Olympics Betting May Be Less Than Olympian

More than 2,500 athletes from 90 nations will compete in 98 events over a 17-day span but if history is a guide, it is unlikely that Olympics betting will be a match for the grandeur of the Winter Games when the quadrennial five-ring spectacle is contested in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 6-23.

When it comes to sports betting, the Olympic Games isn’t the Super Bowl or another major global event such as the World Cup, partly because sportsbooks are hesitant to offer high limits on obscure events they book once every four years and partly because bettors are unfamiliar with many of the sports, as well. So if you’ve done your homework and you’re angling to drop 10 large on the women’s Nordic Combined or, ahem, “invest” beaucoup bucks on who will win the men’s biathlon 12.5 km Pursuit, you’re probably going to have to do some “book jumping,” that is, wagering smaller amounts at a number of betting outlets.

Since many sportsbook operators, who wouldn’t know a toe loop from a tow truck, there’s little percentage in booking huge amounts on sports they don’t know. The exception to that rule came at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway when, weeks earlier, an attack on US figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, planned by American rival Tonya Harding, generated so much publicity and notoriety that bookmakers across the globe offered substantial action on the event. Kerrigan, who recovered from the brutal assault on her knee that failed to disable her, wound up with the Silver Medal, behind the Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul. While four of her accomplices went to prison, Harding avoided jail when she agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers. She received three years’ probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine.

Barring an athlete causing an international uproar by tossing a curling stone at another competitor, managers and directors of sportsbooks are apt to be more generous with allowing large bets on sports they know…such as hockey.

Canada, the defending ice hockey champion, is a 2/1 future book favorite to repeat its 2010 Gold Medal success in Vancouver but Russia, at odds of 9/4, is a worthy contender. Sweden, 5/1, the 2006 Gold Medal winner, and the United States, 6/1, the runner-up in 2010 and 2002, also are in the hunt. With the NHL suspending games for three weeks so its players can compete in the Olympic Games, bet takers are familiar with most of the top players, if not the teams.

There’s also a women’s ice hockey competition and, once again, the nation that claims the sport as its national treasure, is the favorite. Canada, which has taken home gold at the last three Olympic Games, is a 4/5 future book favorite, just slightly ahead of team USA, which is listed at even money. The Canadian and American teams have been so dominant that no other nation is offered at odds of less than 20/1.

Hockey joins curling as the two Olympic team sports that not only offer future book wagering on the eventual Gold Medal winner, but odds on the individual games or matches leading up to the title tussle.

Curling, which gained a bit of a following after it was seen in the Beatle’ film Help in 1965 and when it was featured on TV in its Olympic version at the 2006 Games, could be dominated by Canada, this year. The Canadian teams are favored to take gold in both the men’s and women’s competition with Sweden and Great Britain the challengers in each event.  

Figure skating is another sport with which viewers, and by extension, Olympic betting fans, have some familiarity. Gold Medal winners such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano, to name just a few, have parlayed Olympic Gold into fame and fortune, raising the profile of the sport and with it, an interest in betting on it.

This time, Canada’s Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion, is a 1/2 favorite to earn gold at the expense of Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the 9/4 second choice in the men’s figure skating competition. On the ladies side, defending Olympic champion Kim Yuna, of South Korea, is a 4/5 favorite over 3/1 Mao Asada. 

Because of its simplicity, by far, the most popular proposition bet offered on this or any other Olympic Games is on which country will win the most Gold Medals and, alternately, which country will win the most medals overall. Norway, a country of just over 5 million people, is the even money favorite to take home the most Gold Medals. The Norwegians are dynamite on the slopes. The USA is the second choice at odds of 7/2, followed by Germany, 6/1; Russia, 7/1; and Canada, 12/1.

It’s a different story when it comes to most total medals. Team USA, which won a Winter Games record 37 medals at the 2010 Olympic Games, is the even money favorite over Norway, the 2/1 second choice. Germany, 5/1; Russia, 6/1; and Canada, 20/1, also should hear their anthems played frequently.

Winter Olympic Games betting may lack the punch of a Super Bowl or World Cup event but with so many options, sports betting fans shouldn’t lack for action.