Friday, February 7, 2014
My love of the Winter Olympics can be traced back to a bout of german measles and an enforced stay at home from school which happily coincided with Calgary 1988.
Skeleton slider Yarnold will head to Sochi in the form of her life after making the podium in the first six World Cup races of the Olympic season - including three victories. Kent-born Yarnold is bidding to become the fourth consecutive British female medal-winner in her discipline after Amy Williams, Shelley Rudman and Alex Coomber.
Rudman came from nowhere to win a silver medal in 2006 and has maintained a consistent presence near the top of the world rankings ever since. She was crowned world champion in St Moritz last year and has not been far off the pace this season, culminating in her first podium place, also at St Moritz, in January. Has the capability to medal again.
Woods picked the best possible time to emerge as one of the stars of his sport. Ski Slopestyle will make its Olympic debut in Sochi and Woods is riding high in the rankings after winning both the overall world title and World Championship silver in 2013. Woods is likely to face a tougher field in Sochi but has every right to feel confident of his chances of success.
The Sheffield ski slopestyle star returned from a serious nine-month injury lay-off to win a World Cup medal in Silvaplana in February last year and proved it was no fluke by placing fourth at the World Ski Championships in Norway the following month. The audacious Summerhayes is best friends with Woods and firmly believes the pair of them have what it takes to succeed in Sochi.
Christie took on the world in 2013 when she was crowned overall 1,000m world short track champion and took bronze over the same distance in the World Championships. She has stayed consistent in a sport whose thrills and spills can often make it entirely unpredictable, and is tough enough to respond to rivals who have gone out of their way to try to stop her in her tracks.
Muirhead’s final stone win to clinch the World Curling Championship for Scotland in Latvia last year was reminiscent of Rhona Martin’s famous shot to win Olympic gold in 2002. Former world junior champion Muirhead is desperate to follow in the footsteps of Martin - now one of her coaches - and will take her team to Sochi as one of the favourites.
Murdoch is a former world curling champion but his Olympic experiences have been disappointing after missing out on a medal in both Turin and Vancouver. Now leader of a bespoke team also including former world medallist Tom Brewster, Murdoch arguably has his best chance of breaking his Olympic duck. His experience will stand him in good stead.
Jackson was steering his four-man bobsleigh crew into medal contention with a series of top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit before snapping his Achilles during off-season training. Many might have given up on their Olympic dream, but Jackson defied expectations to not only return, but lead his crew to a silver medal - Britain’s first since 1997 - in Lake Placid in December.
Morgan, who trained as a circus acrobat before switching to snowboard slopestyle, has a good chance of challenging for a medal in Sochi. A consistent top 10 performer, Morgan finished fourth in the World Snowboard Championships in Stoneham last year, and went on to earn his first medal with a third place in the World Cup in Sierra Nevada.
The Stoke 18-year-old shocked everyone - probably including herself - when she claimed her first ski halfpipe World Cup victory in Breckenridge earlier this month. Some of her top-ranked rivals might have been absent but it was still a phenomenal result for the teenager, who had also reached the podium at the Junior World Championships the previous March.
I remember being particularly taken with the luge and thinking that I’d love to have a go at hurling myself down an icy track at speeds of up to 90mph.
Thankfully for my parents’ sake there are no suitable luge, skeleton or bobsleigh tracks in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold from becoming winner of the women’s skeleton bobsleigh world series and a favourite for gold. Watching these brave souls hurtle round perilous corners makes for a gripping contest.
The flamboyant costumes and artistry of figure skating provides a nice foil to some of the more brutal events, and you only need to think back to Torvill and Dean’s flawless Bolero performance or the nail-biting conflict between skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding to remember how every triple lutz or double salchow can leave your heart in your mouth.
Ski cross, which made its debut in Vancouver in 2010, is basically the winter version of the summer Olympics’ BMX event, but it involves four skiers, which sounds like a winning formula to me.
I’m also hoping that some of the new inclusions will add extra spice. Both ski half-pipe and ski slopestyle will involve the kind of jumps and tricks I could only dream of emulating, while the extreme ability of the downhill skiers is simply jaw-dropping.
Like many people, I find Russia’s stance on homosexuality appalling, and while this strikes a sour note in Sochi I can only hope that the publicity surrounding the issue will ultimately lead to more understanding and acceptance.
Perhaps a stint as a London 2012 Gamesmaker volunteer has fired my enthusiasm for all things Olympic, and maybe because I’m a skier myself I can appreciate the skill of the athletes as they battle the snow and ice.
The downside to Sochi 2014 is that I know it will turn me into a green-eyed monster and make me long to return to the slopes myself. I’ve already been warned not to complain about how long it has been since I last skiied.
But while it showcases examples of excellence, my fondness for the Winter Olympics also stems from 1988 when ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Jamaican bobsleigh team became crowd favourites as plucky underdogs.
Qualifying has been tightened since then, so we are unlikely to see any similar “heroic failures”, but like its summer counterpart there is always plenty of triumph and heartbreak.
• What are your favourite events and memories of the Winter Olympics? Let us know by commenting below.