For most sports fans, the Winter Olympics is a festival of curiosity. A bunch of sports that you watch once every four years, really enjoy, and then forget about for the next 48 months as you settle back into the familiar rhythm of the football or rugby seasons. You don’t think about the intricacies of curling, the awe-inspiring feats of the ski-jumpers or the complex tactics of Nordic Combined. Now, that’s probably not going to change this time around. After all, how would you go about watching the Speed Skating World Championships, even if you wanted to? But the Winter Olympics is different. Getting up at ridiculous hours to watch a sport you never would normally, witnessing the sheer agony and pure ecstasy for the athletes involved, as four years of hard toil and sacrifice crystallise down to just a few career-defining moments.
At the Winter Olympics, Great Britain winning any sort of medal is a cause for national celebration. And just occasionally, you’ll see something magical. Think Torvill and Dean, or half the country watching Rhona Martin’s curling heroes secure gold for Britain in 2002. Last time around, we even enjoyed the BBC commentator wildly celebrating a rival’s nasty-looking fall in the women’s slopestyle to secure a bronze for Britain’s Jenny Jones. So with the twenty-third Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, fast approaching, we thought we would make you a list of seven of the events you shouldn’t miss. After all, the next chance you’ll get to watch them is in 2022!
An absolute belter of a sport, this is the one to watch if you like to see spectacular, gravity-defying leaps of faith. The event in which Eddie the Eagle made headlines across the world for being lovably crap, and which Channel 4 has tried its best to ruin with the ghastly The Jump, the real stuff is a thing of beauty. There’s a mesmeric quality to watching a succession of clearly crazy skiers catapult themselves off the side of a mountain. Look at this guy. Around halfway through his air-bound lunacy, it genuinely looks like he's the first human to master flight. Mental.
Ahh, curling. It’s not called chess on ice for nothing. Normally one of Britain’s best bets for a medal, but it’s about so much more than that. Invented in Scotland, the sport involves sliding heavy stones down a stretch of ice, looking to get as close as possible to the bulls-eye. The rest of the team frantically scrub the ice ahead of the stone with high-tech looking brooms, while the person who slides the stone maniacally screams ‘Harder!’ or ‘Gooooo!’ at them. When you get into it and start to understand all the devilishly complicated tactics, it can be unbearably tense. It can also be hilarious, as former champion Brad Gushue would like the world to forget, seen here face-planting ice at around 80mph:
If you want to see athletes hurtling head first down a terrifyingly steep, winding course on what looks like a high-tech tea tray, then Skeleton is the event for you. You might even see some British success as well, as Skeleton is one event we seem to excel at. Amy Williams took gold in 2010, with Lizzie Yarnold following suit with a dominant performance four years ago. Yarnold is among the favourites this time around, too, so make sure you’re watching if you want a sniff of a British medal. Also be sure to tune in if you fancy looking out for rogue brooms left on the track, such as this incident when the Canadian Jane Channell runs into a stiff brush on her way to 112km/hour:
Immortalised in the classic film Cool Runnings, Bobsleigh is similar to Skeleton, except that it’s teams of four or two driving a high-tech sled instead of one person on a tea-tray. But the principle is the same; go as fast as possible down a fiendishly difficult course and hope you don’t crash. And boy, there are some horrific crashes in Bobsleigh. Spectacular to watch, you’ll find yourself hoping for a crash and feeling guilty about it all at the same time. Jamaica is even sending a team in the Women’s event this time. Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsleigh time!
Short Track Speed Skating
One word to describe short track speed skating? Drama. As many as six daring skaters line up to hurtle round a tight circuit, with races normally containing collisions and crashes aplenty. More interesting than long track speed skating, which normally features duller time trials or pursuit races, short track ups the intensity and drama by forcing the athletes into close quarters. With four years of hard work at stake and Olympic dreams on the line, drama is guaranteed, and there are often shock results. Elise Christie won three gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, and hopes are high for something similar in PyeongChang. When Speed Skating goes right, it's what humans look like in perfect accelerated sporting tandem. When it goes wrong, well, they look like this:
Snowboarding is always a cracking part of any Winter Olympics, and there will be ten equally brilliant events in South Korea. For starters, the parallel giant slalom is a race that involves two snowboarders hurtling down a demanding, steep hill. Then you’ve got the spectacular halfpipe, big air, and slopestyle events, with athletes judged on their ability to wow with incredible tricks and jumps. Finally, possibly best of all, you have snowboard cross. Similar to BMX in the summer Olympics, this is simply a race to the finish between four snowboarders, with plenty of jumps and tight turns included on the course. Expect crashes, photo finishes, and an all-round incredible spectacle, perhaps never better exemplified than in Turin in 2006 as Lindsey Jacobellis proves that reading Aesop's Fables as a a child should be mandatory.
More exciting than it’s traditional alpine skiing cousin, freestyle skiing will be a must-watch again in South Korea. Ski cross, like snowboard cross, is an exceptionally entertaining watch, while for those who enjoy magical tricks, phenomenal somersaults and impossible-looking jumps, then look no further than the aerials, halfpipe and slopestyle events. Great Britain even has an outside chance of a medal or two in the form of James Woods and Isabel Atkin. Let's just hope neither of them meet the fate of this particular skiier, who it is rumoured was immediately buried where he lay upon completing the race.
So there you have it. Saddle up and strap in, because between the crashes, medal ceremonies and emotional journeys, you're taking a ride headlong into some classic Winter Olympics entertainment. Get your goggles on!
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