If you keep up with the Winter Olympics, chances are there’s at least 1 specific athlete or event that you make an effort to follow. Whether it’s Shaun White, the U.S. men’s hockey team, or figure skating in general, lots of viewers play favorites. But if we focus on events specifically, what are the most popular among the American audience? Or among individual states? We wanted to find out.
The Most Popular Winter Olympic Sport in Every U.S. State
Before we discuss the elephant in the room, let’s take a look at some of the little guys here. For starters, the ski jump is the preferred event of both Kentucky and Wisconsin, while Connecticut and Oregon prefer cross country skiing. Alpine skiing rounds out the bottom 3 events — that is, the bottom 3 events out of the events that were number 1 in at least 1 state, with support from both Florida and Massachusetts. As for the events that didn’t place first in any states? Let’s give a healthy “maybe next time” to the skeleton, speed skating, short track speed skating, bobsledding, the biathlon, freestyle skiing, and surprisingly, snowboarding.
Moving up 1 tier past the 3 ski events, curling was the most searched sport in 3 states: Nebraska, Nevada, and Minnesota, and then 1 tier above that we find ice hockey, the choice Winter Olympic event of Arizona, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
While everyone is familiar with the large American viewership and representation that hockey enjoys thanks to the NHL, curling shouldn’t be slept on! States like Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular have worked to popularize the sport in the U.S, and over 50 curling clubs can be found in these 2 states alone.
Above both curling and hockey is luge, which is somewhat surprising as it really only gets American coverage during the Olympics. And not only did luge come in first in more states than ice hockey, but it also came in first in more than double the states. Maybe the people of Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island are just waiting for that next big snow to hit so they can ride their garbage can lid down the nearest hill?
Jokes aside, we might be able to thank the American fascination with watching things go fast for this luge popularity. After all, NASCAR has been a national pastime since the ‘40s, and luge is the fastest of the 3 Winter Olympic sliding sports, with average speeds of 77 to 93 mph.
The Most Popular Winter Olympic Sport Overall
But now, we’re at the top. The previously mentioned elephant in the room has a name, and that name is figure skating. When we compare it to the other most popular Winter Olympic sports, figure skating has won over 2½ times as many states as luge, and just under 6 times as many states as its fellow skate-sport, ice hockey. While these comparative numbers are pretty extreme, figure skating does have a legacy here in America that might explain our results.
For example, the dance-like form that figure skating is now known for was originally created by an American, Jackson Haines, in the 1860s. American figure skating talents like Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan became household names in the 1990s after finding great Olympic success. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, figure skating was 1 of just 2 events, the other being women’s alpine skiing, that experienced an increase in viewership when its ratings were compared to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Now all that’s left to do is wait and see if the sport is able to repeat that success come February 2022.
We obtained our results by first determining 14 search terms based on the Winter Olympic sports that are listed on the official Olympics website. We then looked at Google Trends data from the past 5 years and assumed that search volume indicated popularity to create a ranking of the most popular Winter Olympic sports, by state and overall.
Figure skating, luge, and ice hockey are the first, second, and third most popular Winter Olympic sports in the U.S, respectively, according to our research. It will be interesting to see if event viewership numbers align with these results come February.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will be taking place in Beijing from February 4 to February 20, and a detailed event schedule is available online.
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