Guide to Sochi 2014 – the short version!


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After some very useful feedback, I decided to considerably shorten my Winter Olympic guide so it suits everyone and not just people like me! I get so caught up in things I often forget that 99% of the population don’t have the same interest in sport as I do! I hope this is more suited to you and I hope you find it useful.

Alpine skiing:

  • This sport compromises of five separate events (downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and the super combined), all with varying degrees of emphasis on technique and speed, where the basic aim is to get from the top of a hill to the bottom as quickly as possible. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher are the clear male favourites for medals, although France’s Alexis Pinturault and Germany’s Felix Neureuther shouldn’t be discounted. On the women’s side, Maria Höfl-Riesch (Germany) is the stand-out candidate now that legendary skiier Lindsey Vonn cannot take part through injury, with Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather looking set to end her country’s long drought of Olympic medals. British hopes rest on Dave Ryding and Chemmy Alcott but don’t expect anything much, with the former just aiming for a top 10 spot whilst the latter has only just recovered from injury.

Biathlon:

  • A combination of speed, stamina, precision and a steady hands, the biathlon event compromises of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Whilst being first to finish is crucial, each target missed in the rifle ranges adds a minute to your overall time and could be the difference between gold and nothing. Martin Foucarde (France) seems to be in with a good shout of bettering his silver from Vancouver whilst Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway) will be hoping to emulate his 2 golds and 1 silver from the same Games. The Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalová has been in scintillating form throughout the 2013/14 season whilst veteran Belarussian Darya Domracheva will be pushing her all the way. France, Germany and Sweden all look in top shape to pick up the first mixed relay biathlon gold, although Norway should never be discounted. Team GB have again sent two athletes – Mike Dixon and Amanda Lightfoot – but medal finishes are extremely unlikely.

Bobsleigh:

  • One of the most-loved sports on the Winter Olympic programme, this event has featured at every Games bar California 1960, where there wasn’t enough money to build a track. Now cushioned nicely in their very safe sleds, teams fly down an extremely quick track that can expose them to speeds of above 75pmh as well as 5g forces. The USA’s Steve Holcomb (4-man gold medallist four years ago) looks set to win both the men’s 2- and 4-man events and don’t be surprised if it’s an American 1-2 in the former. Switzerland’s Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann seem to be their only real challengers in the event, whilst Latvia have looked strong in the 4-man but still trail the Americans in the World Cup standings. Canada’s Kailie Humphries and Heather Moyse have won the most World Cup women’s races in 2013/14 but Elana Meyers and Aja Evans (America) have been much more consistent over the course of the season. Britain have sent sleds to all of the events but only look real medal contenders in the 4-man event, having picked up a World Cup and European Championship silver earlier this year.

Cross-country skiing

  • A real test of endurance, cross-country (or XC) skiing uses two different techniques – the ‘classical’ technique involves moving in a motion that looks similar to running whilst ‘freestyle’ is similar to the technique that ice skaters use. There are eight individual and four team events. Earlier this morning Norway’s Marit Bjørgen won the 15km skiathlon event (her fourth Olympic gold) and has shown such good form so far this season that it’s hard to imagine anyone beating her. Her team-mates Therese Johaug, Heidi Weng and Astrid Uhrendholdt Jacobsen have also been impressive in 2013/14 whilst the Norwegian males Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Chris Jespersen are also favourites for golds, as are Norway’s teams in the relay and team sprint. Andrew Musgrave carries a small chance of a British medal, having won the very prestigious Norwegian national sprint not so long ago, but it’s hard to tell whether this was just a one-off or a sign of things to come.

Curling:

  • Essentially bowls on ice, the aim is to get as many of your large granite stones as close to the centre mark as possible whilst knocking the opposition’s out of the way. An extremely tactical game, curling also has sweepers who have to guide the stone into place – precision is key here. It was surprising to me that curling has only been an Olympic event since the 1990s, although that may be because I was only born in that same decade so haven’t known any different. At last year’s World Championships, Sweden’s men won their sixth title but the previous winners – Canada – have won 34 of the events, as well as the last two Olympic golds, so go in to Sochi as the ones to beat. Their women, however, haven’t won an Olympic gold since 1998 and have been less than impressive in recent World Championships. Sweden are the ones to watch out for, whilst both Great Britain (2002 Olympic victors) and Switzerland (winners of the 2013 World Championships) will both be hoping for at least a medal. Britain’s men will also be hoping for a similar result, having medalled (albeit as Scotland) at every World Champs since 2007.

