off the snow and ice has a significant impact on cross country skiers’ ability to visualize the course terrain, which is important for both safety as well as identifying opportunities to gain speed.
Event schedule: Feb. 2-20 at the Beijing National Aquatics Center
Did you know: Curling first originated in the 16th century in Scotland, which makes it one of the oldest team sports in the world.
How vision plays: Having an acute sense of depth perception is important to judge distances accurately in curling. While no special goggles or eye protection is required, precise vision correction can make a big difference for player accuracy.
Event schedule: Feb. 4, 6-8, 10, 12, 14-15, 17-20 at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing
Fun fact: The Dutch were arguably the earliest pioneers of skating. They began using frozen canals to skate from village to village as far back as the 13th century.
How vision plays: To jump, spin and move over the ice with poise and grace, skaters rely on depth perception, spatial awareness, reaction time, and coordination to execute their routine.
Event schedule: Feb. 3, 5-10, 13-19 at The Genting Snow Park and Shougang Park
Did you know: Skiers started to incorporate acrobatic tricks and jumps into their runs, and in 1979 freestyle was recognized as a discipline by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
How vision plays: When racing down a mountain at high speed, helmets and goggles are essential. Goggles diminish glare from the snow and protect the eyes from the elements. Excellent depth perception is key to sticking the landing from jumps. Good peripheral vision is needed for the ski cross events where many racers are on the course at the same time to avoid collisions.
Event schedule: Feb. 3-20 at the Wukesong Sports Centre
Fun Fact: Ice hockey originated in Canada in the early 19th century, based on several similar stick-and-ball games played in Europe. The word “hockey” comes from the old French word “hocquet”, meaning “stick”.
How Vision plays: Ice hockey is a full-contact sport, so the rink is no place for glasses. The puck can travel at high speeds across the ice which requires quick reflexes, hand-eye, and body-foot coordination driven by acute vision. Contact lenses aren’t a great option either, as they can dry out when skating fast.
Event schedule: Feb. 5-10 at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre
Did you know: Just like the bobsleigh and skeleton, the origins of luge as a sport can be traced to Switzerland and the town of St Moritz. The first organized meeting of the sport took place in 1883 in Davos, Switzerland, with competitors racing along an icy 4km road between Davos and the village of Klosters.
How vision plays: In luge, athletes must navigate an icy track at extreme speeds, all while riding feet first on a small sledge. Athletes wear face shields, rather than goggles, to protect their eyes while they steer their sled with their legs and minute weight shifts of their body.
Event schedule: Feb. 9, 15, 17 at the Zhangjiakou cluster
How the sport works: Nordic combined is made up of two separate sports: ski jumping and cross-country skiing.
Fun fact: This form of skiing came from a need to travel over snow-covered terrain to hunt, gather firewood, and connect to nearby communities.
How vision plays: Competitors use goggles to protect their eyes because the cold and wind can dry out the eyes and contact lenses. Depth perception is needed to spot and judge the landings during ski jumping. For this particular combination of sports, it is not surprising that athletes find laser vision correction an appealing alternative to glasses and contacts.
Short Track Speed Skating
Event schedule: Feb. 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16 at the Capital Indoor Stadium
What it is: Short-track races are full of strategy, bravery, and skill as competitors skate against one another in close quarters.
Fun fact: The origins of short track speed skating can be traced back to 1905 when athletes in the United States and Canada would compete in speed skating events that were held with mass starts on oval tracks.
How vision plays: The sheer force of the wind generated by the speeds the racers achieve have been known to damage athletes’ eyes, making protective goggles required equipment.
Event schedule: Feb 10-12 at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre
What is Skeleton: In skeleton, competitors ride head-first and prone on a sled down an icy track at high speed.
Fun fact: The sport of skeleton has its roots in that most popular of winter pastimes: sleighing. In the mid-19th century, British and American holidaymakers built the first toboggan run in Davos in 1882, and thus the sport of sleighing began.
How vision plays: Similar to the luge, skeleton athletes wear an entire face shield to protect their eyes and face while traveling headfirst at high speed.
Event schedule: Feb. 5-7, 11-12, 14 at the Zhangjiakou cluster
Did you know: The origins of ski jumping can be traced to Norway where, in 1808, one Ole Rye jumped a modest 9.5m off of a small hill on a pair of skis.
How vision plays: Ski jumping sees athletes launch themselves from ramps to soar through the air, where distance (and style) are crucial. Athletes need to have clear vision and great depth perception to visualize the landing zone, judge the distance and make any adjustments required.
Event schedule: Feb. 5-8, 10-13, 15, 17-19 the National Speed Skating Oval
Did you know: Speed skating made its Olympic debut at the inaugural Winter Games at Chamonix, France in 1924. However, women were only authorized to compete in the discipline at the Lake Placid Games in 1932, which was then only a demonstration sport. Women’s speed skating was officially included in the Olympic program at the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley.
How vision plays: When skating at high speeds, wind and ice can be detrimental to an athlete’s performance. Many speed skaters will wear sports glasses or goggles to deflect any wind and keep the ice from flying into their eyes.
Event schedule: Feb. 5-12, 14-15 at the Zhangjiakou cluster
Did you know: Snowboarding has its origins as a sport in 1960’s America when people sought new winter activities. It’s thought to have been originated in 1965 when a Michigan engineer named Sherman Poppen stuck two skis together and attached a rope at one end for his kids to glide downhill. Poppen named the device a “snurfer” and licensed the idea to a manufacturer. He ended up selling over half a million products in 1966 alone!
How vision plays: Snowboarders protect their eyes from wind, cold, snow, and ice with goggles. Excellent depth perception, peripheral vision, and visual acuity are required for Olympic-class snowboarding.
How You Can Watch the Olympics
Fans of the Olympics can watch the broadcast of the competition on NBC networks and complete coverage can be found on its Peacock streaming service.
Dr. Isaac Porter, MD is an ophthalmology specialist in Raleigh, NC. Dr. Porter is also a fellowship-trained refractive surgeon. His areas of expertise include laser vision correction with LASIK, LALEX (SMILE), PRK, and LR, as well as modern cataract surgery, including laser surgery and advanced technology lens implants that can correct a wide range of vision and astigmatism. He is also the only surgeon in North Carolina performing the newest laser vision correction procedure, LALEX (SMILE). He graduated from University of Kentucky College of Medicine in 2005.