Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
The Winter Olympics are, in essence, about putting things on your feet. This is a function of the weather. You cannot go barefoot into the snow and ice. In the summer, you can run around with nothing on at all. That’s what the ancient Greeks used to do when they had their Olympic games. You can see pictures of it on ancient vase paintings. The Greeks jumped and ran and threw things in a state of total nudity. The Olympic games – in their original form more than two thousand years ago – were about the beauty, grace, and possibility of the human body in its purity.
But what happens to the human body when you put it on frozen ground? It becomes a plodder, struggling laboriously through the snow. Or it becomes a slipper and slider, working to find traction on treacherous sheets of ice. Humans on frozen ground are, generally, comical and sad. It is only a matter of time before the human is going to fall down, ingloriously, limbs akimbo, and hit the ground with a crunch.
Or so it was until people started strapping things to the bottoms of their feet. Ötzi – the prehistoric iceman from the Italian Alps – was found wearing a broad-bottomed pair of snowshoes. He wasn’t skiing, exactly, or even snowshoeing in the modern sense of the term. But he had figured out the basic idea: You cannot traverse the snow and ice efficiently unless you take drastic action.