Figure skating:

  • The Winter Games version of the dressage, figure skating attracts a lot of criticism for being boring in between Olympic years but everyone becomes fascinated by it when there are medals at stake. The sport has actually conjured up some of the most exciting, dramatic and controversial moments the Winter Olympics have ever seen – Torvill and Dean in 1984, Kerrigan and Harding in 1994 and the Salt Lake judging scandal eight years later. 2014 sees the introduction of a team trophy event, compromising of a single skate for men and women, a pairs event and ice dancing, each of which are also their own outright Olympic events. Spain’s Javier Fernández could cause a small upset in the men’s single skate, although Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia looks set to continue Russia’s general dominance of the sport alongside the pair skaters Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, whilst Americans Meryl Davies and Charlie White are widely considered favourites for the ice dancing. The team trophy is a tough one to call but expect Russia, America and Japan to be fighting all the way to the death.

Freestyle skiing:

  • Arguably the most technically demanding discipline there is at the Winter Games, freestyle skiing compromises of the aerials, halfpipe, moguls, ski cross (the only direct race) and slopestyle. Four of the events are entirely based around the tricks the skiiers can perform at high speeds so expect a lot of crashes! Canadians Michael Kingsbury (current World Champion) and Alexandre Bioldeau (current Olympic champion) have dominated the moguls so far this season, with the other four events looking seemingly much harder to pick based on the 2013/14 World Cup. Fellow countrywoman Justine Dufour-Lapointe and America’s Hannah Kearney are favourites for the women’s moguls but Dufour-Lapointe also has two sisters competing in the event – could they make it a family 1-2-3? What a fairytale that would be! As with the men, the rest of the events have been very tightly contested, although I feel relatively certain that one of China’s Xin Zhang and Li Nina will win the women’s aerials. James Woods carries Britain’s best chance of a medal in the slopestyle event.

Ice hockey:

  • Although it is one of the most brutal sports, I was surprised to read the other day that fighting is technically banned in the sport! I know, I couldn’t believe it either… This is one of the few events (figure skating being another) that has featured at a Summer Games (Antwerp 1920) and has been an ever-present since the inception of the Winter version. Canada and America will surely battle it out for both the men’s and women’s titles, although Russia’s men have improved year on year and hope to cause a mini upset. Finland looks favourites to win the women’s bronze, although it will be a close battle between them, Sweden, Russia and Switzerland.

Luge:

  • Although very similar to both bobsleigh and the skeleton in many aspects, the main differences are that luge athletes start lying on their equipment (the others include a sprint start before jumping onto their sleds) and that they are facing towards the sky. Seemingly less dangerous than the skeleton (you go feet first rather than head), the luge actually has the highest number of Olympic deaths (two, the latest being in 2010) and Indian athlete Shiva Keshavan was extremely lucky not to join them the other day. Germany’s Felix Loch looks set to defend his Olympic title, with Italy’s Armin Zöggeler hoping to win his sixth Olympic medal in six Games. Germany also look dominant in the men’s doubles, with Tobias Wendi and Tobias Arlt being the pair to beat, whilst the Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Hūfner (the current Olympic champion) look to be the ones to beat in the women’s event. It’s a similar story in the team relay, with Germany having dominated all season, although Russia were very impressive at the last World Cup event.

Nordic Combined:

  • A combination of XC skiing and ski jumping, this event really does test athletes to the maximum. The jump is the first event, where the difference in points after the jump is converted to a time. The further behind the leader you are after the jump, the longer you have to wait to start your XC run, with the best jumper being the first to set off. It’s also the last Olympic sport that doesn’t have a competition for women, something which will hopefully be sorted out by 2018. Germany’s Eric Frentzel is the current World Cup leader, having 7 victories across various jump heights so far this season, whilst 2010 normal hill champion Jason Lamy Chappuls had an impressive season so far. The team event seems destined to be with either Norway or Germany, with no other nations having had a look in so far this season.

