Curling, moguls skiing, slopestyle, skeleton… not sports you would normally watch on TV, but the Winter Olympics means we get a chance to fall in love with some unusual events. Freddie Turner tells us what he’s been watching and why you should too:
With the Winter Olympics now in full flow, it is finally time for the contentious political preamble to be moved to one side and the bizarre array of ice centred sports to come out of the cold and take centre stage.
As an avid yet British sports fan, the winter Olympics isn’t a stand out on the sporting calendar however it does capture my interest perhaps if only for providing a more inviting alternative to the dire daytime TV offerings. Indeed, in the first few days a number of sports have caught the eye, so here is my unofficial guide to what I believe to be the best events the Winter Olympics have to offer and brief look at Team GB’s medal chances.
Curling in the past has bored me, I would even say I disliked it but this week has changed my viewpoint beyond recognition. Yes, it lacks the razzmatazz of figure skating and is certainly not as cool as snowboarding but it is a tactical battle and surprisingly captivating.
It has been termed ‘chess on ice’ as it prioritizes the need for pre-planned methods of attack. The teams of four take it in turns between letting the 20kg stones go and sweeping the ice to make it move towards the desired end point. With 10 legs from alternate ends the teams vie for points and retaining the ‘hammer’ (the last stone.) It really is end to end stuff!
In theory it should still bore me, much like lawn bowls does, but the slidey shoes, the at times frantic brushing and the satisfying ‘clunk’ of the stones colliding has piqued my interest. This interest may be helped by it being Team GB’s most prolific sport, its Scottish roots making it our major medal hope which is reflected by its dominance of the BBC coverage.
In Sochi Dave Murdoch and Eve Muirhead will be hoping to lead their respective teams to glory and I for one will be there with them every slide of the way. If you have missed the curling so far do not fear, with the competition spanning 10 days, there is plenty of chance to submerge yourself in the action and get your daily dose.
Moguls skiing or ‘Bumpy jumpy’ as it has been nicknamed on Twitter has been a real highlight of the first few days in Sochi for me. Fast paced, terrifying and full of flair it has everything you want in a winter sport. Indeed it is a shame there are only two medals up for grabs and these have both been decided with Canadians Alexander Bilodeau and Justine Dufour-Lapointe the grateful recipients.
The mogul skiing naturally forms the basis of this event, with rapid knee movements and ski control required to navigate the extremely demanding bumps. This skiing is sandwiched between two jumps, where flips and tricks are required to gain extra style points and wow the spectators yet further.
How the scoring system works is a total mystery to me but basically the competitors have to look in control on the bumps, pull off two flair jumps and finish in a quick time. All of this is collated to make a number around 25 which makes no sense to the novice and the person with the highest score wins.
What makes the sport extra fun is the variety of flips on show, with twists, pikes and somersaults all showcased. The fast pace and high level of difficulty means only the best complete the course without messing up their landings or losing control which makes for a high octane contest.
This matched with a picturesque setting makes for compelling viewing. This is one sport I would happily watch all year round. Long live ‘Bumpy Jumpy’.
Slopestyle is the sport on everyone’s lips after now national treasure Jenny Jones brought home an unexpected bronze medal on day two of the games. Jones once again highlighted the plethora of talent the South West has to offer, as the Bristol lass shone on the world stage after beginning her career on a dry ski slope in Gloucester!
This was a fantastic way of upping the publicity of this exciting and effortlessly ‘cool’ sport. Wearing beanies and looking dressed as if ready for a night out at Cellar Door the athletes navigate their way through the course, which persists of a number of jumps. The aim of the game is to gain maximum height of the jumps and showcase an array of flicks and flips.
Tricks include: flips, board grabs and all manner of twists and turns which have to look stylish and be landed successfully. My personal favourite tricks are the ones which are landed backwards.
The sport is aesthetically invigorating, whilst still retaining an air of laidback nonchalance. There are separate competitions on both skis and snowboards and at the time of writing Team GB have another outside shot of a medal on skiis in the shape of Sheffield lad James ‘Woodsy’ Woods.
The skeleton is one of the most terrifying sports on the planet. Tobogganing at its most extreme, as the athletes slide down the same course as the bobsleigh/luge riders at a frightening pace. Lying head first on an 8 inch thick bored, the brave competitors pull up to 5g and travel at speeds of over 80 mph. If this wasn’t intimidating enough, the tracks are full of sharp bends and one mistake can leave you in a whole world of danger.
It is not for the feint hearted and this is perhaps why us stoic Brits have fared well at it in the past, especially on the women’s side. Since its inception in 2002, we have won a medal at all three game in the women’s skeleton, with Amy Williams’ gold at Vancouver 2010 the stand out.
Once again we have strong medal hopes this time in the form World Cup champion Lizzy Yarnold and stalwart Shelly Rudman. Yarnold is one of the favourites and will be hoping to live up to her billing and maybe bring back another medal to the southwest (she is based in Bath). The action begins on the 13th February in the women’s event and concludes on Valentines Day, how romantic! I am happy to be watching from the comfort of the sofa but a thrilling competition awaits us.
All in all Team GB are minnows at the winter Olympics, with limited successes a stark comparison to the gold rush of 2012. However, it is a great chance to showcase a number of lesser known sports and provides a superb alternative to ‘Dickinson’s Real Deal’. So enjoy it whilst it lasts and immerse yourselves in the Olympic spirit.bookmark me