Admittedly, here in the UK we are not the biggest fans of Winter Sports. While many of us may hit the ski slopes, we tend to do that mainly as a hobby, or something to do on a winter holiday, rather than through any active interest in the sport. Indeed, my own experiences of Winter Sports are largely down to watching a few episodes of Ski Sunday when I was a youngster.
However, once every four years, we do tend to show a lot more interest in Winter Sports than at other times and that is down to the Winter Olympics. Over the years, fans of Team GB and Northern Ireland have not had a huge amount to cheer about. Lizzy Yarnold picked up gold for us in the Skeleton in 2014, Rhona Martin and her ladies Curling team did the same in their event in 2002 and before that we are looking at the likes of John Curry, Robin Cousins and of course Torville and Dean as our main winter sports medal legends.
We have had another legend in that time, albeit for very different reasons. That was Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, our solitary ever representative in the Ski Jumping event and where he was notable for being by far and away the worst competitor in the event’s history. That said, his bravery and tenacity and embodiment of the Olympic spirit ensured that he became a Winter Olympics legend.
However, after our five medal haul in Sochi in 2014, British Athletics has invested more funds than ever in Winter Sports in the hope our record number of 59 athletes can try and improve on that total in 2018. Let’s begin first by taking a look at how the Winter Olympics of 2018 is shaping up.
Winter Olympics 2018 Preview
This year, the 23rd Olympic Winter Games takes place in Pyeongchang, a province of northwest South Korea with the central focus for the events being the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium (although no events actually take place there apart from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies).
Beijing has been selected as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics and will take the torch at the end of the closing ceremony.
Here’s all the key facts you need to know about the 2018 Winter Olympics:
- Start of Events – Thursday 8th February 2018
- Opening Ceremony – Friday 9th February 2018
- Nations Participating – 92
- Athletes Participating – 2,952
- Total Number of Sports – 15
- Gold Medals available to win – 102
- Sports to be contested – Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Cross-Country Skiiing, Curling, Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Ice Hockey, Luge, Nordic Combined, Short Track Speed Skating, Skeleton, Ski Jumping, Snowboarding, Speed Skating.
- Number of debut nations – 6 (Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore)
- Biggest teams of athletes – United States (240), Canada (226), Switzerland (170)
- Smallest teams of athletes – Azerbaijan, Bermuda, Cyprus, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ghana, Hong Kong, Kenya, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Singapore, South Africa, Timor-Leste and Tonga have sent just one athlete.
- Closing Ceremony – Sunday 25th February 2018
Due to the widespread state-sanctioned doping of athletes at the Winter Olympics of Sochi 2014 and the Summer Games of 2012 and 2016, Russian athletes have been banned from participating under their home flag. Athletes that have taken tests and have not failed tests will compete under the International Olympic Committee Athletes from Russia banner.
Athletes from North and South Korea will compete as representatives of each nation apart from in the Women’s Ice Hockey tournament where players from both countries will play in a single Unified Korea team.
Key Winter Olympic Venues
As is the case with all Olympic Games, the 15 sports will take place at a number of different venues in and around the Pyeongchang area. The full list of venues, including the sports that will be contested there, as well as the venues for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies are listed below:
- Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium – Opening and Closing Ceremonies
- Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre – Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined, Snowboarding (Big Air)
- Alpensia Biathlon Centre – Biathlon
- Alpensia Cross-Country Centre – Cross-Country Skiing, Nordic Combined
- Alpensia Sliding Centre – Luge, Bobsleigh and Skeleton
- Yongpyong Alpine Centre – Alpine Skiing (Slalom & Giant Slalom)
- Bokwang Pheonix Park – Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding
- Jeongseon Alpine Centre – Alpine Skiing (downhill, Super G and Combined)
- Gangneung Hockey Centre – Ice Hockey (Men’s)
- Gangneung Curling Centre – Curling
- Gangneung Oval – Speed Skating
- Gangneung Ice Arena – Short Track Speed Skating and Figure Skating
- Kwandong Hockey Centre – Ice Hockey (Women’s)
Who are Team GB and Northern Ireland’s best chances of a medal?
After an improved showing at Sochi 2014, funding for Winter Sports was increased in the hope that the team could improve on that five medal haul at those games (1 Gold, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze). Team GB and Northern Ireland is now sending its biggest ever Winter Olympics team of 59 competitors to South Korea and hopes are high that the team could improve on the medal haul from 2014.
Our best hopes of landing a medal appear to be in the following events:
Skeleton – Lizzy Yarnold made history when becoming the first Gold Medal winner for 12 years for Team GB when she landed gold in the Skeleton in Sochi 2014. Yarnold may be slightly past her best now and has not enjoyed the greatest of seasons personally, but she is a tough performer who can always be relied upon to produce her best when it counts. She is joined in the team by Laura Dees, who is ranked sixth in the world and who has earned a podium finish in several World Cup events over the season. Dees is renowned for her fast starts which could give her an outside chance of landing one of the medals.
Curling – Last time out, the men’s team took home a silver medal while the ladies had to be satisfied with a bronze and both teams are going to be itching to improve on that performance in Sochi. While the ladies team has not changed at all in four years (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloane, Vicki Adams and Lauren Gray), it is an entirely new-look team for the men (Kyle Smith, Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell and Cammy Smith). This team has won the World Junior Championship back in 2013 and hopes are high that both the men and women’s teams can bring back some form of medal.
Speed Skating – One of the saddest stories of Sochi 2014 was that of speed skater Elise Christie, who was one of the favourites to win the 500m and 1000m Speed Skating events but was disqualified from both. Heading into this year’s Olympics, Christie has once again been in exceptional form and is one of the favourites in three events, the 500m, 1000m and 1,500m. If she can steer clear of controversy and skate her own race, Christie is a solid bet for at least one medal, perhaps even more if she finds her best form.