Short track speed skating:

  • It’s fast, frenetic and quite often dangerous. Short track speed skating involves four to six athletes racing each other round a rather small track with the first over the line being the winner. The relay events are the most entertaining as you’ve not only got the athletes on the track but also their team-mates skating around inside it, waiting to have their turn. South Korea have been by far the best nation at the sport but double Olympic champion Charles Hamelin (Canada) is the man in form. South Korean-turned-Russian legend Victor An (formerly Ahn Hyun-Soo) is his biggest rival, with the man many see as the greatest short track skater of all time hoping to regain the titles he lost in 2010. Compatriot Shim Suk-Hee is the leading lady so far this season, having won six events in 2013/14. Keep an eye out for the Chinese pair of Wang Fen and Wang Mang as well, whilst the Americans currently look favourites to win one if not both of the relay events. Elise Christie and Jon Eley are Britain’s leading skaters but neither are really expected to medal in Sochi.

Skeleton:

  • This is basically the same as the luge except that the athletes taken a run-up before flopping onto the sled belly-down and head first. Apart from both the St. Moritz Games in 1928 and 1946, the skeleton was only introduced on a permanent basis in 2002, this time for both men and women. Brits Lizzy Yarnold and Shelley Rudman have both been in superb form over the last couple of years, with Rudman looking to repeat her silver from Turin 2006 at the very least. Their only real threat for the gold medal is the American Noelle Pikus-Place but it’s almost inconceivable that they won’t pick up at least one medal between them. In the men’s event, Latvians Martins and Tomass Dukurs currently lead the 2013/14 World Cup standings, although the latter is yet to win a race. 2013 World Champion Alexander Tretiakov could also be in with a shout, while Brits Kristan Bromley and Dominic Parsons will be aiming to reach the final, something they should both do with relative ease.

Ski jumping:

  • If there was ever a sport that made you feel as though you could fly (aside from handgliding, parachuting etc.) then it would be ski jumping. Athletes ski down a steep hill before launching themselves off the ‘jump’ point. It’s not just about who goes the furthest however – points are awarded both for distance and style, so if the landing is poor it could really ruin a performer’s medal chances. Kamil Stoch of Poland has been extremely impressive in recent times, whilst Slovenia’s Peter Prevc is looking to exact revenge on the man who beat him to the large hill World Championship gold last year. Switzerland’s Simon Ammann, double Olympic champion in Vancouver, should not be discounted but his form this year has been patchy at best. Sara Takanashi (Japan) will be aiming to pick up both golds at the Games, with Germany’s Carino Vogt being the only woman who could realistically stop her. Finally, Slovenia have been by far the best men’s team so far this season and look set to knock defending champions Germany off top spot.

Snowboarding:

  • A mixture of events from the alpine (slalom and giant slalom, although two racers go at a time here) and freestyle skiing (halfpipe, snowboard cross and slopestyle), snowboarding is a sport that requires extreme skill, speed and courage all at the same time. Earlier this morning America’s Sage Kotsenburg won the slopestyle gold, with Brits Jamie Nicholls (6th) and Billy Morgan (10th) doing well but not quite well enough, although they may not have been there if heavy favourites Shaun White (USA) and Torgeir Bergrem (Norway) hadn’t pulled out. Expect the rest of the men’s events to be very close affairs, whilst British athletes Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller are looking for medals in the women’s slopestyle. Finally, it will be interesting to see whether America’s Lindsey Jacobellis has recovered from her hugely embarrassing finish at the 2010 snowboard cross event – find it on YouTube.

Speed skating:

  • This is basically the same as the aforementioned short track skating except that the track is 400m in circumference and only two competitors are on track at a time, racing against the clock and not each other. Events include 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m (women only), 5000m, 10,000m (men only) and the team pursuit (very similar to the team pursuit from track cycling). The Netherlands have dominated the sport over the years and current 5000m Olympic champ (amongst a host of other medals) Sven Kramer and the legendary Ireen Wūst should continue this as they attempt to bag another large haul of medals between them. South Korea’s Mo Tae-Bum is the hot favourite to retain his 500m title whilst the Czech Republic’s Martina Sábliková won both the 3000m and 5000m titles at the World Championships last year, events she also won four years ago.
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