What is the Most Difficult Sport? Part 5 – Winter Olympics

After our fourth week of trying to answer the age-old question of what is the most difficult sport, we have arrived at the conclusion of the series. In ancient times, the games were a series of athletic competitions among the city-states of Ancient Greece.

The games have evolved quite a bit in modern times with some of the sports we’ve already talked about being included. We aren’t going to include those sports again but let’s dive into the most difficult sports at the Winter version of the Olympic Games.

The Winter Olympics kicked off in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and have been held every four years since with the exception of 1940 and 1944 due to World War II.


We slide into the first of our Winter Olympic sports with bobsled, a thrilling time trial on narrow, banked ice tracks. The first bobsleds were invented in Switzerland as a form of winter recreation around the 1870s. Originally, the sleds were used on the streets of St. Moritz. However, a number of collisions led to the development of specialized tracks, soon followed by time trial competitions.

Both the two-man and four-man versions of bobsledding require athleticism, discipline, and risk-taking. The mental aspect of dealing with both the possibility of an accident as well as syncing up with team members presents unique difficulties. Is this enough for bobsledding to be considered the most difficult sport? It’s tough to say with so many sports left to cover.


Like bobsledding, luge and skeleton also originated in the icy streets of St. Moritz, Switzerland. Unlike bobsledding, luge and skeleton sleds do not offer much protection. Both luge and skeleton involve downhill racing on a sled, however, there is a major difference in how the sleds are used. While a participant in the luge will lie on their back with their head uphill, a skeleton athlete will lie on their stomach and slide down the ice head first.

Bobsledding is frightening but luge and skeleton are both absolutely terrifying to me. A small mistake can be absolutely disastrous for the sledder. The balance required to use your body in order to turn and brake the sled also plays a role in the difficulty. For my money, the lack of protection on the sled and the additional individual pressure leads me to give the edge to skeleton and luge over bobsledding.


Though it didn’t make its way to the Winter Olympics until 1998, curling dates back to 16th-century Scotland. The sport involves sliding granite stones down ice hoping to get closest to the bullseye.

I don’t want to discount the difficulty of curling athletes but truthfully all I see is oversized shuffleboard on ice. I’ve always wanted to play the game. However, I really want to play it with a beer in hand. There is much more to the game than just sliding stones down the ice, but I have a hard time ranking it above some of these other winter sports on the difficulty scale.

Speed Skating

We’re sticking to the ice as we move from curling to skating. The first of two skating sports we’ll look into, speed skating is a blazing-fast sport that features both long-track and short-track racing. The origins of the sport can be traced to Northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

The leg strength and focus required to speed skate, whether in short-track or long-track form, is near inhuman. One of my favorite events to tune into when the Winter Olympics begin, I am consistently blown away by the balance of the skaters.

Figure Skating

Originating in the mid-19th century, figure skating blends art and athleticism together in a way rarely seen in sports. The sport of figure skating has been included in the Winter Olympics since the first games in 1924.

Everything I mentioned above about focus, leg strength, and balance for speed skating can be echoed for figure skating. Add in the creativity and acrobatic ability and it is particularly jaw-dropping what figure skating athletes are able to do. Did I mention that there is also pair skating? Just add another couple of notches for grip strength and communication. Not to mention the hours of practice required. Figure skating is a no-brainer on any list of the most difficult sports.

Ski Jumping

From the ice, we move to snow for the first time as we take on the flying antics of ski jumping. Originating in Norway, the sport of ski jumping has been thrilling fans since the 19th century. Bravely launching themselves downhill in an attempt to cover as much distance as possible in the air, ski jumpers often appear as if they’ve taken flight.

Looking at a ski jump hill is enough to give me goosebumps, personally. The mental discipline required to time a jump perfectly in order to maximize distance is astronomical. Meanwhile, there are also immense physical demands that are required of a ski jumper. Is this enough to give us our answer to “What is the Most Difficult Sport?” in the category of Winter Olympics? We still have a few more winter sports to cover before we decide.

Alpine Skiing

We stick to skis here as we move from ski jumping to alpine skiing. Also known as downhill skiing, the origins can be traced all the way back to prehistoric times. In the modern Olympics alpine skiing features downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-g, and combined.

Once again, we have a sport that takes astonishing levels of balance and leg strength while requiring incredible focus. These skiers can reach speeds of over 100mph, though 80mph is a more common speed. That sheer velocity is a mental barrier enough to dissuade athletes from pursuing the sport at a high level. One mistake, a caught edge, and the run is done. That makes for a high level of difficulty.

Cross-Country Skiing

Whereas the ski events listed so far have been mostly quick events, cross-country skiing is much more of an endurance event. The sport finds its roots in the specialized ski military units of the Scandinavian nations – particularly in the 1700s. Cross-country skiing doesn’t just rely on gravity for movement, skiers must also be able to propel themselves up hill or on flat terrain.

A true full-body workout, cross-country skiing forces participants to dig deep in order to compete at the highest levels. Every single cross-country skiing event I’ve ever witnessed has ended with the athletes collapsing to the ground at the finish. If our job here is to find an answer to the question “What is the Most Difficult Sport?”, that level of exhaustion has to be a high indicator.

The Verdict

Once again, I have the unenviable task of trying to decide which of these sports is the most difficult. Each winter sport listed above presents its own unique challenges which add to the difficulty of the sport. I think you could approach this in multiple ways. The endurance of cross-country skiing has to be considered. The speed and margin of error for alpine skiing are also a massive consideration. Almost all of the sports listed require insane amounts of balance. However, for me, it is a question of balance combined with creativity.

That is why my choice as an answer to “What is the Most Difficult Sport? when it comes to the Winter Olympics is figure skating. To jump and land while skating on ice is an impressive feat. Figure skaters are adding spins and twists of all kinds while doing so. However, it’s really the paired figure skating that sends the sport over the top for me. To be synchronized with your partner while performing jumps, catching your partner, and more takes incredible precision. For me, figure skating is the clear winner here.

What do you think? Did Coach Jay get this right? We’d love to hear your opinion on Twitter at @Pokatok_Fest and @CoachJayArnold.

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