It wasn’t exactly like working out at the United States Olympic Training Center, but the interactive “Road to Sochi Tour” at the Orleans Arena did give us a small taste of what it’s like to compete in the Winter Games.
Tasked with trying my hand Saturday at the interactive elements featured at the fan fest outside of The Orleans — where the Continental Cup of Curling took place — I was fortunate enough to encounter a friendly Canadian fellow at the cross-country skiing simulator who graciously agreed to be my opponent.
Of course he did! I soon learned you should never challenge a Canadian to a winter sports showdown — even if the man, Winnipeg’s “Wild Wayne” Hicock — is 60 years old with a bad back.
Going head-to-head on side-by-side, stand-up ski ergometers with a shared projection screen, we place our hands into overhead straps, grab the handles and prepare to pull down on the cables to propel our on-screen skiers to the finish line, 200 meters away.
After a five-second countdown, we’re off, pulling the cables down as hard and fast as our poorly conditioned bodies will allow.
Just when I think I’ve got him, he somehow edges me at the finish line, 35.7 seconds to 36.0.
“I feel like you won,” says Wayne, gasping for air.
I can relate. I feel like I’m back at high school basketball practice after a series of suicide sprints.
I have a new-found respect for cross-country skiing — and for my elders. Trying to catch my breath, I ask Wayne how old he is.
“Sixty,” he says.
That hurts. I’m 45 and consider myself a decent athlete for my age — even if I am about 40 pounds overweight.
Searching for something to ease the agony of defeat, I ask Wayne if he’s still active in winter sports.
“The only ones I do are the indoor ones,” he says, making a drinking motion with his hand.
This does not make me feel better. My ego bruised — along with my lungs — we head to a hockey tent to measure the speed of our slap shots.
Did Wayne play hockey growing up in Canada, where it’s a law?
“I was a goalie, actually,” he said.
I grew up in New Hampshire, but the only winter sport I played was basketball, so let’s call it even.
We’re both right-handers, but the only stick available is left-handed.
Firing backhanders at an empty net, while being careful not to hit any bystanders on our backswings, my three shots are clocked at 40, 41 and 38 mph. Wayne’s were 37, 37 and 33 mph.
“Like I said, I was a goalie,” he said.
We head to the street luge ramp, where Wayne quickly climbs the steps, straps on a helmet and assumes the head-first position for skeleton on his one-man sled.
“You only live once,” he says before speeding down the ramp.
Assuming the feet-first position for luge, my sled hits the metal railing before straightening out. Two ushers then stop me before I slide across the street to McMullan’s Irish Pub for a pint.
Not to be outdone, I return to the top of the ramp and ride down skeleton style.
After my run, I’m greeted by grinning Review-Journal photographer John Locher, who slyly tells me, “I don’t need to shoot any more (photos).”
With an undersized helmet still crammed on my head, I ask Locher if I looked like an idiot?
“A little bit,” he says. Appreciate that.
While there are no official times for luge, Miles, our gracious host from event sponsor Liberty Mutual Insurance, informs us he secretly timed us.
“Wayne wins with 3.16 (seconds),” he says. “You did 3.76.”
Thanks for helping out, bud.
I concede the controversial win to Wayne, but not because he told me earlier he was a descendant of “Wild Bill” Hickok, the legendary Old West gunfighter and gambler. I’m just glad the biathlon simulator wasn’t working.
Trailing 2-1, I head to the Wii Fit ski jump game. Wayne “jumps” 60 feet off a balance board, but I soar 127 feet to tie the match. As you might’ve guessed, neither of us are gamers.
We then both don black cloth boots — think Walt and Jesse’s hazmat suits in “Breaking Bad” — to test our speed skating strides on a pair of slideboards.
“Do the short one,” Wayne advises me. “You don’t have to worry about pulling the old groin.”
Sage advice, my newfound friend. I don’t pull anything. Thankfully.
We still need a rubber match, and head to a simulated curling sheet to decide our winter sports pentathlon. Or something like that.
“Pressure’s on, eh?,” Wayne says.
The sheet is small, plastic and there are no brushes to be found. This is sure to wreak havoc with our games, but we courageously carry on.
Wayne goes first and stumbles before falling onto the sheet and leaving his stone short of the circle, or house. Fortunately, only his pride is hurt.
“That looked like I had a few to drink before I started,” he said.
“No, that’s the problem,” he said.
I slide my stone into the house to claim victory, but Wayne couldn’t care less; he was focused on getting to The Patch.
There was some figure skating memorabilia on display at the U.S. Olympic Committee-hosted event, but it turns out The Patch wasn’t the actual bandage Nancy Kerrigan wore on her knee after getting attacked before the 1994 Winter Games.
The Patch my Canadian pal was referring to was the beer garden at the bonspiel, or curling tournament — where Wayne looked forward to talking about one of his favorite winter sports with other fans from around the world.
Just like at the Olympics.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.